Dieffenbachia – About

A dieffenbachia is a tropical plant originally found growing in the West Indies, Mexico, all the way south to Argentina. A dieffenbachia plant, or “Dumb Cane” plant as it is sometimes called, is a member of the Araceae family and a relative of the Anthurium, Caladium, Calla Lily, and Monstera Deliciosa. All plants in the Araceae family contain calcium oxalate crystals and are very poisonous. The sap from these plants is a severe irritant. A dieffenbachia got its nickname “Dumb Cane plant” because the toxic effect of the oxalates can cause a temporary inability to speak.A dieffenbachia plant grows outdoors in moderate climates where the temperature stays above 60°F (15.6°C). The plant can survive in lower temperatures but does not grow well. Indoors, learning how to care for a dieffenbachia plant is relatively easy if you remember that the plant needs bright light, but no direct sun, barely moist soil, and fertilizer on a regular basis


A dieffenbachia plant has straight, thick stems and alternate, large, broad, pointed, oblong leaves. When placed in front of a window and never turned, the stems bend towards the light source.  An outdoor dieffenbachia plant can grow as tall as 8ft-10 ft. and have huge leaves 15”-20” long. Indoors the leaves of a dieffenbachia are usually about 3″- 6″ wide and 6″ or more in length. As the plant matures and gets larger, and if it is properly pruned, it becomes a spectacular, bushy, floor plant. Dieffenbachias are fast-growing houseplants that get top heavy as they grow taller. Repotting them into a deep, narrow, heavy pot helps solve the problem. Giving the plant a 1/4 turn every time you water keeps a dieffenbachia growing straight up.  The decorative patterns on the leaves can be cream, white, light, and dark green,  yellow, and even pink.

Dieffenbachia Varieties

Some of the most popular dieffenbachia varieties are the Tropic Snow, Camille, Amoena, Maculata, Seguine, Compacta, and Maryanne. The dieffenbachia “Starbright” even has some pink variation in the leaves.


D. Camille                     D. Maculata carina        D. Marianne               D.  Starbright

Dieffenbachia Problems and Causes

Leaves have brown edges: Cold drafts and allowing the soil to dry out too

Leaves become pale: Direct sun or too much very bright indirect light

Bottom of the main stem becomes soft and mushy: Overwatering and cold temperatures

Lower leaves yellow and droopy: Cold drafts, temperatures below 50,°  lack of light

Dieffenbachia plant with yellow leaves 

Poisonous Plant Information

All parts of a dieffenbachia plant are extremely poisonous and the plant should be kept away from children, dogs, cats, and other pets. Aways wear long sleeves and gloves when pruning or repotting. Clean your tools and swash your hands vigorously when finished caring for the plant.  Avoid putting your hands near your eyes and mouth when working with the plant. Read more about common houseplants that are poisonous in my book Don’t Feed Me to Your Cat: A Guide to Poisonous Houseplants.

Plant Care


How much light for a dieffenbachia plant: A dieffenbachia plant requires medium to bright, indirect light; but no direct sun. Direct sun burns the leaves and even too much bright light causes the vibrant leaf color to fade. When an indoor dieffenbachia does not get enough light, the new leaves are small and far apart on the stem.


How to water a dieffenbachia plant: Water well and then allow the top 2″-3″ of the soil to dry out before watering again. A dieffenbachia plant does best when watered on a regular schedule. If the soil gets too dry, the bottom leaves may turn yellow. If a dieffenbachia plant is over- watered, the plant stems get soft and mushy and the plant starts to die.


How to fertilize a dieffenbachia: Feed a dieffenbachia only when the plant is actively producing new leaves. Most dieffenbachia plants need to be fed every two weeks in the summer and once a month in the spring and fall. Never fertilize a dieffenbachia in the winter. Excess plant food causes browning around the edges of the leaves.


Best temperature for a dieffenbachia plant: A dieffenbachia plant prefer temperatures above 60°F (15.6°C). The lower leaves on the plant turn yellow when exposed to cold drafts from doors, windows, or air conditioners.


How much humidity does a dieffenbachia plant need: High humidity is a plus for a dieffenbachia, but the plant still does well in basic household humidity.


Does a dieffenbachia plant flower: A dieffenbachia plant develops non-descript, spath-like flowers. Since the flowers slow leaf development, I recommend cutting the flowers off as soon as they appear.


Dieffenbachia plant pests: Spider mites and mealy bugs are two plant pests that can damage a dieffenbachia plant.Read more about bth of these pests in the Glossary of the website.


Dieffenbachia plant diseases: Since a dieffenbachia likes high humidity, it may get bacterial leaf spot, erwinia blight, and other bacterial diseases that often develop in humid conditions. Keep the leaves dry and provide good air circulation around the plant to prevent diseases.


Best soil for a dieffenbachia plant: The best soil for a dieffenbachia plant is a rich, organic mixture that drains quickly.

Pot Size

What size pot for a dieffenbachia plant: A dieffenbachia plant likes to be a little root-bound. Repot t in the spring if the roots have filled the existing pot. The new dieffenbachia plant container should be only one size larger and must have drip holes in the bottom.


How to prune a dieffenbachia plant: Aggressively prune a dieffenbachia plant to keep it bushy and to prevent the plant from getting top heavy. Always wear a long sleeve shirt and gloves when pruning; this prevents the toxic, irritating sap from getting on your skin. Never touch your eyes or mouth when pruning a dieffenbachia. Wash your tools thoroughly with some bleach when finished pruning.


How to propagate a dieffenbachia plant: The best way to propagate a dieffenbachia plant is by air layering if the stem is very thick, or by stem cuttings if the stems are thin. You can read more about these propagation methods in the Glossary of the website.

Poisonous Plant Info

A dieffenbachia plant is extremely poisonous with a #4 toxicity level and very toxic to cats, dogs, and small children. If the sap from a dieffenbachia gets on your skin, wash it off immediately. Seek medical advice if a child or pet ingests any part of a dieffenbachia plant.


How Do I Stop My Top Heavy Dieffenbachia Plant From Falling Over?

I know this will be hard, but the best way to keep a top-heavy dieffenbachia from falling over is to cut off the top 1/3-1/2 of the plant. The remaining dieffenbachia plant will send out new growth and quickly become sturdy and bushy. You can remove a few of the bottom leaves from the dieffenbachia section you cut off and use it to propagate a new plant. Always wear gloves when pruning!! Dieffenbachia sap is very toxic and can irritate the skin and inflame existing cuts or sores.

Why Do the Bottom Leaves on My Dieffenbachia Turn Yellow?

The bottom leaves on a dieffenbachia plant may turn yellow if the the plant is near a cold draft or an air conditioning vent; if the bottom of the dieffenbachia plant is not getting enough light; or if the dieffenbachia soil gotten too dry.

Why Do the Edges of the Leaves on My Dieffenbachia Plant Turn Brown and Curl Under?

The edges of the leaves of a dieffenbachia plant usually turn brown from too much fertilizer or too much salt in water in the water you are using. Never use water that has passed through a water softener; it is much too salty for plants. Rinse the soil with distilled water several times to get rid of any unwanted chemicals.

Why Do the Bottom Leaves of My Dieffenbachia Keep Dying While the Top of the Plant Gets New Leaves?

It is normal for a dieffenbachia to lose its bottom leaves especially if it is not getting enough light. If your dieffenbachia plant is looking bare, cut off the top 1/3 of the plant stem. Cutting off the top of a dieffenbachia encourages the plant to send out new growth along the resining main stem and produce new stems from the roots.