Dieffenbachia

Dieffenbachia (Dumb Cane Plant): Types, How to Grow and Care

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Although they come with a bit of danger, Dieffenbachia remains one of the popular aroid species used to decorate households. 

Their large, showy foliage drowns the fact that it is one of the most dangerous houseplants for humans and animals alike. But with the proper handling and care, the dangers of having Dieffenbachia could be avoided, all while enjoying the most out of this beautiful plant.

What is a Dieffenbachia?

Dieffenbachia is a genus under the family Araceae (Aroid family). It is a flowering plant that originated in the tropical forests of South America. 

Dieffenbachia are evergreen plants, with leaves that are patterned green and white. They grow up to 12 inches tall and sometimes bloom into a pale spathe inflorescence that is rather inconspicuous under the large, showy foliage.

Also known as dumb canes, they are used by the natives in various folkloric medicines and as an ingredient in poison arrows. Nowadays, they are popular plants to adorn both indoor and outdoor spaces with many cultivars and varieties.

Grown mainly for their beautiful foliage, Dieffenbachia is perfect in giving any space a warm, tropical look.


What Are Some Varieties of Dieffenbachia?

dumb cane plant
Dumb canes houseplant in silver pot – Image by Farhadib/depositphotos

Dieffenbachia seguine

This is the most common species of Dieffenbachia. They are previously known as D. maculata and D. picta. They feature dark green leaves patterned with white stripes on both sides of the midrib. D. seguine is often used as one of the parent plants of many Dieffenbachia cultivars.

‘Camille’

“Camille” is one of the cultivars of D. seguine.  This cultivar grows up to 31 inches tall and features large, oval leaves with a delicate pattern of dark green margin that fades to a creamy white at the center.

‘Exotica’

‘Exotica’ is a tall, showy cultivar of D. seguine. This cultivar features ivory white leaves with green specks, and a narrow green pattern on the margin. They can grow up to 24 inches tall.

Dieffenbachia oerstidii

This is the only variety of Dieffenbachia that has leaves that are almost green all throughout, except for the midrib which is ivory white. The leaves are impressive with their solid matte color. They can grow up to 51 inches in height  

Other varieties of Dieffenbachia: ‘Tropic Snow’, ‘Honeydew’, ‘Snow’, ‘Tiki’ 

How Dangerous is Dieffenbachia?

Dieffenbachia is harmful to both humans and animals. They contain oxalate crystals, called raphides, in all parts of the plant. 

When ingested, it causes irritation and inflammation of the tongue and throat, resulting in speechlessness and choking. (1), which is why they are also called ‘dumb cane’ or ‘mother-in-law’s tongue’ (2). 

Nevertheless, the effects are not life-threatening for humans and animals, with the severe cases resulting in lasting pain for several days (3).

Contrary to popular belief, Dieffenbachia is, in fact, not poisonous. It is more of an irritant that irritates the mucous lining of the mouth and throat. 

The plant sap also contains raphides and could cause contact dermatitis and could irritate the eyes. So, make sure to handle Dieffenbachia with care when repotting or propagating.


How to Take Care For Dieffenbachia

Dieffenbachia is not the most hardy of houseplants. It is quite fickle and fussy when it comes to its growth requirements. With the proper care and maintenance, you can keep your Dieffenbachia plants thriving for years.

How much sunlight does Dieffenbachia need?

What makes Dieffenbachia a perfect houseplant is the fact that it thrives well under shaded conditions. But that does not mean it doesn’t need light. Place your Dieffenbachia plants in areas where they can receive diffused sunlight or in partially shaded areas (4).

What is the optimum temperature and humidity for growing Dieffenbachia?

Because of their tropical nature, Dieffenbachia plants have specific temperature requirements. These plants are sensitive to low temperatures. 

To ensure optimal growth, temperatures should be between 60-75oF (15-23oC). High humidity is also recommended although they can thrive well under normal humidity (5).

How often do I need to water my Dieffenbachia?

Dieffenbachia are herbaceous plants with lots of water in their stems. Overwatering can cause the plant to develop leaf yellowing and root/base rot. Pay close attention in watering your Dieffenbachia plants. Water them regularly while allowing the soil to dry before the next watering.

What is the ideal potting/growing media for Dieffenbachia?

Dieffenbachia plants grow best in loose and fertile soil that drains well. A well-draining soil is important to prevent overwatering. Use a combination of perlite and potting soil (1:1), or soil and peat (1:1) for best results (6).

Does Dieffenbachia need fertilizer?

Dieffenbachia are heavy feeders which means they require more nutrients compared to average plants. But sometimes, overfertilizing can cause damage to plants such as leaf tip burn and leaf browning. 

To avoid this, use a complete fertilizer with 20-20-20 ratio every 4-6 weeks through the growing season (March-September) (6).

How to Propagate Dieffenbachia

Dieffenbachia is easy to propagate through stem cuttings or tip cuttings. When propagating by stem cuttings, choose ones that have at least one lateral bud and cut them into 2” pieces. Stick them in sphagnum moss for faster rooting.

For tip cuttings, just choose from either the terminal bud or the lateral bud of the plant. When propagating Dieffenbachia, make sure to avoid contact of the plant sap with your skin.

If you enjoy this article, don’t forget to check these best indoor plants.

References

Reference List

1.       Nellis D. ‘Poisonous Plants and Animals of Florida and the Caribbean’. Pineapple Press Inc. 1996. PP 147-148.

2.       Scott S., Thomas C. ’Poisonous Plants of Paradise: First Aid of Injuries from Hawaii’s Plants’. University of Hawaii Press. 2000. PP 57-59.

3.       Mrvos R., Dean B.S., Krenzelok E.P. ‘Philodendron/Dieffenbachia ingestions: Are they a problem?‘ Journal of Toxicology: Clinical Toxicology. 1991. 29(4). PP 485-491.

4.       Cathey H.M. “Selecting and Growing House Plants”. US Department of Agriculture. 1962. P 8

5.       “Dieffenbachia”. Gardening Solutions. University of Florida IFAS. 2014. (online) https://gardeningsolutions.ifas.ufl.edu/plants/houseplants/dieffenbachia.htms.

6.       “Dieffenbachia”. Home and Garden Education Center. University of Connecticut. 2011. (online) http://www.ladybug.uconn.edu/FactSheets/dieffenbachia.php

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