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.
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 lightVery few houseplants should be placed in direct sun. High light refers only to bright indirect light since direct sun often burns the leaves of indoor houseplants. An area that is too hot and dry encourages Spider Mites and causes blooms to quickly fade. A northern exposure really doesn't provide enough light for high light plants. These plants need to be placed directly in front of an east-facing window, within 1-3 feet of a west-facing window, and within 5 ft. of a south facing window. A high light area has over 300 ft. candles of 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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.