Non-toxic plants for cats

Credit: Carolyn Jones

Q: I’m trying to find out what outdoor plants/shrubs/ferns/grasses are non-toxic for cats. Our cat has access to an enclosed outdoor area, which gets early morning sun and then shade the rest of the day. I would like to add some plants to the enclosure but need to know what is safe to grow. There are a number of websites that list non-toxic plants but I can’t determine which of the plants might grow best outdoors in shady areas. I’d prefer native-BC plants if possible.

I think I have the perfect plant for you: Japanese forest grass (Hakonechloa macra ‘Auroeola’). This is my cat Simon’s favorite plant and he whines every evening until I let him out for a little snack. My late dog Dylan loved it too. I once tried eating it to see what the excitement was all about and it tastes okay!

It loves shade and moves beautifully in a gentle breeze. It does best with regular water and grows a bit faster with regular fertilizer.

There are two down sides: it is deciduous, so it has to be cut right back in winter. This always makes Simon (pictured above) very grumpy—he glares at me as if it’s my fault. Plus it is not inexpensive. Gradually it makes a large clump (mine is now three feet across), but it is slow growing. If your cat likes eating it too much, it might not have a chance to increase. The first time I planted the Japanese forest grass, Simon ate the entire thing, which cost me $10! I have now planted it in the front garden and he only gets to nibble under supervision.

Simon also likes Carex conica ‘Hime Kanasugi’ or ‘Snowline,’ which is a very dwarf little carex with green and white variegation. This is evergreen, so he can nibble all winter.

Unfortunately neither the Japanese forest grass nor Snowline is native to British Columbia.

On the other hand, your cat might just ignore all plants, as my other cat Garfunkel does. To be honest, I’ve never worried about what is poisonous as my cats are so cautious about what they eat.