What is Dieffenbachia?

Stacy C.

Dieffenbachia is a type of tropical plant from the Araceae family. Although toxic, they're most often used as houseplants because they are able to tolerate low levels of light. The name applies to about 30 herbaceous plant species. The leaves of Dieffenbachia are typically oval-oblong shaped and can have spotted, striped or speckled patterns of white or yellow. A well-grown Dieffenbachia can grow to more than 5 feet (1.5 meters) tall, and when raised as houseplants, they tend to lose their lower leaves to give a False Palm effect. Common varieties of the Dieffenbachia include Tropic Snow, Australian and the Exotica Compacta. All varieties are sometimes referred to as "Dumb Cane" because of the numbing effect the juice has on the mouth if it's accidentally ingested.

Ingesting dieffenbachia may cause a burning sensation in the mouth or throat.
Ingesting dieffenbachia may cause a burning sensation in the mouth or throat.

Dieffenbachia is quite easy to propagate. Suckers that grow from the base of the plant can be replanted, top pieces of the plant can be removed and planted, or pieces of stem with nodes on them can be cut off and planted. With any of these methods, new roots should start to grow after just a few days. The plant tolerates high levels of shade and is not particularly prone to disease, making it a popular variety of houseplant because it's fairly easy to keep alive. To be kept outside, the plant usually needs temperatures of 40 degree Fahrenheit (5 degrees Celsius) or higher year-round to survive.

Ingesting the juice of a dieffenbachia plant may cause nausea and vomiting.
Ingesting the juice of a dieffenbachia plant may cause nausea and vomiting.

Although Dieffenbachia isn't prone to disease, certain insects, including Mealybugs and Spider mites, are often attracted to it. Mealybugs can usually be removed with a cotton ball or swab soaked in rubbing alcohol. Spider mites can normally be killed by increasing the humidity around the plant — mites tend to prefer hot, dry air. Non-insect problems the plant may face include yellowing leaves, which may be a sign that it's too drafty for the tropical plant; faded leaves, which are often caused by too much light exposure; and browning of leaves, which often indicates dry soil.

Because Dieffenbachia are toxic plants, ingesting the juice can cause burning in the mouth or throat, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting and swelling in the mouth or tongue. Drinking milk after the juice has been eaten may help relieve some of the symptoms, but Poison Control should still be called. Consuming too much can be fatal to pets and children; swelling of the mouth can block the airways and be fatal to adults in extremely rare cases as well. The plant was named in honor of German naturalist and physician Ernst Dieffenbach.

Mealybugs can usually be removed with a cotton ball soaked in rubbing alcohol.
Mealybugs can usually be removed with a cotton ball soaked in rubbing alcohol.

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Discussion Comments


@Emilski - Izzy78's description was pretty good. I have had a plant of Dieffenbachia amoena for several years now. It is a very nice plant if you don't have a green thumb and you like the greenness, but not if you're gardening for the flowers.

Considering that you mentioned your mother really likes orchids, maybe look for something else. It was already mentioned, but peace lilies and royal flush are in the same family, and they have beautiful blooms that are fairly regular. Maybe check around and see if she has one of those.

I'm not sure how long it takes for the plant to grow up to the 5 feet mentioned in the article. Maybe that is one of the other species. For all I know, there could be a Dieffenbachia tree plant that has been bred to grow faster. Mine certainly isn't headed in that direction, though.


@Emilski - If your mother is really interested in the flowers of plants, this might not be the best option. I don't know if you are familiar with the Araceae family from your past plant experiences, but it is also the family of peace lilies and jack-in-the-pulpit if you know of those two species.

The "flower," even though what people call the flower technically isn't, is just one large petal with a large, cone shaped thing coming up from it. That cone is where the real flowers are, but they aren't anything to look at, really. It is hard to describe what they look like, so it might be best to just search for pictures of Dieffenbachia.

People like peace lilies for the blooms, but Dieffenbachia doesn't flower that often. Not to mention the petal is usually just green and not very pretty. It is definitely an accent plant more than anything.


Does anyone know what the flowers of Dieffenbachia look like? My mother loves getting house plants for her birthday, so I am always on the lookout for new things to buy her. Somehow I get her a new one almost every year, yet she manages not to make her house look like a jungle.

Orchids are definitely her favorite type of plant. Is there any change the flowers might look like that? Reading the article and other comments, it sounds like maybe there are a bunch of different types of Dieffenbachia. Is any one particularly better than the other?

The article talks about it growing up to 5 feet. How long does it take for that to happen? I don't think my mother has anything that tall. It might be nice to get her something that can add some height to the rest of her plants.


@simrin - I certainly wouldn't call Dieffenbachia lethal in the vast majority of cases. Only in special circumstances.

I don't know if you are familiar with taro root, but it is a plant that is in the Araceae family with Dieffenbachia. Taro is basically a tropic plant whose roots are eaten like a tuber or potato. If you've ever cooked with it or known someone who has, it is very important that you make sure it is fully cooked. The plants have some sort of needle-like fibers in them that break down once they are heated.

If someone were to eat a part of a raw taro root or a leaf from Dieffenbachia, they would definitely experience a lot of throat pain and some irritation. The only way someone would die, however, is if they ate a lot of the plant and didn't get medical attention in a reasonable amount of time. Once they got to the hospital, though, getting rid of the problem is relatively easy.


I received an alarming email from a coworker this week about this plant. Apparently, his toddler put one of its leaves in his mouth and got very sick from it. He was warning everyone to not keep it as an indoor plant because it's deadly.

He also mentioned that it can kill children and pets even if it is consumed in small amounts. I know he was scared for his child, but do you think that this is an exaggeration?

Is it really that dangerous and are all species of dieffenbachia equally toxic? I don't have any children in my home but I have one dog and one cat. Should I be worried?


@turkay1-- I have a beautiful dieffenbachia seguine and I almost killed mine too last year. I went to see my grandparents for a week and I watered all of my plants extra before I left so that they wouldn't dry up, including my dieffenbachia. When I came back, all of them looked good except for the dieffenbachia. It was becoming yellow just as yours.

I realized that I had given it too much water. Dieffenbachias seem to hate anything in excess -- especially excess water and sunlight. I'm planning to be out of town again next week but I'm having my neighbor stop by and water them once while I'm gone. I'm not going to repeat the same mistake.

And thanks for mentioning what happened to your dieffenbachia, I'll make sure to keep mine away from the heater and air conditioner.


I must have a black thumb because I managed to kill even this plant which the article said to be really easy to care for.

I actually did a good job with it for the first five months I had it. I just followed the directions I got it with- keep in shade, water once a week, spray leaves with water sometimes and liquid fertilizer once a month. It was doing really well but than when I changed the places of some of my furniture, I had to shift its place.

I put it on top of my table which is now next to the heater. My dieffenbachia maculata hated this, and its leaves started to turn yellow. I thought it was a temporary problem, I moved it away from the heater and cut the yellow dry leaves. But it didn't work, the rest of the leaves became yellow too and my dieffenbachia died. I think the heat was the problem.

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