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Frequently (and not so frequently) Asked Questions

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BRIEF: Do you have any information on Monstera deliciosa?


QUESTION:
I was perusing your site http://www.ansci.cornell.edu/plants/plants.html looking for information pertaining to the toxicity of the split leaf Philodendron (Monstera deliciosa) and came up empty handed. Do you happen to have any information available on this plant, particular as pertains to the sap?

ANSWER:

The sap from Philodendron species (and Monstera) contains a potent alkyl resorcinol that can cause hypersensitivity dermatitis similar to what you have observed in your son. Alkyl resorcinols are similar to the urushiols that cause poison ivy sensitivity, except the two hydroxyl groups on the phenolic ring are attached to carbons separated by one other in the resorcinols and they are on carbons next to each other with the urushiols. As you have observed, the effect is similar. Philodendron also has some oxylate crystals that can cause physical penetration and pain when chewed or brought into contact with particularly sensitive skin.
QUESTION:
My son was exposed to the sap when he was seven. Since then, any encounter with any sap causes disfiguring facial swelling, rashes, throat swelling, wheezing, etc.

ANSWER:

Any sap? What kind of woods do you live near? Resorcinols are found in many plants, including some grains and it would not surprise me if he was cross-sensitized to a variety of resorcinols, or maybe even urushiol-containing saps, but any sap? I think you need an actual medical person to sort that out for you, perhaps a research immunologist of some sort.
QUESTION:
My hope is to find out what active ingredient in the monstera philodendron might have been responsible and perhaps then we can find an allergist who will provide some relief.

ANSWER:

Desensitization is really tricky for people that are this sensitive.