Plants & Wood – Safe & Unsafe



Safe Plants and Shrubs
The following plants are non-toxic and may be used as decoration (including branches recommended for cage perches)

Toxic Plants and Shrubs
see also FDA Poisonous Plant Database

Safe and Dangerous Woods thanks Pat Zaccardi of Feathers & Fun, and she would like to express her appreciation to all of the folks on the following Onelist Groups (Now EGroups): Cockatoos, Conures, and Conurepics.

SAFE & UNSAFE WOOD FOR BIRDS (updated 10-24-00)

Wash all wood in a bleach solution, rinse then for small branches bake in oven at 250 for about 1 hour and for large branches wash, rinse and dry in direct sun.

Acacia, Alder, Almond, Apple, Apricot (*see note below), Arbutus, Ash, Aspen, Bamboo, Beech, Birch, Bois d’arc (*see note below), Bottle Brush, Cherry (*see note below), Citrus, Cork Oak (*see note below), Cottonwood, Crabapple, Dogwood, Elm, Eucalyptus (*see note below), Fig Species, Fir, Fruitless Mulberry, Ginkgo, Grape Vines, Grape Palm, Guava, Hackberry, Hawthorn, Hazelnut, Hibiscus, Hickory, Horse Apple (*see note below), Ironwood, Larch, Lilac, Liquidamber, Madrona, Magnolia, Manzanita, Maple, Mediterranean Laurel, Mesquite (remove thorns), Mimosa, Mulberry, Nectarine (*see note below), Norfolk Island Pine, Nut (except Chestnut & Oak), Oak (wood only, no bark or leaves), (*see note below), Palm, Papaya, Peach (*see note below) Pear, Pecan, Pine, Plum (*see note below), Poplar, Prune (*see note below), Ribbonwood, Rose, Sassafras, Sequoia (redwood) (*see note below), Spruce, Sweet Gum, Sycamore, Thurlow , Tree fern, Umbrella tree, Vine Maple, Walnut (Black Walnut may be dangerous), Willow (Goat, Pussy & Weeping)

A couple of woods appear on safe lists that shouldn’t or should be noted that there are problems with some species.  Redwood has long been associated with rashes and the dust with lung and eye disorders.  It contains high levels of volatile oils that are known toxins.  Further exposure is believed to suppress the immune system.

Box Elder Wood: UNSAFE
Chinese Popcorn/Chinese Tallow:  UNSAFE
Hemlock:  UNSAFE (see note below)
Sumac:  UNSAFE (aka Rhus/Toxicodendron)

Black Locust has been cited as causing some toxic reactions with birds, though members of this species are also known as the Acacia, which is listed as safe.

Gillian Willis on her website says “Do not use apricot, cherry, peach, prune, plum or nectarine. These trees all belong to the Prunus species. They contain cyanogenic glycosides which release cyanide if ingested.

There is some disagreement over whether cherry, oak and eucalyptus are toxic. However the wood should be safe but avoid the leaves and seeds and in the case of oak and cherry the bark as well.  (Safety on Cherry is questionable)

London Tree is in the sycamore family, and is currently under research.

Do not give the birds redwood.  The oils the wood contains are toxic.  But the biggest problem is if they get a splinter, redwood tends to block the immune response and they become infected quite easily.  Oak appears on a number of toxic lists, primarily because of the tannin in the leaves and acorns.  In the writer’s opinion this is totally unjustified, the wood should be perfectly fine as it is not generally eaten and contains little tannin in most species.

Cork Oak – (again avoid foliage and acorns) the bark of cork oak is safe for consumption even by humans whose tolerance for tannin is much lower than most bird species.

Cork Oak is a safe wood to leave the bark on.  Cork oak has very low levels of tannin (far lower then other oaks) and the bark is just what the name says ‘Cork”  Cork Oak is originally from southern Europe and is the source of all natural cork.  The bark is very thick and well, cork like.  It can be found wherever there are old wine growing areas as it was grown to provide corks for the bottles.  It is also found scattered around the southeastern US and California.  Because of it’s very low tannin content it is safe for use in food storage (the cork in the wine bottle, oil bottles, etc.)  There is a similar species found native to North America, the Prairie Oak a variety of live oak is found throughout the great plains and east to Ohio.  It has a very thick cork like bark, however I do not know what the safety factor for this species would be.  Information on the composition of woods and related materials can be found in a number of publications, I don’t remember the names off hand, but any university that has a good botany or agronomy department, or your university agricultural extension service should be able to direct you to the appropriate references.  When I was researching the safe woods for our birds the Calif State University Fresno Agricultural Dept was more than helpful, completely willing to answer any questions I had and to help me find the references.

Eucalyptus –  while it appears on many toxic lists I have never been able to find a good reason for it being there. The level of phenols (the toxic elements in eucalyptus) is lower than in many pine species which are considered perfectly safe.  While you might want to avoid the foliage there doesn’t appear to be any reason to do so. Considering that many lorikeet and cockatoo species eat the flowers and new leaves in the wild, and that it is
the dominant native wood for Australia concern over it’s toxicity seems exaggerated.

Oak (except Tan Oak which should be avoided because of the VERY high tannin content) though there is some controversy about Oak it appears that the wood should be safe.  the bark leaves and especially the acorns have much higher levels of tannins and should be avoided.  While many bird species including many parrots regularly feed on nuts and vegetation that have levels of tannin much higher than oaks, it is unclear how their
bodies deal with the substance and it is therefore probably advisable to avoid high doses.

Cherry – this one is really controversial.  there are confirmed cases of dogs and of horses having fatal reactions to eating cherry wood.  However I have been unable to find any confirmed report of bird fatalities.  Regardless the sap is what contains the toxic elements (see Gillians Help pages) and that is contained primarily in the Cambium, a layer of material just below the bark.  If cherry is to be used it should be dry, debarked and any traces of sap removed.  Under no circumstances should fresh cherry, the foliage or bark be given to birds.

Ginkgo – While the female Ginkgo may have an unpleasant smell the wood, bark and foliage all appear to be safe.

Hemlock – The wood that is sold in lumber yards (sometimes called Hem Fir) is safe but the foliage is toxic. No other species of hemlock should be considered safe.

Chinese Magnolia – The wood, foliage and flowers all appear to be safe, but I have been unable to confirm this. According to CSUF biologist and agronomists they could see noreason to consider it dangerous (it is not a known toxic plant) but know of no reason to consider it completely safe either.

Cedar occasionally appears on safe lists.  If Cedar is to be used, Red cedar should be avoided for the same reasons as redwood.  Yellow and Sitka Cedar may be safe though.

Laurel appears on most toxic lists.  Most Laurel species are toxic but the
Mediterranean Laurel is safe. Distinguishing the species can be difficult though and unless the species is known absolutely it should be avoided.

One plant that deserves mention as it occasionally appears in gardens as an exotic ornamental is the Chinese Snake Tree.  This is a VERY TOXIC plant and even contact with the sap (through the skin) can present the risk of fatality to small animals and children.  It is sometimes called the Lacquer plant because it was the source of lacquer.

Also to be avoided is the Pitch Pine.  It was the source material for turpentine and has VERY high levels of phenols.  Contact with the wood can cause rashes and the fumes from burning it have been known to cause lung and eye disorders.
Bois d’arc, which is also called the Horse Apple tree, and this is in the Mulberry family and is a safe wood but I had to write a lot of bird folks.

U.C. Davis School of Veterinary Medicine:  Pets and Toxic Plants

A surprisingly large number of common garden and household plants are toxic to pets, and reactions to toxicity range from mild to life-threatening. Pets, like young children, explore the world with their senses, and they are therefore vulnerable to accidental poisoning.  Many of these plants make wonderful additions to thegarden, but it is important to know which plants are toxic.  If possible, avoid planting these where pets (or children) will have frequent unsupervised access to the plants.

The 12 plants listed below are responsible for the majority of calls to our Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital (VMTH) about possible plant poisoning. The list was compiled by Director of Pharmacy Dr. Valerie Wiebe. The toxicity of the plants below varies according to the species of animal exposed (cat, dog, bird, etc.), the amount of the plant that was ingested, andthe specific variety or species of the plant.

If you suspect your pet has ingested any of the plants below, call your veterinarian immediately.  Do not wait to see if symptoms appear, because in some cases of poisoning, by the time symptoms appear it is too late to save the animal. 

  1. Lilies (Lilium, all spp.): Ingesting any part of the plant can cause complete kidney failure in 36-72 hours. First symptoms appear in a few hours and may include appetite suppression, lethargy, vomiting.  Cats are especially sensitive to lily poisoning, so be very careful to keep your cats away from liliies of any kind, including the Amaryllis, Easter lilies, and Stargazer lilies so often found in homes around the holidays.
  2. Lily of the Valley (Convallaria majalis): Ingesting any part of the plant can cause cardiac dysrhythmias, vomiting, diarrhea, confusion, weakness, and even death. (Photo courtesy of web site).
  3. Anemone (Anenome and Pulsatilla, family Ranunculaceae): Irritating to the mucus membranes, and can cause blisters, hemorrhagic gastritis, shock, convulsions, and death. (Photo is Japanese Anemone).
  4. Aloe Vera (family Liliaceae): Vomiting, depression, diarrhea, anorexia, tremors, change in urine color.
  5. Amaryllis (family Amaryllidaceaea, incl. Hippeastrum spp.) All species, including Belladonna Lily, are toxic, and especially dangerous to cats. The bulbs are the toxic part of the plant.  The “Amaryllis” commonly seen during the December holidays are Hippeastrum species.  Symptoms include vomiting, depression, diarrhea, abdominal pain, hyper-salivation, anorexia, tremors.  (Photo courtesy of Ellen Zagory, UC Davis Arboretum).
  6. Asparagus Fern (family Liliaceae): Allergic dermatitis, gastric upset, vomiting, diarrhea.
  7. Daffodil (Narcissus): Vomiting, diarrhea. Large ingestions cause convulsions, low blood pressure, tremors, cardiac arrhythmias.
  8. Philodendrons: Irritation, intense burning and irritation of the mouth, lips, tongue, excessive drooling, vomiting, difficulty swallowing.
  9. Jade Plants (Crassula argentea): Vomiting, depressions, ataxia, slow heart rate.
  10. Chrysanthemums: Vomiting, diarrhea, hyper salivation, incoordination, dermatitis.
  11. Cyclamen (Cyclamen persicum): The tubers or rhizomes contain the toxic glycoside cyclanin, a terpenoid saponin.  Ingestion can cause excess salivation, vomiting, diarrhea, heart rhythm abnormalities, seizures, or even death in rare cases.
  12. Cycads (including Sago palm; cardboard palm; etc.): The “Sago palm” is a cycad, not a true palm, and all parts of the plant are poisonous. Symptoms include vomiting, lethargy, melena (black “tarry” feces), icterus (jaundice), increased thirst, hemorrhagic gastritis, bruising, coagulopathy, liver failure, and death.  A northern California police dog, a patient at one of our Companion Animal Memorial Fund donor clinics, died in November 2011 after ingesting parts of this plant.

Common plants that are highly toxic but only rarely ingested by pets include:

(Note on photos:  Not all plants have photos posted, either because they were not in bloom, or a good example with positive identification has not yet been located.  Pictures will be added as they become available).