Home > Great Big Greenhouse Blog > February 2015 > PLANT GOT YOUR TONGUE?


There are a few houseplants that are on the highly toxic list, and the Dieffenbachia (Dumb cane) is one of them.  The plant has been popular for many years despite its danger to very young children and chewing pets.  Perhaps their beauty has something to do with our determination to brave the poison and enjoy this plant in home or office.

Dieffenbachias (dee-fen-BOK-ee-ah) contain very sharp calcium oxalate crystals that cause intense pain and swelling of the tongue and throat, resulting in a temporary inability to speak…thus ”dumb cane”.  These same crystals are found in the other members of the Araceae family (caladiums, peace lilies, philodendron, etc.) but in a less potent concentration.  This plant defense mechanism must be one of the best in the plant kingdom.  In addition, the sap is irritating to many people, although I have never suffered any ill effects from handling a dieffenbachia.  Incidentally, it is a very rare occurrence for someone to die of dieffenbachia poisoning.

These New World tropical plants are grown for their attractive foliage, although the hooded flower shows its relationship to flowering peace lilies and anthuriums.  Large green leaves may be spotted, striped, or blotched with creams or yellows.  Popular cultivars include D. ‘Camille’ with soft yellow leaves edged with green.  It is a bushy variety as is ‘Compacta’ (yellow leaves speckled with green) and ‘Starbright’ (long narrow yellow leaves irregularly blotched with green.)
The large leaved D. ‘Tropic Snow’ is still the favorite cultivar, growing to five or six feet or more.  In fact, this “vining” dieffenbachia will almost certainly need to be cut back occasionally as it leans its way toward the ceiling.  New growth will soon appear just below the node at which the cutting was made, and the cutting itself can be rooted to start another plant.  Many of our customers hesitate to cut the plant back, preferring to stake it, although I personally think a skinny mostly leaf-less stem tied to a couple of sticks is not a pretty sight!  Especially when a healthy, well-tended dieffenbachia is a thing of beauty. 
Posted: 2/4/2015 by Margot | with 0 comment(s)
Filed under: MargotGunn, TheGreatIndoors
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