Beware of Dieffenbachia – Dumb Cane plant

This plant is commonly used for interior decoration in many offices and homes. Be cautious about having this plant where kids would roam around as it is moderately poisonous, mainly for the children. Got this information in a mail forward and upon digging more details, got to learn more about this plant. It should be uprooted from gardens and taken out of offices. If you touch this plant by any chance, make sure you don’t touch eyes unless the hands are cleaned thoroughly since it can cause partial or permanent blindness.
More details of this plant is as below:

Scientific Name : Dieffenbachia ssp
Common Name : Dieffenbachia (Dumb Cane)
Family : Araceae, Arum family

Characteristics : This is an ornamental plant that is used commonly as an indoor plant. Perennial tropical plant which can grow up to 2.5m tall. Erect stems, thick and fleshy with big leaves ending in pointed apex. Largely petiolate, marbled with white or yellow. Flowers in spadix surrounded by a sheath like leaf which is small, white-greenish. It rarely flourishes when it is cultivated, only sometimes at the beginning of spring when the plant is well grown up.

Uses: As a toxin to poison the arrows – the juice of the plant has been used by the native Amazonian people to be part of the preparations with which they poisoned the arrows.

Toxicity : Medium. The toxicity of this plant is due to its content in calcium oxalates. There are theories exist on the presence of other components, as proteolytic enzymes that propitiate the histamine production. Their sap is irritating because of the presence of this component that appears in form of crystals that damages the skin tissues by contact when injected. The calcium oxalate is also a cause for spew, irritating and inflammatory properties. When it is together with the calcium, can be the main reasons for the production of kidney stones. Calcium and magnesium oxalates are two of the main components of poisonous plants. Equally its ingestion produces the irritation and inflammation of gastric mucous and it can damage the kidneys, arteries or the stomach of those who eat it.

Symptoms: It can produce dermatitis in the skin, with reddening, itchiness or burning. More serious symptoms can appear such as bladders or ulcers. Its contact with the eyes, it produces irritation and transitory lost of vision. When its juice is ingested, it can produce vomits or diarrhea and even big inflammations of the digestive tract, especially in the mouth, the throat and the lips. A big ingestion of the plant can end up producing breathing difficulty, which is not very habitual. The accidents are usually more common in children who chew the leaves, which produces a quick irritation with inflammation of the mucous membranes and a great salivation. The quick action of the toxins of this plant usually propitiates its spitting what prevents the patient to continue chewing it . Although there have been registered more severe cases, it usually leads to a very painful local inflammations that don’t usually affect to the circulatory system or respiratory tract. Among the other most habitual symptoms include swallowing difficulty, salivation, lost of sensibility with tingling sensation in the tongue, itchiness or ulcerations in the lips. It is a plant whose ingestion is toxic for the domestic animals. There have been registered many cases of intoxication with mortal result in dogs, cats, rabbits and canaries that ate it. The symptoms are similar to those produced on people.

Treatment : Mouth rinsing with plenty of water to eliminate the small pieces of the plant that could still remain in the mouth. Demulcents to alleviate the irritation and soothe the membranes. Immediate medical care with antihistamines and analgesics is required. Being such a habitual plant in our homes it is advised to be wise in its manipulation (it is convenient to use gloves when one has to cut a leaf) and it is very convenient to take it away from the reach of the small children to avoid some possible accident.

Technical information extracted from this source. Published this article in the interest of my blog readers.

{ 37 comments… read them below or add one }

Mary October 21, 2013 at 8:58 pm

I got this plant as a gift. I re-potted the plant, it slid off my hand and the sap came out all over my arms and hand from the broken leaf, it squirted out like a cut blood vessel. My arm was swollen and it stung like crazy. For me it was almost comparable to a jellyfish sting. The swelling went down after an hour but the stinging sensation lasted 3 days. This plant is going out the door, don’t want my pets to get into it. The person who gave it to me said it was pet friendly, now I double check all my plants before I put them in the house.

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Linda April 3, 2013 at 7:36 am

This helped me find out why my left hand is burning. Well, poison control says I”ll survive…watch out people, it HURTS

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Darlene October 17, 2012 at 7:28 pm

I had heard this plant was poisonous but didn’t believe it too much. Until today! I began breaking off some rather large sections down near the soil. In no time at all my hand was burning and stinging. I washed immediately and stopped breaking the branches. My hand is still burning and stinging an hour later. I hope it doesn’t take me off to the hospital or worse!

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kathy August 13, 2012 at 4:32 pm

Thanks for the additional info. I decided to purchase some plants that had been neglected at a bargain price. Brought them home and began the reclaiming process. About 10 minutes into it my hands begain to itch and break out with rather large welts. I immediately washed my hands under running water and also used some poison oak preparation that I have with the belief that it couldn’t hurt anything.
Yesterday , a week later, my hands began to do the same thing again, the pustules had never completely healed and I inadvertently ruptured some . Today ,being a Sunday I can’t get medical tx so I’m trying some home remedies….that’s what led me to your blog.
To any nae sayers about the toxicity of this plant, if you could see my hands you would be astounded at what this plant can do. As a nurse I have adequate knowledge on proper tx of the average contact skin dermamtitis, so far none are working. I have tried topical creams , soaks, steroids, and oral antihistamine. I’m now taking Valium until I can get an appt with my GP just to ease the discomfort and mentally bear it.
Just FYI, I have never had ANY type of skin reaction or outbreak…I am very comfortable in the outdoors around all plants. Well now I know differently and sadly I will have to throw out the diffenbachia that I had managed to bring back to optimal health.
I say to the disbelievers, be cautious when handling this plant, wear gloves with another pair over the first. I have small dogs that I’m crazy about and it would sadden me to no end if I had to watch one of them suffer .

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LEO JAY October 26, 2011 at 11:03 am

Thanks for the info…Better to get rid off it for sure… for our own safety… GOD BLESS US ALL!

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Aoife October 7, 2011 at 3:18 am

hi i just want to say i just took some dead leaves of my Dieffenbachia plant which i received terrible burning sensation on my hands also red blotches and some pins and needles sensation.Therefor it shall have to be binned unfortunately they don’t provide this information when you are buying these plants!!!

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carolo April 2, 2011 at 11:34 pm

This article states this plant grow to 2.5 feet. Mine is only two years old and already 6 ft. And I read of them reaching the ceiling and needed the tops cut off so 2.5 is not correct at all.

Many decades ago, plantation owners made their slaves chew on the leaves as punishment. Simply touching the plant does nothing but just wash your hands if you cut into the plant and get the sap on your hands.

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carolo January 15, 2011 at 1:04 am

I agree that much panic is written on the poisonous nature of this plant. It would most likely taken eating a leaf to develop any problem at all.

Regarding the plant in the photo, it appears to have gotten too much sun and the leaves aren’t the pretty, glossy leaves it should be. Mine is far greener than the one pictured but never is allowed to get sun on it.

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Onkar Singh September 21, 2010 at 1:02 pm

Hi Sir
Would you pls help me get an address of any enterprise or a nursery where I can buy chrysanthemums sapplings better known as Guldoudi
Thanks a lot anytime you plan to visit Sri Harimandir Sahib better known as Golden Temple

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Sunita August 28, 2010 at 10:54 am

I think there was a bit of exaggeration in the mail that you received. The sap of the plant is toxic, true, but unless you have kids/ pets who are in the teething stage and are likely to try chewing on the stem (!), I don’t think you need to worry about this plant. Sure, it is called Dumb Cane because of the irritating qualities of the sap when it comes in contact with the mouth. But I don’t think the ordinary person is going to go around trying to eat this plant.
Frankly I’m not very fond of this plant because I think it looks too plasticky and artificial but it is an excellent option for offices and low-maintenance indoor gardens. It’s almost impossible to kill it!
So don’t let that mail put you off and there is absolutely no need to go around ripping it out of gardens. Doing so may be a bit of the ‘throwing the baby out with the bath-water’ syndrome :)

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Sunitha May 21, 2010 at 1:55 pm

Very Informative post..thanks mohan.

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Shilpa May 15, 2010 at 8:57 pm

Didn’t know about this. I thought these were harmless ones :)

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Mohan May 15, 2010 at 9:50 pm

I was under the same impression too until few moments before I started to write this post.

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keerthana May 15, 2010 at 6:01 pm

After dangerous people, animals and other stuff, now we should be careful ’bout plants also!

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Mohan May 15, 2010 at 9:49 pm

Hmm… prevention is better than cure!

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lostworld May 15, 2010 at 2:33 pm

Eeeeks, anyhow this plant doesn’t look too attractive.. When I buy plants, I buy only based on aesthetic appeal ;-) thanks so much for the info. I’ll watch out for these.
LoL@ Shruti’s comment.. 10 Indeed! This is called timing..good post Mohan.

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Mohan May 15, 2010 at 9:48 pm

Believe it or not… it is too common in many places all over!
Ah… most of my posts are timely… aren’t they? ;)

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Kcalpesh May 15, 2010 at 9:01 am

Thanks so much for the information and awareness!!

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Mohan May 15, 2010 at 9:45 pm

My pleasure Kcalpesh!

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S.R.Ayyangar May 14, 2010 at 4:15 pm

I never knew that this commonly found plant can be so dangerous!

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Mohan May 14, 2010 at 4:20 pm

Look at the number of people repeating that, I am sure we are ignorant of the kind of plants we are growing around us… We should be more careful and choosy going forward :) Let me try to come up with another post having info on all such plants.

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Maverickshree May 14, 2010 at 3:42 pm

Aaah..never knew..behind that beautiful leafy face..lies a poisonous disaster..thanks for sharing Mohan..I will be careful now onwards :-)

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Mohan May 14, 2010 at 4:19 pm

My pleasure!

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Srividya May 14, 2010 at 2:15 pm

Thanks mohan, for bringing it up…. and people, just to add to mohan’s info please read this as well.

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Mohan May 14, 2010 at 4:19 pm

Wow.. that article has lot more information! thanks for sharing… it just adds up to the ‘poisonous plant’ story :)

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Swaram May 14, 2010 at 12:32 pm

OMG! Never knew abt this! Thanks so much for sharing Mohan … they r present in the apartment garden too!

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Mohan May 14, 2010 at 4:18 pm

You are most welcome Swaram :) Even i didn’t know until I got an email forward on this subject by a friend of mine!

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Vijay May 14, 2010 at 11:16 am

We have like 5 of these plant in my building entrance..
thanks for the info will definitely talk to my building seccy about it..

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Mohan May 14, 2010 at 4:17 pm

Hmm should be fine as long as nobody messes with that plant!

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Shruti May 14, 2010 at 10:23 am

Gosh!! I was going to buy 10 of these this weekend. Thanks for the info.
Its there in my mom’s place. Will warn her too.

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Mohan May 14, 2010 at 4:17 pm

How cool.. glad it was timely. I got to know this yesterday and immediately posted this article.

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Shaunak May 13, 2010 at 11:27 pm

Very informative! I had so many of these, used to water them, touch them…don’t think much has happened to me yet :P Sheer luck I suppose.

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Mohan May 14, 2010 at 4:16 pm

Thanks Shaunak… All I can say is be careful.

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Lakshmi Rajan May 13, 2010 at 8:23 pm

OMG! This is a very common ornamental plant!!! Can’t imagine it is a dangerous one :o

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Mohan May 14, 2010 at 4:16 pm

It is indeed a very common plant!

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Nishant Singh May 13, 2010 at 7:41 pm

Damn! I had no clue of all this. My house is full of this plant! LOL..

Will show this to mommy, wonder what her reaction will be?

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Mohan May 14, 2010 at 4:16 pm

Better to stay away and be happy than being sorry later on!

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