The dog sits among the ferns in the forest and enjoys the fresh air

Ferns are a diverse group of plants that have been around for millions of years. They are known for their delicate, lacy leaves and their ability to thrive in a variety of environments.

Many people enjoy having ferns as indoor or outdoor plants, but it’s important to consider the safety of all household pets when introducing any new plants into the home. So, are ferns toxic to animals?

Types of Ferns

Ferns belong to the class Polypodiopsida and are a type of vascular plant. There are over 12,000 known species of ferns, ranging in size from small, delicate plants to large, tree-like specimens. Some popular types of ferns include:

  • Boston ferns (Nephrolepis exaltata)
  • Maidenhair ferns (Adiantum spp.)
  • Staghorn ferns (Platycerium spp.)
  • Bird’s nest ferns (Asplenium nidus)
European hedgehog facing right in natural garden habitat with green ferns
European hedgehog facing right in natural garden habitat with green ferns

Toxicity of Ferns

In general, most ferns are not toxic to animals. However, there are a few exceptions to this rule. Here are some common ferns that may be toxic to animals:

  • Asparagus fern (Asparagus spp.) – This fern contains sapogenins, which can cause vomiting and diarrhea in dogs and cats if ingested.
  • Autumn fern (Dryopteris erythrosora) – This fern contains a chemical called thiaminase, which can interfere with the metabolism of B vitamins in animals. In large amounts, thiaminase can lead to a deficiency of thiamine (vitamin B1), which is essential for proper brain function.
  • Spleenwort ferns (Asplenium spp.) – Some species of spleenwort ferns contain toxins that can cause vomiting and diarrhea in animals if ingested.
  • Bracken fern (Pteridium aquilinum) – This fern contains a chemical called ptaquiloside, which can be toxic to animals if ingested in large amounts. Ptaquiloside can cause gastrointestinal upset and, in severe cases, damage to the red blood cells and the nervous system.

It’s worth noting that the toxic effects of ferns can vary depending on the species, the size of the animal, and the amount of fern material ingested. If you suspect that your pet has ingested a toxic fern, it’s important to seek medical attention as soon as possible.

A black and grey sheep hiding in the green ferns in the Lake District of England
A black and grey sheep hiding in the green ferns in the Lake District of England

Precautions

While most ferns are not toxic to animals, it’s still a good idea to take some precautions to ensure the safety of your pets. Here are a few tips to follow:

  • Keep toxic ferns out of reach – If you have a fern that is toxic to animals, make sure to keep it out of reach of your pets. This may involve placing the fern on a high shelf or in a room that is off-limits to pets.
  • Supervise your pets – Even non-toxic ferns can cause gastrointestinal upset if ingested in large quantities. Make sure to supervise your pets when they are around your ferns to ensure that they don’t eat any large amounts of plant material.
  • Choose non-toxic varieties – If you’re concerned about the safety of your pets, consider choosing non-toxic ferns, such as Boston ferns or maidenhair ferns, instead of more toxic varieties.

In conclusion

It’s important to keep in mind that all plants are a potential choking hazard for pets, and it’s best to supervise them when they’re around any type of plant. Additionally, some ferns can be an irritant to the skin or eyes, so it’s important to wear gloves and protective eyewear when handling or pruning ferns.

It’s also a good idea to keep the plant out of reach if you have small children in the home. If you’re worried about potential toxicity, it’s best to choose non-toxic varieties, such as Boston ferns or maidenhair ferns. With the right care, your ferns can look beautiful and remain safe for everyone in your home.