I currently reside with two well-mannered, delightfully polite felines. They wash their faces after every meal. They never kick the litter out of the pan. They tastefully decline from chewing cords, scratching the furniture, or sampling my plants.
And then there’s this gremlin.
Pippa (for short) chews everything. Cords, bedding, pens, junk mail, important mail, books, people, plants. Especially plants. Especially the plants that are not especially for her. (Cat grass and catnip? meh.)
Pippa even chews plants that are supposed to deter cats from chewing, like cactus. Not gentle cactus like Christmas cactuses. I have caught her chewing cactus with actual spines, like pitahaya (aka dragonfruit cactus). She once ate an entire lemon balm plant.
Filling my house with “plants cats won’t chew” isn’t an option with Pippa around. Instead, I needed plants that cats can chew without needing a rush trip to the emergency vet.
So far, my “plants Pippa may chew (if she must)” include:
Gerbera Daisy (Gerbera jamesonii)
Also known the African daisy, Barberton daisy, or Transvaal daisy, Gerbera daisies are perennials in USDA Zones 8-10. Elsewhere, they can be grown outdoors as annuals or indoors as potted plants. They like full sun but not intense heat, and they demand plenty of water. They also come in a variety of colors.
Gerbera daises are related to asters, another flowering plant that’s generally considered safe for cats, dogs, and horses. Mine is free of inquisitive teeth marks because I put it on a high shelf the moment I got it home – one of the rare times I managed to sneak a plant in without Pippa investigating immediately.
Bronze Venus Fern (Adiantum hispidulum)
Also known as a rough maidenhair fern. These plants like not too much of anything – not too much sunlight, not too much water, not too much freezing (a light frost is okay). They’ll live happily outdoors in USDA Zone 9a and warmer, but the rest of us keep them as houseplants.
Maidenhair ferns are often sold as easy to care for plants for houseplant beginners. I have my doubts. Because they’re so fond of moderation in all things, maidenhair ferns generally won’t tolerate low humidity (far more common when a houseplant lives solo) or an erratic watering schedule. If you opt for a maidenhair fern variety as a beginner, get it a friend or two, and set yourself a repeating calendar reminder to water the plant family.
Yes, mine is in two pots. The outer pot has no drainage holes, but it’s a lot prettier than the inner pot. This setup gives the plant proper drainage without forcing me to look at the plastic pot.
Boston Fern (Nephrolepis exaltata)
Aka a sword fern. I’ve also seen this little friend called a “green fantasy fern.” I’m not sure if that’s simply an alternate name, or the name of a particular variety of Boston fern. Anyway, these plants are native to central and south America. I’m American, so I’m bad at geography, but I’m pretty sure that part of the planet is nowhere near Boston.
Boston ferns are also frequently touted as “low maintenance” and “great for beginners.” If I had to choose, I’d recommend one of these over a maidenhair fern. Boston ferns have the same high humidity demands as a maidenhair fern, but they are more tolerant of an occasional ghosting by the watering can. Boston ferns trust you. They know you’re good for it. (Don’t let them down.)
About the only thing Pippa likes more than chewing plants is being the center of attention. I knew I’d only get to photograph plants for so long before receiving the benefit of her assistance.
Spider Plant (Chlorophytum cosmosum)
The good news: Spider plants are safe for cats, are very difficult to kill through neglect, and will happily grow in low-light areas. They especially like offices and bathrooms with one small, sad window.
The bad news: Cats tend to be obsessed with spider plants.
Before Pippa, I had a tuxedo cat named Fizzgig and a spider plant overflowing a 12-inch pot. Over the course of about four years, Fizzgig killed that spider plant through constant obsession.
One day, I caught him sneaking away with an entire plantlet in his mouth. He made eye contact with me and started running. On the way, he dropped the plantlet – and he turned back to get it rather than leave it behind. The plantlet did not survive Fizzgig’s fierce love (or teeth).
Even cats that don’t normally take an interest in plants will chew on spider plants. I recommend hanging these in baskets, out of a cat’s reach, as soon as they’re large enough. Feel free to stick them outdoors after all danger of frost has passed – as long as your neighborhood isn’t overflowing with cats.
Lipstick plant (Columnea hirta)
This plant’s common names include “lipstick plant” and “goldfish plant,” because its tubular red flowers look like lipstick tubes or like leaping carp. Several other unrelated plants also go by the name “lipstick plant” or “goldfish plant,” however, and some of those are indeed poisonous to pets. For best results, shop for this one by its Latin name, Columnea hirta.
Columnea hirta is native to Costa Rica. It prefers extremely well-drained soil and at least some protection from direct sunlight. Mature plants, which this one is not, grow trailing stems that do well in hanging pots.
Columnea hirta is generally considered safe for pets, but it is mildly toxic to humans. This is a good plant to keep out of reach of babies and toddlers until they’re past the “I shall taste test THE WORLD” stage.
A list of plants I didn’t know Pippa had taste-tested until I found the greenery barfed up somewhere in the house. Based on these results, I’ve put these plants in the “not for cats” category and stowed them out of the pets’ reach accordingly.
Golden Pothos (Epipremnum aureum), aka “devil’s ivy” or “devil’s vine.” There are dozens of pothos varieties; this is one of the most common. Until proven otherwise, I’ve decided to keep all pothos out of Pippa’s reach.
Nerve Plant (Fittonia albevenis). I’m lowkey obsessed with nerve plant, which pulls a fainting-goat routine whenever it is mildly inconvenienced. I currently have nerve plants in multiple varieties (white, pink, and red), all of which are stashed in no-Pippa zones.
Poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima). I grew up hearing poinsettias were highly poisonous. It turns out they’re not particularly dangerous to people or pets. Eating too much of one can cause gastrointestinal symptoms, however, as demonstrated by the soggy clump of it I got stuck to my sock two Christmases ago. No poinsettias for Pippas.
False shamrock (Oxalis triangularis). Finally, a plant Pippa didn’t have to barf for me to learn my lesson. Rather, she stole the leaves off an entire bulb. I buried the false shamrock pot behind the Christmas cactus, where the plant is, fortunately, making a comeback.
Honorable Mention: Peperomia
The spines on Christmas cactus, dragonfruit cactus, and haworthia didn’t deter Pippa’s questing teeth. Neither did the intense lemon flavor of lemon balm.
The one plant that does seem to turn her off? Peperomia, also known as radiator plant. She’s taken a few tastes, but each time she backs off, shaking her head like she’s just eaten a stinkbug (again). Peperomia are generally considered cat-safe, too. Perhaps I’ve finally found the best of all possible plants.
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