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Ficus benjamini, known in German as birch fig, is a popular houseplant because of its air-purifying properties. It is quite undemanding when it comes to care, as long as the location and room temperature are right, and its foliage makes for an appealing aspect indoors all year round. The plant is considered harmless by many people because of its inconspicuousness, but is that true? Is there even a plant behind the birch fig that is poisonous?


Ficus benjamini, which belongs to the mulberry family (bot. Moraceae), is a plant that is classified as slightly poisonous. The reason for this are the different ingredients of the birch fig, which provide information about the respective toxic properties and thus a better insight into the toxicity of the plant. The following substances must be examined more closely.

Weeping fig as a popular houseplant


Rubber is a natural substance found in numerous plants, either liquid or slightly solid in the milky sap, and has been used by humans for thousands of years. In itself, rubber would not be poisonous and is even edible. The aroma is similar to sweet cream. However, natural rubber has proteins that make the substance dangerous for people suffering from rubber allergies. It is a polymer within the group of polyterpenes, which belong to the secondary components of numerous living things and are often formed by plants. Because of this, they develop the proteins that can cause reactions in allergic people.


Along with the natural rubber, flavonoids are found in Ficus benjamini. Flavonoids are secondary plant substances that are used by many plants as effective protection against predators. They are used particularly often by flowering plants, where they are responsible for coloring the flowers. In Ficus benjamini, the flavonoids are mainly contained in the milky sap, where they provide an unpleasantly bitter taste, which is supposed to protect the birch fig from predators. Together with the other ingredients, especially the furocoumarins, these have a negative effect on health.


The furocoumarins are another component of the milky sap, which is the most toxic ingredient in the plant. Furocoumarins are phytoalexins, special defense substances that are formed as secondary plant substances and protect the plant from diseases and pests such as fungi or bacteria. They are only released after violent treatment of the Ficus benjamini, for example if you cut the plant and can easily get on the skin. Furocoumarins are toxic in several ways, but toxicity is highest when the latex is exposed to UV radiation, such as sunlight. This can cause skin burns. Furocoumarins are also carcinogenic.

Natural Resins

In most cases, these are not poisonous plant parts.

White Milky Juice

All these ingredients are found in the white milky sap, because the ficus develops and leads to health problems after consumption. In itself, the only possible danger from the birch fig is the milky sap, which is found in the leaves, stems, shoots and roots. Incidentally, this toxicity is shared by the majority of Ficus species, so in general neither the leaves nor other parts of the plant should be eaten with figs. When handling the plant, care should be taken to ensure that it is not touched without gloves, in order to prevent possible poisoning of the skin. In many cases, these represent the more serious health problem.

Ficus Benjamini with its special leaves

Tip: The only thing that is harmless on the Ficus benjamini is the fruit, which, however, can only rarely be formed in Germany or Central Europe due to the local temperatures and humidity, as well as the lack of special pollinators. However, if your specimen bears fruit, you can safely consume it, even if the aroma is not very tasty.

effect on people

As described above, Ficus benjamini is poisonous and should therefore be handled with care and certainly not eaten. The toxic effect in adults can be noticed after just a few parts of the plant, apart from the fruits. The following symptoms may occur after eating the leaves, roots or shoots.

  • general nausea
  • Vomit
  • diarrhea

These symptoms are not life-threatening for adults and subside after a while, even if large amounts have been swallowed. Sensitive people and children, however, can suffer greatly from the milky sap and experience the same symptoms in greater intensity. Children in particular quickly lose moisture and weight through vomiting and diarrhea. A big advantage of the ficus: children do not like the bitter taste. Even if they get one of the leaves in their mouth, just a touch of their tongue is enough to scare off children. However, the furocoumarins can leach out of the plant and cause the following damage if handled under sunlight.

Weeping Fig, Ficus benjamina
  • skin burns
  • blistering
  • skin redness
  • severe scarring
  • swelling
  • more lesions
  • photopigmentation
  • frequent handling increases the risk of developing cancer, especially skin cancer

For this reason, Ficus benjamini should never be pruned or handled with the hand, short-sleeved shirts or safety goggles. This is especially true if the plant is exposed to a lot of UV radiation, even from lamps. Non-toxic, but dangerous, is the natural rubber for allergy sufferers. Many people are unaware that they have an allergy to rubber. The severity of an allergic reaction ranges from simple reddening of the skin to a dangerous anaphylactic shock, which can be fatal if left untreated. For this reason, you should be careful not to let your children near the birch fig.

Tip: Rubber allergies are higher in people who work a lot with gloves, such as doctors. These should wear non-rubber gloves when handling the plant.

Effect on cats, dogs

The Ficus benjamini is particularly toxic to dogs and cats. The plant is even highly toxic to pets, including rodents and small animals. Cats in particular run the risk of poisoning themselves from the leaves because, like children, they explore their world with their mouths. For this reason, they like to nibble on the leaves and flowers of plants, which can immediately lead to severe poisoning. Rodents also have this problem, dogs less often.

dog and cat

When consumed, the following symptoms occur:

  • general nausea
  • Vomit
  • diarrhea
  • irritation of the mucous membranes
  • cramps in the abdominal area
  • cramps
  • signs of paralysis
  • shortness of breath

Depending on how much leaves have been eaten, Ficus benjamini can even be deadly for the animals. Also, be careful with dogs that they do not use any branches of the birch fig to play or as a chew toy. As a result, toxins also get into the organism. Because of their fur, animals usually do not have a problem with furocoumarins. Of course, a cat of the Sphinx breed should not rub itself against the plant and then lie in the sun.

effect on birds

Birds should also not go near the Ficus benjamini, as the concentration of toxins is too high for the birds. They should not even use the branches or the leaves for nest building as this could adversely affect their health.

Typical symptoms:

  • redness of the skin
  • skin burns
  • Irritation of the gastrointestinal tract

Depending on the genus of birds, however, the strength differs. Native birds are usually more affected by the components of the birch fig than birds that come from the original distribution area in East Asia and northern Australia.

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