Are Ice Plant Poisonous To Humans: Expert Tell You

Ice plants are a popular addition to gardens, but are they safe? Find out if ice plants are poisonous to humans and how to handle them safely.

What are Ice Plants?

Ice plants are succulent flowering plants in the Aizoaceae family, native to South Africa. They have thick green fleshy leaves which store water enabling them to survive for long periods in drought conditions.Ice plant covers nearly 100 plant genera.

They form cushions or mats of thick fleshy leaves which retain moisture and enable the plants to survive in hot, dry desert-like locations. Many ice plants bloom colorful flowers to attract pollinators, especially after rainfall.
More comprehensive information and care guidelines can be read here.

ice plant, leaves, pink flower
Photo by Tirza van Dijk / Unsplash

Common Varieties of Ice Plants

There are several common varieties of ice plants grown for their ornamental value and ability to thrive in hot, dry conditions. This includes:

  • Hylotelephium telephium – commonly known as live-forever or orpine. It forms mats of thick fleshy leaves and produces pink or white flowers.

  • Lampranthus species – include trailing ice plant and devils tongue. These feature colourful flowers in yellow, orange, red and blue. They form mats that spread outward.

  • Delosperma cooperi – known as purple orchid ice plant or pig face. It has masses of small purple orchid-like flowers and trailing stems that root wherever they touch the ground.

  • Drosanthemum species – include red and pink flowered ice plants with rounded leaves that store water. They are typically low growing.

  • Ruschia species – have dense clusters of pink flowers with fringed petals. They form compact, tight mats with oval shaped leaves.

Tables and lists can effectively convey information about varieties of ice plants. For example:

Common Ice Plant Varieties

Scientific NameCommon NameFlower ColorGrowth Habit
Hylotelephium telephiumLive-foreverPink/WhiteMats
Lampranthus speciesTrailing ice plantYellow, orange, red, blueTrailing
Delosperma cooperiPurple orchid ice plantPurpleTrailing
ice plant, leaves, close up photo of maple tree
Photo by Evgeni Evgeniev / Unsplash

Are Ice Plants Toxic to Humans?

While ice plants are generally considered safe, they do contain several substances that can potentially cause irritation or toxicity in humans under certain circumstances.

Ice plants produce saponins, which are compounds that can cause skin or mucosal irritation when in direct contact. They also contain calcium oxalate crystals in their leaves and stems which can mechanically abrade and irritate skin upon contact.

Essential oils are also present in some ice plants and can potentially cause allergic reactions in sensitive individuals. The oils are released when leaves are crushed or broken.

However, ice plant toxicity in humans is typically mild and rare. Most cases involve:

  • Accidental ingestion of plant parts by children under 6 years old
  • Extended skin contact with plant leaves and stems

No severe or fatal human poisonings have been reported from ice plants. Even ingestion of large amounts of plant parts tends to cause only temporary gastrointestinal symptoms.

In summary, ice plants are generally considered non-toxic or pose low toxicity risk to humans under normal circumstances. Issues primarily arise from:

  • Prolonged or repeated skin contact that allows sufficient saponins or calcium oxalate crystals to cause irritation

  • Allergic reactions to essential oils in sensitive individuals

  • Accidental ingestion, especially by young children

As long as proper precautions are taken when handling ice plants, severe toxicity is unlikely to occur in most people.

ice plant, flowers, green and brown plant on white sand
Photo by micheile henderson / Unsplash

Symptoms of Ice Plant Poisoning

The most common symptoms of ice plant poisoning in humans are mild and may include:

  • Burning or irritation of the mouth and throat. Ice plants contain substances called saponins**, which can act as irritants when ingested.
  • Itchy, red and swollen skin rashes. The calcium oxalate crystals present in ice plants can cause a skin reaction known as contact dermatitis in sensitive individuals.
  • Eye pain, irritation, redness and watery eyes. The essential oils and sap of ice plants can have an irritating effect on eyes.
  • Mild stomach upset including nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. This is usually due to ingestion of plant parts and is temporary.

More severe symptoms of ice plant poisoning are rare. However, keep in mind that children and pets may be more susceptible due to their smaller size. Calcium oxalate crystals and saponins can also cause more serious effects if inhaled or in high enough doses.

So while ice plants are generally not considered directly toxic to humans, sensitive individuals or those ingesting large amounts may experience uncomfortable symptoms. Most cases of ice plant poisoning are mild and resolve without medical treatment.

ice plant, flowers, closeup of multicolored petaled roses
Photo by Uriel / Unsplash

Precautions for Handling Ice Plants

While ice plants are generally safe for humans, there are some simple precautions that should be taken when handling or working around them:

  • Wear gloves. Gloves protect your hands from coming into direct contact with the plant’s irritating sap and calcium oxalate crystals, which can cause skin rashes.

  • Wear long sleeves. Covering exposed skin reduces the chance of irritant contact dermatitis from the plant.

  • Wear eye protection. Safety glasses or goggles prevent the plant’s irritating essential oils and sap from coming into contact with your eyes.

  • Wash hands thoroughly. Always wash your hands with soap and water after gardening or touching the plant. This removes any residual sap or crystals that could cause irritation.

  • Keep away from children and pets. Ice plant poisoning, though mild, is more common and severe in children and pets due to their smaller size.

In summary, simple protective measures like gloves, long sleeves, eyewear and thorough hand washing after handling ice plants can help reduce the risk of discomfort and irritation. While these plants are generally safe with proper precautions, consult a medical professional if symptoms of poisoning occur.

ice plant, flowers, purple crocus flower in bloom close up photo
Photo by Cody Fitzgerald / Unsplash

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