For many, August means back to school. Even if you do homeschooling, why not spruce the classroom up with an indoor plant or two? Last year I wrote about house plants that purify the air. Won’t it be nice to have fresh air as a bonus? We need non-toxic so it will be great for any place with small children or pets.
Many common household plants like coleus, snake plant, and peace lily are toxic to humans and/or pets. Toxic plants may poison from:
- Eating or touching leaves
- Ingesting berries, blossoms, or roots
- Skin contact with sap or juices
- Eating soil
- Drinking water from plant tray
Let’s look at some non-toxic plants for classrooms that are good-looking and may offer educational opportunities. Each plant has its light and water needs. Choose an appropriate plant for your lighting situation. Growth lights might be necessary if classroom windows do not receive much sunlight. Each plant has a link to information on its needs from the University of Florida or the almanac.com.
I. Perhaps the safest of all houseplants, the Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera) is non-toxic, and the fronds have no stickers. It is also known as holiday cactus and Thanksgiving cactus. This little succulent will blossom from November to January but it makes a great indoor plant throughout the year. This plant is easy to care for and shines with colorful blooms when days become shorter. Christmas cactus grow best in bright, indirect light. Try placing them within six feet of a south-, east-, or west-facing window. Fertilize every one to two months during the growing season (April to September).
II. African violets are small, easy-to-grow tropical plants with flowers that come in shades of pink, purple, and white. These small potted tropical plants love a spot with bright indirect light and moderate temperatures. These plants can be used to teach about propagation. To create new plants just snap off a leaf and nestle it in potting soil. It’s also a great example of a plant that wants to be watered from the bottom. In some homes, these plants may require special lighting before they produce their blooms. However, some people have luck in regular lighting too. I once lived in a condo with a perfect window exposure and my african violets bloomed and multiplied. I have NOT found a good window in my current home. Sigh.
III. Bird’s nest fern is an interesting plant, with shiny leaves that uncurl from the center. As an epiphyte, this plant can grow either in moist, loose soil, or on trees and rocks with very little media. This plant is useful for teaching about epiphytes. You can attach it to a fibrous slab with copper wires.
IV. Bromeliads, also epiphytes, stand out with bold, colorful leaves and exotic flower spikes. When grown indoors they need bright, diffused light—no direct sunlight. The range of colors available in this plant group allows you to add a bright and tropical feel to classroom space. Caution: some species have toothed leaf margins that can scratch and cause itching.
V. Spider plant is fun to grow indoors. This popular houseplant spreads by growing long shoots that develop pre-rooted plantlets at their tips along with clusters of small white flowers. The plantlets are easily propagated by simply removing and potting them. Below are babies planted in mason jars.
Photo via Amazon
VI. Succulents make great indoor plants and they come in a large variety of forms and colors. Christmas cactus above is a type of succulent. Study the needs of the variety you like and place the right plant in the right place.
VII. Jade plant (crassula ovata) is a thick, meaty succulent with beautiful glossy leaves. It is evergreen, which makes it pleasant as a year-round houseplant. The plants can be easily propagated by placing a trimmed stem in water until roots form. They grow best at room temperature (65 to 75°F), but prefer slightly cooler temperatures at night and in the winter (55°F). Keep soil moist but not wet during active growth in the spring and summer. Allow soil to dry between waterings in the winter. Avoid splashing water on the leaves while watering.
VIII. Wandering Jew (Tradescantia) probably requires the least amount of care of any of these houseplants. This plant will vine uncontrollably if left untrimmed. Be careful where you toss those plant cuttings too. Wandering Jew will take root wherever it falls, be that in another pot, a glass of water, or in your yard. This makes it a perfect plant to teach easy propagation. By the end of the school year, you may have enough plants for every student to take one home.
There are many easy houseplants that I have not included due to safety issues with children or pets. Miss your favorite plant? Do your research before adding plants to a classroom or home with children and pets. Below are plant safety tips for the home and classroom.
Teach everyone to live with plants safely by implementing a few rules and practices:
- Teach children which plants can be touched from an early age.
- Always insist on hand washing after handling plants or their debris
- Use red pepper around plants to deter curious pets.
- If you are still concerned, use hanging pots, baskets, indoor window-boxes, shelves, or tall plant stands to keep plants out of reach.
- Regularly trim plants and clean up leaves, stems and other debris to prevent a choking risk.
- Keep large, heavy pots in a stable location so they cannot be tipped over easily, causing injury.
I love children gardening!
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