More danger from flowers—and to a favorite flowering tree


Well, duh on me. This week I’ve been researching Lilium longflorum (Easter lily) to find out what, if anything, might be happening to cause the loss of fragrance I’d noticed in the plants so ubiquitous now in supermarkets. (I wonder what they do with the leftovers on Easter Monday?) But all I found were warnings about pet poisoning. Every part of of a lily is deadly to cats, apparently, with even the smallest nibble of a leaf causing kidney failure and subsequent death. We’re not talking either—this was in the Washington Post, the Boston Globe, and other major dailies, with reputable vets and the ASPCA as sources. As Easter lilies are one of the biggest flower crops in the U.S. (11 million a year), that’s a lot of sick animals.

I’ve been growing lilies for eight years and living with cats for over ten, and I had never heard this—or noticed it. Other gardeners seem to be as unaware of this deadliness as I was, as this quote from Claire Span’s Alameda Garden demonstrates: “And I’m not the only one who loves them. My cat Linus greeted me today with his white mustache dyed orange from the lilly’s pollen. Apparently he finds the scent irresistable too.” A long string of posts on the Yahoo lily group gives additional anecdotal evidence that cats and lilies can co-exist.

But just as I’ve discussed before (in reference to humans), there is a long list of plants that can harm pets, including azalea, oleander, tulips, hyacinths, yew, our old friend castor bean, and many others. Lilies aren’t on the human list; the lily bulb is often prepared in various ways and eaten. (Not by me, not at $20 a pop for the more rarified Orienpets.)

I often have lilies in the house—either my own or store-bought—and my cat’s never suffered for it, or been seen eating them. Cats are highly variable creatures; some are inveterate plant eaters, while others don’t go near them. I never buy the longiflorum anyway; too much sacrificial baggage, and they’re not hardy here, as almost all other lilies are.

Before I get off this, I must also comment that on Friday one of our local right-wing talk radio guys was going on and on about Easter lilies and pets—but if he had heard about the safe lawn event Susan just wrote about, he would have denounced all the participants as crazy hippies. This is s station where lawn companies (that dispense all kinds of chemicals) advertise year-round.


More unambiguously documented is the alarming news that another harbinger of spring (one that doesn’t need to be forced), the magnolia tree, is in very serious danger. Although only about fifteen cultivars of magnolia are used in domestic plantings, there are over 200 wild magnolias and 131 of these (most found in Asia) are threatened with extinction. I received this news via a press release from the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens, which also reports that conservation efforts are now underway under the direction of the Global Trees Campaign. I’ve never seen a magnolia in the wild, but I’ve long appreciated the beauty of the domestic magnolias that do so well in urban areas like Buffalo. The trees are losing ground to farming, woodcutting, “horticultural demand,” and the medicinal plant trade. And if the trees are endangered, the forests are endangered, like so many others worldwide.

I feel somewhat out of touch with nature on this holiday weekend. The magnolia news simply documents more threats to habitats of trees and plants everywhere. Closer to home, bitter weather prohibits getting in touch with the soil. In a few weeks, all this will change. Well, the big issues won’t change, but I’ll be back in the garden—finally.

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Elizabeth Licata

Elizabeth Licata has been a regular writer for  Garden Rant since 2007, after contributing a guest rant about the overuse of American flags in front gardens. She lives and gardens in Buffalo, N.Y., which, far from the frozen wasteland many assume it to be, is a lush paradise of gardens, historic architecture, galleries, museums, theaters, and fun. As editor of Buffalo Spree magazine,  Licata helps keep Western New Yorkers apprised about what is happening in their region. She is also a freelance writer and art curator, who’s been published in Fine Gardening, Horticulture, ArtNews, Art in America, the Village Voice, and many other publications. She does regular radio segments for the local NPR affiliate, WBFO.

Licata is involved with Garden Walk Buffalo, the largest free garden tour in the US and possibly the world, and has written the text for a book about Garden Walk. She has also written and edited several art-related books. Contact Elizabeth: ealicata at


  1. I have four cats and about 30 houseplants, and none of mine chew the foliage either. I used to have a cat who would literally eat anything — dust bunnies, plastic bags, and one time she chewed up a piece of wicker and landed in the veterinary hospital for 10 days — and she never poisoned herself on a houseplant.

    Cats have a very good sense of smell, and what mine go crazy for is grass. It has vitamins (folic acid) and minerals and the fiber helps with hairballs.

    Anything else just isn’t good enough, I guess 😉

  2. I’ve gone from being hyper-vigilant about having toxic plants in the garden to being rather laissez faire, partly because my vet told me that while many plants could potentially be lethal to cats, in real life they are more likely to barf up whatever poisonous plant they chew on before it reaches a serious level of toxicity in their system. I’m not sure I’d want to bet my cat’s life on that, so I rely on observed behavior. The aforementioned Linus is a serious flower sniffer, but the only plants he wants to chew on outdoors are weeds (for which he has earned the title of Undergardener). Houseplants, on the other hand, are another story altogether and both my cats seem determined that any living plant in the house shall suffer death by a thousand nibbles. Consequently, there are no Easter lillies, no Christmas poinsettias, nothing toxic at all inside.

  3. I ordered a bunch of longiflorums a few years ago from Brent & Becky’s, which claimed they’d be hardy in my Zone 5 garden. Then was annoyed to learn that they’re not supposed to be hardy beyond Zone 6 or 7. Apparently, the lilies hadn’t heard this news, either, because they have done just fine in my yard. And come July, they smell divine!

  4. Fred the dalmatian has been grazing on spider plants I have growing around the base of a Ficus religiousa. Other than that, haven’t had any problems with the dogs eating stuff they shouldn’t.

  5. Both of my now elderly and doddering cats graze regularly on my mowed high with mulching mower, zero chemical fertilizer thick green centipede grass pesticide free lawn in a garden and nursery filled with potentially poisonous plants. It seems to aid them in lifting hairballs up through the digestive track.

    Unfortunatley I read with great interest that Lilium longflorum is deadly toxic to cats. They have about six weeks to go peacefully on their own. If kidney failure, a worsening heart murmur and nerve damage don’t get the job done they may need a little assistance. The vet wants money and even more money for a house visit.

    I bet there will be a sale on Easter Lilies tomorrow.

  6. My cat may find an Easter Lily bouquet by her food bowl as a reward for the fine job she did knocking down one of my hand-painted Polish eggs (pisanki) and dragging the broken pieces all over the house.

  7. If given the choice, Christopher C.’s cats might prefer to ravage the lilies themselves rather than submit to a doctor – thus keeping their identity as hunters and adventurers to the end.

    This post reminds me I was going to look for a post-Easter bargain lily to plant outside – thanks for the nudge.

    Annie at the Transplantable Rose

  8. I really really hope that don’t make me do it. At 16 and 17 they have already made it to the far side of the kitty life curve. They just seem so damn contented still. Even the one who has seizures on a daily basis takes it in stride.

  9. Perusing the Easter lily display at our local Stop ‘n Shop last week, I sniffed four or five of different pots of lily blooms–no scent at all. But what’s a home with an Easter lily? So I purchased one with two blooms and five buds. To my surprise, a day or so after they open fully, they are full of scent. Perhaps the fact that the commercial growers force them for the Easter market has something to do with the initial lack of scent?


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