Coleus [KO-lee-us] plants are known for their slender leaves with bright markings.
People commonly grow these tropical low-maintenance plants, but are they safe?
Here are the details of the potential toxicity of Coleus plants.
Coleus is a genus of flowering plants. These plants belong to the family Lamiaceae and are mostly native to tropical parts of Asia, Africa, and Australia.
The Coleus genus is no longer used. The species now belong to the Plectranthus and Solenostemon genera.
The common house plant varieties are mostly found in the Solenostemon genus.
While Coleus isn’t recognized, it’s still used as a common name for the plants formerly belonging to the genus.
These ornamental plants typically feature colorful leaves, which is sometimes a sign of toxicity.
Coleus plants may reach several feet tall and often produce bushy foliage.
The colors of the foliage vary from bright pink to near black and may contain markings or solid coloring.
Is the Coleus A Poisonous Plant or Toxic?
Some species of Coleus plants contain mildly toxic elements, including a compound called diterpene coleonol.
The toxins don’t pose a major health risk to people.
The most common issues include mild or minor skin irritation from exposure to skin or from ingestion.
The same toxins are more of a threat to animals, including dogs, cats, and horses.
Coleus poisoning can lead to irritation and more severe symptoms and may become fatal.
Not all species of Coleus plants contain harmful toxins.
Coleus ampoinicus is the variety most commonly associated with toxic reactions.
It goes by several common names:
- Bread and butter plant
- Country borage
- East Indian thyme
- Indian borage
- Spanish thyme
- Stinging thyme
If dogs or cats have access to the plant, consider cultivating Coleus Canina.
The Canina species possess an unpleasant odor.
It’s mostly undetectable to people, but dogs and cats tend to avoid it.
TIP: The unpleasant odor of Coleus Canina is an effective deterrent for keeping animals away from vegetable gardens.
Other species of Coleus may contain no toxins.
For example, Brazilian Coleus (Plectranthus Oertandahlii) isn’t toxic to pets or people.
It forms small clumps of slightly succulent leaves and may reach about 8” inches tall.
Most Coleus plants also contain a bitter taste when ingested.
If placed outdoors, animals may nibble on it before discovering the bitter taste.
When placed indoors, bored dogs or cats may ingest more of the plant, leading to a potential risk of poisoning.
What Parts of the Coleus Plant Are Poisonous or Toxic?
The oils and sap contained in all parts of Coleus plants may contain trace amounts of toxins, depending on the species.
Humans with sensitive skin coming into contact with the sap of toxic Coleus plants may experience itchiness and redness around the site of irritation.
If ingested, the toxins may irritate the throat and mouth, leading to general discomfort.
However, the irritation isn’t considered a serious threat and should pass without treatment.
While Coleus plants aren’t considered toxic to people, they may pose a threat to animals.
The oils contained in the plant are toxic to dogs and cats when ingested or absorbed through the skin.
What Are the Symptoms of Poisoning?
Coleus plants aren’t poisonous to people but may cause mild gastrointestinal distress when ingested.
Is coleus toxic to cats? Animals may experience more severe symptoms.
The oils found in all parts of the plant may lead to a negative reaction in dogs, cats, and other animals.
Without treatment, the toxins may become deadly.
Some of the symptoms of Coleus poisoning in dogs and cats include:
- Physical weakness
- Body tremors
- Loss of appetite
- Difficulty breathing
Low body temperature and slowed breathing indicate the need for immediate treatment.
The oils from the plants may also irritate the skin and cause burning.
Oils absorbed through the skin may still lead to the symptoms discussed.
Inspect the pet’s skin.
Pull back the fur to look for signs of redness or chemical burns.
Cats and dogs having ingested toxic oils from Coleus plants may also start pawing at the face or mouth and show some skin redness.
Veterinarians advise against home treatment, such as inducing vomiting.
Vomiting may cause further damage.
After taking a pet to the vet for Coleus poisoning, animals are typically given an anti-vomiting medication and fluids to flush the toxins.
The chances of a full recovery depend on the amount of coleus consumed and the species.
Veterinarians often recommend bringing part of the plant in for testing.
Testing the toxicity of the plant allows the vet to select the best treatment.
How To Protect Yourself While Handling the Coleus Plants
As some species contain toxins, always use caution when handling Coleus plants.
Wearing gloves and long-sleeved shirts when handling Coleus plants protects against exposure to the sap.
While the sap isn’t considered a serious threat, it may cause mild irritation for those with sensitive skin.
After handling the plant and removing gloves, wash hands with soap and water to eliminate the risk of exposure to the sap.