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The elephant's foot, also known as the elephant tree, with its long, thin, drooping leaves, is an easy-care houseplant that can grow up to nine meters in the wild in its native Mexico. The succulent tree has the botanical name Beaucarnea recurvata and belongs to the asparagus family (Asparagaceae).

elephant foot

Beaucarnea recurvata is poisonous in all parts of the plant. The toxins it contains are saponins. In the database of the renowned Zurich-based Institute for Veterinary Pharmacology and Toxicology, the elephant's foot is classified as slightly poisonous, which is why the plant is not suitable for consumption, neither for humans nor animals.

Elephant foot is native to Mexico

risk of confusion

From a botanical point of view there is no likelihood of confusion, however the plant is occasionally also referred to by the name bottle tree offered. Since the real bottle tree is non-toxic, if in doubt, you should stick to the botanical name of the bottle tree "Brachychiton rupestris" if you want to buy the non-toxic plant.


For the people

For adults, “slightly toxic” means that symptoms of poisoning only show after eating very large amounts of the plant. With children, however, this is different. Since they are smaller than adults and weigh less, symptoms of poisoning can show up even if small amounts are consumed. As with all poisons, the smaller the child, the faster the poisoning sets in.

Tip: Although households with children do not have to do without the elephant foot, it should be placed out of the reach of children.

symptoms of poisoning

If children have eaten from the elephant tree, the following symptoms of poisoning can occur.

  • malaise
  • dizziness
  • nausea
  • sudden tiredness
  • stomach pain
  • visual disturbances
  • vomiting (spitting up blood)

If the sap of the elephant tree comes into contact with the skin or with open wounds, severe, even purulent, inflammation is possible.

Elephant foot with healthy, green leaves

Tip: To prevent the saponins from getting into the blood, you should always wear gloves when working with the plant, because the leaves have sharp edges that can easily scratch the skin.

For pets

As for humans, elephant foot is also toxic to pets, so if you want it as a houseplant, keep it out of the reach of pets, especially dogs and cats, as the saponins irritate the animals' mucous membranes.

dogs and cats

Cat owners know it: The lively house cats are extremely curious companions. That's why they like to play with the thin leaves of the elephant tree, especially when the leaves are a meter or more in length. If the cat shows interest in the elephant's foot, it is better to remove the houseplant, since eating the leaves leads to gastroenteritis and chronic intestinal inflammation in the four-legged friends.

Tip: If the cat shows no interest in the elephant tree, you should still place the plant out of reach of your darling, because things can quickly turn for cats.

dog and cat

Whether the elephant tree poses a danger to dogs has not been clearly clarified. What is certain, however, is that the mucous membranes of dogs and especially puppies are irritated by snacking on elephant feet.

Other pets

Since the saponins in the elephant tree irritate the mucous membranes of animals, it is not suitable as a houseplant for households with pets that eat plants. Bird owners should also think twice about purchasing an elephant's foot, as they too can regard the long, thin leaves as a toy.

First Aid Measures

Measures in case of poisoning

Have children eaten leaves or parts of leaves of the elephant tree, then you should take the child to a doctor or the responsible one Poison Control Center call up. Never give the child milk to drink or make it vomit. If the sap of Beaucarnea recurvata gets into an open wound, you should rinse it out under running water. But this is only a first measure, if the wound becomes inflamed, you should definitely consult a doctor. If your darling has nibbled on the plant, you should have one immediately vet visit.


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