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Ivy is one of our most popular decorative plants. It climbs up walls and house facades, or is used as ground cover for graves. It is also widely used as a houseplant. What many do not know, the popular climbing plant is one of the poisonous plants. Although fatal poisoning is very rare, small children and pets should not nibble on the plant, which forms small berries as "tempting" fruits from a certain growth height.

Poison in the ivy

There are around 400 varieties of ivy today. The best known is the common ivy, botanically Hedera helix Hibernica, with its dark green leaves. The popular plant can also have yellow or purple leaves. There are also differences between the varieties in the height of growth. From ground cover to plants that climb up to 20 meters high, everything is represented. They are cultivated as a houseplant or in the garden. But beware: Many varieties are poisonous in all parts.

Consumption of berries, leaves and shoots

The violet to black fruits of the climbing ivy pose a particular danger to humans and animals. Its small berries contain 80 percent hederasaponin C. Poisonous triterpene saponin is produced from it through degradation reactions.

  • even small amounts cause symptoms of poisoning
  • Children are particularly at risk

Consumption of large amounts can lead to death

Since the berries taste very bitter, the consumption of the necessary, lethal amount is rather rare, because in most cases they are spat out immediately.

Garden ivy or wild plants do not produce fruit until they are adults, when they have reached a certain height. This is the case after 10 to 20 years. Cultivated as a houseplant, it blooms extremely rarely and, as a result, rarely produces fruit. Like the berries, ivy leaves and shoots also contain toxins. For this reason, no “taste” should be taken of these parts of the plant.

Poisons in the leaves occur:

  • at any age of the plant
  • regardless of the variety

Skin contact with the ivy

However, hederin is not the only toxin the plant contains. Another toxin is falcarinol. The poison is mainly found in the leaves and shoots of ivy. On contact with the skin, the toxin reacts with skin proteins and causes an allergic reaction.

effect of the poison

Poisoning from the berries of the ivy usually only occurs in old plants. Serious poisoning from the berries is rare, but can be fatal. Very young ivy plants, in most cases, do not cause toxic reactions. But here, too, caution is advisable: the leaves already contain falcarinol.

Be careful with cuttings

Cuttings from old ivy plants are an easy form of propagation. These descendants of an old ivy form the poisonous berries at a young age. In addition, the cuttings of the Hedera helix Arbonrescens, which is the botanical name of the adult ivy, only grow as a shrub. This way the berries are quickly within reach of children and pets.

Allergic reaction

Allergic reaction on skin contact

Skin contact with the plant can cause inflammation, allergic reactions or pustules. However, these unpleasant phenomena are not considered life-threatening. However, allergy sufferers should definitely avoid skin contact with the plant.

skin and lung problems

Since the climbing plant spreads quickly, growth often has to be stopped. Since the plant contains resinous oil, cutting waste must not be burned. They cause skin and lung problems when burned.

Symptoms of human poisoning

Symptoms of poisoning in humans

The first symptoms of poisoning appear in children after eating two to three berries.

The symptoms are:

  • nausea
  • Vomit
  • Stomach and intestinal irritation
  • Rapid, hopping pulse
  • a headache

If larger amounts of the berries are eaten, further symptoms of poisoning appear:

  • vomiting diarrhea
  • cramps
  • Apnea
  • states of shock

Since a fatal outcome cannot be ruled out when consuming large quantities of the ivy berries, do not hesitate to call a doctor or an emergency number if you suspect something.

If small children have nibbled on the leaves of the ivy, this can lead to symptoms of poisoning such as discomfort and/or skin rashes. The same applies here: See a doctor immediately. If skin contact with the climbing plant triggers a reaction, rinsing off with cold water is the first step. To avoid any worse consequences that may occur, you should still consult a doctor as a precaution.

Symptoms of poisoning animal

Symptoms of poisoning in pets

Symptoms of poisoning in pets are similar to those in humans. The plant is poisonous for dogs and cats, but also for smaller cage animals such as hares, rabbits, hamsters and guinea pigs, as well as for some species of birds. Poisoning even occurs in horses, but not in donkeys.

Symptoms that occur in pets are:

  • Vomit
  • diarrhea
  • excitement
  • cramps

Since Hedera is poisonous in all parts, even fruitless house ivy can lead to poisoning, especially in dogs and cats. If you notice the first signs of poisoning, you should consult a veterinarian as a precaution or call the animal emergency number.


As for all poisonous plants, the same applies to ivy plants: the best protection for children and pets is not to have the plant.

When it comes to ivy, precautionary measures should be aimed primarily at the poisonous berries:

  • Avoid propagation with cuttings
  • Fruits grow near the ground in offspring
  • do not buy flowering young plants - they develop berries from the start
  • Flowers are yellowish green and inconspicuous
  • Flowering period from August to October
  • Dispose of fallen leaves and trimmings safely
  • toxic waste is not a toy for small children, dogs and cats

If the climbing plant is used as a wall or facade decoration, please note that children cannot nibble on the berries through windows or balconies.

To protect against skin reactions, it is advisable to wear gardening gloves and long clothing when working with the plant. Note that problematic skin reactions do not necessarily occur on first contact. The skin can also react allergically to the plant years later.

Ivy as a medicinal plant

Like many poisonous plants, ivy plants are used medicinally. They are used in pediatrics to treat whooping cough. In homeopathy, the plant is used for diseases of the nasal mucosa, bronchial asthma and gallbladder diseases.

The manufacture of remedies for internal use must be discouraged, as the recommended proportion in the remedy is very small. If you want to produce personal care products, which is entirely possible and feasible with a little practice, you must not have an allergic reaction to falcarinol. Otherwise there is no danger here. Under no circumstances should you give away the remedies you have made yourself, as they could cause the undesirable reactions described in the recipient.

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