Is Cactus Poisonous or Dangerous To Kids?

Cacti are great indoor plants, but they are not 100% safe. Therefore, it is essential to take all necessary precautions to keep them away from your kids and pets, and anyone that can negligently ingest them

Disclaimer: The author is not a medical doctor or veterinarian. The information presented is purely to share our experience and for entertainment purposes. As always, check with a doctor and/or veterinarian before making any health or nutrition decisions and consult with a doctor and/or veterinarian regarding any question or problem that you have. The author and blog disclaim liability for any damage, mishap, or injury that may occur from engaging in any activities or ideas from this site.

Growing a cactus inside your house does not only beautify your indoor spaces but also gives a refreshing aura to your home.  A lot of people find it quite relaxing to see a beautiful plant such as cactus in the middle of the center table or the four corners of their living room. However, some gardeners are afraid of growing cacti in their homes since they aren’t sure if these plants are safe for their kids or not. 

So, is cactus poisonous to kids? Most cacti species are safe for both humans and animals. Their toxicity levels are quite low, but the spines and needles are quite dangerous.  The best way to know if your plant is poisonous is by determining its species. There are a few species that can potentially pose a significant danger to your kids. If you don’t know the type of cactus you own, be sure to seek immediate medical attention if your child accidentally ingests the plant.

In this post, we discuss everything you need to know about the safety of cacti plants and what you can do to keep your kids safe. We shall also highlight some of the cacti species that are poisonous.

Are Cacti Plants Poisonous To Children?

Due to the sensitivity of some cacti plants such as the Christmas cactus, they need an indoor environment to thrive.  The stems and leaves of such plants cannot be exposed to direct sunlight. However, before you take this step, you will want to be sure about the safety of the plant, especially if you have kids and pets in your home.

Research shows that plants have been one of the world’s leading poison contributing factors inside homes. A significant number of indoor plants have been found to contain substantial amounts of toxins that may be harmful to humans.

But, does it mean that all cacti plants are poisonous? No.

The good thing about most cacti species is that their toxicity level is almost zero. You don’t have to worry about the effect of the plant on your family’s health. In fact, this is one of the top reasons why a significant number of people out there prefer growing cacti indoors.

In some rare cases, infants may be sensitive to the Christmas cactus, but it doesn’t mean that it will cause any harm to them. The plant is absolutely safe for your baby, and there is nothing to worry about.

However, there are certain times when small kids may try to ingest the cactus while playing. For precautionary measures, make sure you position your plant in a slightly elevated area where your kids cannot reach easily. 

Although the plant may not contain toxic elements, it is definitely not fit for human consumption. Only the fruits of a few cacti species are edible.

A closeup image of a cactus.
The good thing about most cacti species is that their toxicity level is almost zero

Poisonous Cacti

One thing you should note is that not all cacti plants are safe. Although most of them have amazing features, some of them are also not safe at all.

By poisonous, we are not referring to the leaves and spines even though their spines are quite dangerous as well if they find their way into your skin.

Keep in mind that the spines serve as a defense mechanism to protect the plant against predators and also serve a reproductive purpose. They usually cling onto a host, and when they fall off, they start growing into new plants.

So, how are these plants poisonous? Well, some cacti plants are highly corrosive to the human skin, and when they are ingested, they may a wide range of illnesses. These are the plants you need to watch out for and, if possible, avoid them completely.

While you may have had no need to research before buying your cactus plant, the dynamics change if you have kids and pets in your home.

Take time to establish safe cacti species to grow at home and generally avoid the following species that are poisonous:

1. San Pedro Cactus (Echinopsis Pachanoi)

The San Pedro cactus is known for its beautiful flowers and spines. It mostly grows in the Andes Mountains in Argentina, Chile, Ecuador, and Bolivia. This cactus species is mainly used for healing and recreation purposes, but it contains high amounts of mescaline and other psychedelic alkaloids.

Mescaline is listed as an illegal substance in most countries since it is known to cause hallucinations when ingested.

A san pedro cactus.
San Pedro Cactus

The chemical substance can also distort one’s thought process.  Therefore, it not advisable to grow the San Pedro cactus in your home because it can cause devastating effects to your kids when they ingest it.

Some of the side effects that one can suffer from ingesting this cactus include dizziness, stomachache, nausea, vomiting, and palpitations.

2. The Peruvian Torch (Echinopsis Peruviana) Cactus

The Peruvian Torch is widely known for its relatively fast-growing nature. This cactus species grows large spines and is mostly found on the slopes of the Andes Mountains in Peru.

This plant is named after one of the famous cities in Peru. It is easy to cultivate as a home plant, but you should avoid it if you have kids or pets to protect.

A unique feature of the Peruvian Torch that makes it attractive is the gorgeous flowers that grow near the top of the stem. Its flowers open up at night and have a relatively strong fragrance.

However, ingesting this cactus can be dangerous since it is known to cause hallucinations and a wide range of disordered thoughts. You can still cultivate the Peruvian cactus as an outdoor plant, but make sure you keep it away from your children and pets.

A Echinopsis Peruviana.
Echinopsis Peruviana

3. Peyote Cactus (Lophophora Williamsii)

The Peyote cactus is one of the few spineless cacti species you will come across. While you may assume that the cactus is safe because it has no spines, the opposite is quite true. Peyote cactus is a slow-growing plant that is mostly found in the western parts of the USA and Mexico.

This plant is traditionally used to heal illnesses such as diabetes, fever, childbirth pain, skin diseases, and rheumatism since it contains mescaline.

However, the same mescaline content has psychoactive properties. When ingested, one will start feeling psychoactive, and the side effects may be adverse.

For instance, an overdose of peyote cactus can lead to a psychotic breakdown, which is quite dangerous for individuals with mental problems because it aggravates the issue.

The plant also has strong emetic effects and a bitter taste that can be nauseating hence the need to keep it away from kids. Peyote cactus is also known to cause variations in breathing, blood pressure, papillary dilation, and heart rate.

4. Canary Islands Cactus (Euphorbia Canariensis)

The Canary Islands Splurge cactus is a top choice for many gardeners because it is relatively easy to maintain and does well in well-drained soil and full sunlight. In fact, this is one of the few low-maintenance cacti plants you may come across.

It is named Canary Islands Splurge because it mostly grows in the coastal belt of the Canary Islands. It thrives in extremely cold temperatures and produces beautiful flowers along its edges.

Even though it is lovely and easy to grow, you will rarely find Euphorbia Canariensis in homesteads for obvious reasons.

The plant is highly toxic and cannot be consumed. In fact, it produces a milky sap that irritates human skin and eyes.  Handling the plant requires great care since any slight breakage will expose your skin to its milky juice, which might result in severe skin burn.

If ingested, the sap can cause cold sweats, sneezing, and even fainting.

5. The Cholla Cactus

The cholla cactus shoots like needles and is commonly found in the desert regions of the southwestern United States and northern Mexico. It grows in dense clumps with long stems that can reach heights of up to four feet tall.

The cholla cactus produces edible fruits, but its spines are highly dangerous and irritating, so you should never touch it unless you have protective clothing. To make matters worse, the spines are barbed and will break off in your skin when touched.

The cholla cactus is known to cause severe allergic reactions in humans, including hives and swelling of the face, lips, and tongue. If ingested, it can also affect your digestive system since it releases a toxin that causes intense stomach pain and vomiting.

It is also poisonous to animals. Since the spines are highly dangerous, it’s best to keep cholla cacti away from children and pets at all times, so they don’t get hurt or poisoned.​

Are Cacti Plants Poisonous to Pets

Just like kids, you need to be cautious when exposing your pets to a cactus plant. Some pets love eating plants, and you will want to be wary of the harm it can cause to your pet.

Fortunately, most cacti species are safe for your pets, but you will still need to avoid the poisonous species mentioned above. Generally, cats and dogs find plant leaves and flowers attractive. The worst can happen if your pet was to ingest a poisonous cactus.

A cactus in a pot with a ceramic dog beside.
Cats and dogs find Cactus leaves and flowers attractive.

The best thing you can do with your pet is to make sure it cannot reach the cactus plant at all. Keep everything away, and don’t hesitate to contact a veterinary officer in case your pest ingests your plant.

Precautionary Measures Recommended to Keep Your Kids Safe

Even though we have mentioned that a significant number of cacti species are safe, it is still important to take precautionary measures to keep your little ones safe. To be safe, make sure you do the following:

  • Keep all plants out of reach of young children
  • When spending time outdoors with your young ones, teach them to stay away from plants and not eat any non-food items
  • Do not assume that a plant is safe for your kids just because you think so.
  • Leave tags on all plants and other items you bring home from a plant nursery. If you don’t know the names of the items, ask an expert at the plant nursery to help you identify them and get a name tag for each item
  • Make sure your children’s caregivers know the names of all plants inside and outside your house

Can Cactus Needles Kill You?

Cactus needles are pretty dangerous because they are sharp and cover a relatively large surface area. They can easily cause puncture wounds, skin infections, and rashes in humans.

However, it is highly unlikely that cactus needles can cause death if you take proper precautionary measures and avoid touching them with bare hands.

If you are exposed to a high number of cactus needles or their toxins, then it is possible that you could experience an adverse reaction that leads to death.

You should seek immediate medical attention if you experience severe reactions such as difficulty breathing, throat swelling, dizziness, or confusion.

Is Cactus Water Poisonous?

Besides sharp needles, cactus plants also contain a type of sap called cactus water. This liquid is stored in the plant’s stem and leaves and can be toxic if ingested by humans or animals.

The water contains a toxic substance known as saponin, which can cause severe gastrointestinal issues if ingested. In extreme cases, it can also cause kidney failure or death.

Cactus water is also known to cause stomach irritation and vomiting when consumed, so it’s best to stay away from it entirely. Avoid contact with your eyes, nose, or mouth when dealing with cactus water.

If you come in contact with the liquid, wash your skin and eyes immediately with running water and seek medical attention for any poisoning symptoms.

What Is the Most Dangerous Cactus?

The most dangerous cactus is the cholla, which is native to the Southwestern United States and Northwestern Mexico. This cactus has sharp spines that are barbed and hooked, making them particularly dangerous as they can easily stick to the skin.

If you come in contact with a cholla, it’s best to use tweezers or a pair of pliers to remove the spines and seek medical attention if you experience any signs of infection.

Other dangerous cacti include the jumping cholla and some species of Euphorbia. It is essential to avoid contact with these cacti as they can cause serious injury, illness, or even death.

Final Thoughts

Although cacti plants are an incredible option for indoor plants, they are not 100% safe. Therefore, it is essential to take all necessary precautions to keep them away from your kids and pets, and anyone that can negligently ingest them. 

Before you purchase any cactus plant, conduct thorough research to establish its safety, especially if you have kids at home.

If you think there is something we have failed to discuss in our post, please let us know in the comments section below.

Last update on 2023-01-06 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

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