Elephant ear poisoning
Elephant ear plants are indoor or outdoor plants with very large, arrow-shaped leaves. Poisoning may occur if you eat parts of this plant.
This article is for information only. DO NOT use it to treat or manage an actual poison exposure. If you or someone you are with has an exposure, call your local emergency number (such as 911), or your local poison center can be reached directly by calling the national toll-free Poison Help hotline (1-800-222-1222) from anywhere in the United States.
The harmful substances in elephant ear plants are:
- Oxalic acid
- Asparagine, a protein found in this plant
Note: Leaves and stems are the most dangerous when eaten in large amounts.
Elephant ear grows naturally in tropical and subtropical areas. It is also common in northern climates.
Symptoms of elephant ear poisoning are:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Redness, pain, and burning of the eyes
- Severe burning in the mouth and throat
- Swelling of the tongue, mouth, and eyes
Wipe out the mouth with a cold, wet cloth. Wash off any plant sap on the skin. Rinse out the eyes.
Do NOT make the person throw up unless poison control or a health care provider tells you to.
Before Calling Emergency
Have this information ready:
- Person's age, weight, and condition
- Part of plant swallowed, if known
- Time swallowed
- Amount swallowed
Your local poison control center can be reached directly by calling the national toll-free Poison Help hotline (1-800-222-1222) from anywhere in the United States. This national hotline will let you talk to experts in poisoning. They will give you further instructions.
This is a free and confidential service. All local poison control centers in the United States use this national number. You should call if you have any questions about poisoning or poison prevention. It does NOT need to be an emergency. You can call for any reason, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
What to Expect at the Emergency Room
Take the plant with you to the hospital, if possible.
The provider will measure and monitor the person's vital signs, including temperature, pulse, breathing rate, and blood pressure. Symptoms will be treated.
The person may receive:
- Breathing support, including tube through the mouth into the lungs and connected to a breathing machine (ventilator), in extreme cases only
- Fluids through the vein (by IV)
- Medicines to treat symptoms
Most symptoms will disappear within several days to a week if treated correctly.
In rare cases, oxalic acid causes swelling severe enough to block the airways.
Graeme KA. Toxic plant ingestions. In: Auerbach PS, Cushing TA, Harris NS, eds. Auerbach's Wilderness Medicine. 7th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2017:chap 65.
Magill AJ, Hill DR, Solomon T, Ryan ET. Poisonous plants and aquatic animals. In: Magill AJ, Hill DR, Solomon T, Ryan ET, eds. Hunter's Tropical Medicine and Infectious Disease. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2013:chap 133.
Reviewed By: Jesse Borke, MD, FACEP, FAAEM, Attending Physician at FDR Medical Services/Millard Fillmore Suburban Hospital, Buffalo, NY. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.