Let’s not poison the cat

Published on February 8, 2014

As a gardening columnist who makes no bones about being more of an enthusiast than an expert, I usually do a search on plants that I write about, just to check my knowledge or learn something new.

Well, “lord liftin’ dyin’ screechin’” best describes my mood this morning because sometimes I learn things I’d just as soon not know.

In the frozen planter on my back gate, there is some very frozen evergreen ivy, just planted last season, which will surprise and disappoint me a bit if it doesn’t spring back come spring. Starting to climb up the concrete foundation on the side of the house is more evergreen ivy, looking not quite as frozen, and which I’m pretty confident will come back because it’s been there a couple of years.

The leaves of the two have the same shape, but those in the planter are much smaller and slightly variegated.

I actually knew the Latin name, Hedera Helix, and believed that some of the ones with the smaller leaves are called Baltic ivy and the larger leafed ones are called English ivy, so I Googled them to find the difference.

I’m generally right about the size, but the Baltic ivy is hardier, “can look sparse so a thicker, older growth is required to give an area full cover and it doesn’t thrive in areas of intense heat or direct sunlight.” So far, so good.

Then I see “all parts of the Baltic ivy plant are poisonous to humans and animals.”

Good grief, just when I’m still trying to come to terms with getting rid of my monkshood!

But then, with the Baltic ivy being in a planter high on the gate, there is no chance of Connor Cat getting at it, and somehow part of me still can’t imagine that a child would eat plants from the garden.

But there’s also a part of me that is in the horrors at the mere thought of it, and says I shouldn’t take the chance, no matter how slim.

Oh well, I reason, there are lots of nice trailing things I can put in that planter; it’s the English ivy I really want, to cover that concrete. So I read on.

English ivy is hardy and drought-resistant, though it does better with regular watering, and doesn’t thrive in intense heat or direct sun. Good, all good.

Then, “English ivy is very attractive to a feline that is craving greens to help eliminate fur balls or ease indigestion. For a household with cats, English ivy is not a safe indoor or outdoor plant variety. … In fact, all parts of the English ivy plant are poisonous to humans and animals.”

As I so eloquently put it before, “lord liftin’ dyin’ screechin’!”

Back in Former Life, when the children were small, English ivy was all the rage as a house plant. Masses of it trailed from macramé held pots in our house. Of course, I didn’t know it could poison my children, and it didn’t, because my children didn’t happen to be plant eaters, but now I think, well, what if a child is extremely curious? It could happen.

Daughter No. 1 loved to eat fresh parsley. Of course, she’d find it on her plate (in restaurants, but yes, I also occasionally garnished in those days), not pick it from a plant, but still … .

Children can be told never to eat plants but, as smart as Connor Cat is, I can’t trust him to listen to me.

I wish “they” would give you the odds. How many cases of poisoning by English ivy are there?

Some sites indicate that it is a contact thing and mention unpleasant reactions, but not fatalities. Another site talks of a pet rabbit eating it with no consequences. And of course, slugs love it.

Go figure.


Janice Wells lives in St. John’s. Her latest book, “Newfoundland and Labrador Book of Musts,” vwas published in October 2010 by MacIntyre Purcell Publishing Inc. You can reach her at Note to readers: please do not send thumbnail-size

photographs, as they are too small to publish.