Though often grown as a houseplant, umbrella tree (Schefflera actinophylla, also called Brassaia arboricola) contains toxins potentially harmful to people and animals. Reactions to the poison are not usually severe, but you should contact a poison control for help if someone eats part of the plant.
About The Toxin
Umbrella trees are poisonous because they contain calcium oxalate crystals, which are in the umbrella plant's sap, which means it's in all parts of the plant. The sap causes minor skin irritation that typically lasts only a few minutes. If you get the sap on your skin, wash with soap and water immediately. Wear gloves when you're working with the plant.
When people eat the leaves or sap, it can cause vomiting, numbness and tingling in the mouth and a lack of coordination. Umbrella plant poisoning causes a similar reaction in pets. Animals may vomit, drool, have difficulty swallowing or may show signs of burning or irritation in the mouth, lips and tongue.
Contact a Poison Control Center by calling 1-800-222-1222 if a person eats any part of this plant. Tell the operator that you suspect schefflera poisoning, and follow the instructions.
If your pet eats part of an umbrella tree, contact your veterinarian for assistance.
Umbrella Tree Uses
You might wonder why this plant is in so many homes and gardens if is hazardous to people and pets. Outdoors, umbrella trees can reach up to 50 feet tall and make an impressive evergreen specimen plant. They are more often grown as a houseplant because they're tropical plants, and only grow outdoors in the warm, frost-free climates of U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 10 through 11. The plants may overwinter outdoors in USDA zone 9 if you protect them from frost.
Indoors, umbrella trees typically reach about 6 to 8 feet tall and can be kept smaller with pruning. They are well-suited to container growing and need medium or bright light.