Protect pets from poisonous plants

Are elephant ear plants poisonous to cats? I want to give one to a friend, but I don't want to kill her cats!

The foliage of Colocasia esculentum, commonly known as elephant ears or taro, contains the irritant calcium oxilate. Although potentially toxic, the immediate effects of this compound are oral pain and irritation. Consequently, any animal that attempts to eat some of the plant feels the discomfort long before a toxic amount could be ingested. The tuber of taro is nontoxic and actually a staple food product in many tropical regions. For lists of toxic and nontoxic plants, go to the website of the American Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals at or call your vet.

I am interested in receiving one of your free soil-testing kits. How hard is it to use the kit? Are the chemicals dangerous?

We provide soil-testing bags in which you put your soil sample (about a cup of soil.) We also send instructions on how to choose a soil-testing laboratory and how to dig up the sample from your lawn or garden bed. Plus, there is a chart of soil-testing laboratories in our region where you can mail your soil sample. We don't send chemicals. To simplify things, you can get all the aforementioned instructions on our website and mail your soil sample in a plastic baggie.

University of Maryland Extension's Home and Garden Information Center offers free gardening and pest information. Call 800-342-2507 or send a question from the website at

Plant of the week

Dracena 'Tricolor'

Dracena marginata 'Tricolor'

If your houseplant died, it probably wasn't a dracena. Unless you drown it, subject it for prolonged periods of time to temperatures below 50 degrees or keep it in the dark, this plant is a survivor — a good gift for loved ones with black thumbs. Dracena "Tricolor," with leaves striped in green, pink and cream, is one of the most attractive. As it grows, lower leaves fall off, leaving a bristly-headed stem that can eventually reach the ceiling. Easily propagated stem portions can be kept in moist potting mixture, and new leaves and roots will form. It prefers bright light but not direct sun. Water it when the soil dries. It likes humidity, too.

— Ginny Williams

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