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Friday - November 14, 2008

From: Livermore, CA
Region: California
Topic: Poisonous Plants, Ferns, Herbs/Forbs, Trees
Title: Tropical looking plants for pool area in California
Answered by: Nan Hampton


I am looking for small tropical looking plants, groundcover, and 2-small trees for around my pool. They have to be non-toxic to dogs,cats, and people. They can't attract bees/wasps, or have a root system that may crack the pool walls. I am having a hard time finding what are safe. Plants with colorful leaves are great, since most flowers would be out. I live in Livermore, CA 94551. I think it is zone 10 (not sure). Thank you for your help.


Well, you've given Mr. Smarty Plants a tough assignment.  First of all, unless we pick ferns and mosses, the plants are going to have flowers of some kind.  And, if they have flowers, it will difficult to find ones that aren't polinated by insects of some sort. Additionally, truly tropical plants aren't going to do well in your climate.  The USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map shows Alameda County, California in Zones 9a (20 to 25 °) and 9B (25 to 30 °).  You could consider ferns for some of the plants around your pool.  They do not produce flowers and do not attract insects as pollinators.  Most ferns grow in shade or part shade and require at least a moderate amount of moisture.  Here are a few ferns native to California and Alameda County.  None of them appears on any of the toxic databases listed below and they do look rather tropical:


Athyrium filix-femina (common ladyfern

Blechnum spicant (deer fern)

Dryopteris arguta (coastal woodfern) and photos

Pellaea andromedifolia (coffee cliffbrake)

Polystichum munitum (western swordfern)

Woodwardia fimbriata (giant chainfern) with photos from Stanford University

The following small trees are native to your area.  None of them appear on any of the following toxic databases, but I don't guarantee that they won't be visited by bees and other insects.

Small Trees:

Umbellularia californica (California laurel)

Heteromeles arbutifolia (toyon)

Acacia farnesiana (sweet acacia)

Arctostaphylos glauca (big berry manzanita)

Morella californica (California wax myrtle) with photos

Groundcover.  The following are recommended as groundcover.  Neither of them appear on any of the following toxic databases, but I don't guarantee that they won't be visited by bees and other insects.

Ribes viburnifolium (island gooseberry) 

Salvia spathacea (hummingbird sage)

Toxic databases:

Poisonous Plants of North Carolina, Cornell University Plants Poisonous to Livestock, Canadian Poisonous Plants Information System, University of Pennsylvania's Poisonous Plants, and Texas Toxic Plants Database.


Athyrium filix-femina

Blechnum spicant

Pellaea andromedifolia

Polystichum munitum

Umbellularia californica

Heteromeles arbutifolia

Acacia farnesiana

Ribes viburnifolium

Salvia spathacea





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