Plants

Dumb Cane Guide: How to Grow & Care for “Dieffenbachia”

Read our guide to Dumb Cabe Plants for everything you will ever need to know! Tips for planting & caring for “Dieffenbachia”
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Dieffenbachia, also known as Dumb Cane, Leopard Lily, Tropic Snow, Exotica Perfection, or… Mother-in-law’s tongue (as surprising as that might sound) is an attractive, tropical indoor plant. Depending on the variety, the thick, large leaves of the Dieffenbachia are a mixture of green, yellow, and white.

Dumb cane gets its name from the temporary “dumb” that occurs after chewing a piece of its stem. The plant’s sap contains substances that cause swelling and inflammation of the tongue and throat. It is said that, a long time ago, slaves were forced to ingest this plant as a form of penalty.

Dumb cane plants belong to the Arum family (Araceae). The Arum family are popular house plants, native to tropical South America, mainly Brazil, where they grow in shady locations.

This beautiful plant got its name (Dieffenbachia) from the head gardener Joseph Dieffenbach (1796-1863) of Schönbrunn Palace in Vienna who had a true passion for tropical plants.

Dumb Cane plants are easy to grow and resilient. They don’t need special conditions when it comes to water, light, and other aspects of their daily care. As a result, these houseplants are perfect for you if you’re new to gardening, and if you are looking for spectacular plants that will grow healthy and happy in any room.

Dieffenbachia a.k.a Dumb Cane
Dieffenbachia a.k.a Dumb Cane

About Dieffenbachia a.k.a Dumb Cane

  • All 30 species of Dieffenbachia are valued as indoor houseplants as they have the ability to tolerate low levels of light.
  • Dieffenbachias bloom seasonally outdoor, but they rarely flourish indoors, and although they produce white flowers, their bloomings are not very impressive.
  • A great thing about these plants is that they produce oxygen so they purify the air in your home, making it a healthier environment for you and your family.
  • Dieffenbachia plants are usually inexpensive and easy to find at most plant stores at reasonable prices compared with other indoor plants of similar sizes.
  • Dieffenbachias are quite robust, making them easy to grow and care for. Very busy people or gardening beginners will easily keep these plants alive.
  • You won’t regret buying a Dieffenbachia because, as mentioned above, it requires very little attention, yet it is visually very enjoyable.
  • Keep children and pets away from your Dieffenbachia plant because it is quite toxic when chewed. The common signs of Dieffenbachia poisoning are oral discomfort, intense burning, and irritation of mouth, tongue, and lips, difficulty swallowing, vomiting, and excessive drooling.
Dieffenbachia plant
Dieffenbachia plant

Dieffenbachia Features: An Overview

  • The compact Dieffenbachia cultivars rarely need to be pruned as they grow only 30 cm (12 inches) tall. Their slow expansion can be a benefit as the plants will make a perfect ornament in your home and you won’t have to worry about moving them to a bigger container.
  • Other cultivars can grow to be quite large, reaching 2 to 2,5 meters (6 to 8 feet) or more in height. The taller varieties should be pruned occasionally to promote a fuller form.
  • There are many different types of Dieffenbachias that have various sizes, colors, and diversification patterns.
  • Dieffenbachia bowmannii (cultivars include Camilla and Marianne) gets about 60 cm (24 inches) high and yields long, oval-shaped leaves that are a beautiful lush green with light green spots.
  • Dieffenbachia amoena (commonly referred to as the Leopard Lily or Tropic Snow) is a very large specimen that has cream-white spots along the main nervures. This cultivar has long elliptical leaves in dark green.
  • Dieffenbachia maculata has wide oval-shaped leaves, dark green with ivory-colored markings.
  • Dieffenbachia exotica is a very attractive variety that has 25 cm/10 inches long leaves in the basic color dark green. These plants have contrasting white and light green spots on their leaves.
  • Dieffenbachia X bausei stands out as it has long leaves that grow up to 35 cm (14 inches). The foliage is yellowish-green with dark green edges and green and white markings.
Leaves of the Dieffenbachia
Leaves of the Dieffenbachia

Growing Dieffenbachia

Dumb Cane plants usually grow in humid conditions in tropical forests, so they love lots of moisture in the air and bright, indirect light. When grown indoors,  dumb cane plants prefer medium to bright light, especially during the winter months. However, during the growing season, Dieffenbachias require indirect sunlight or moderate shade.

To ensure that your plant grows symmetrically, rotate the pot often. This will also help you prevent long, spindly, often leafless stems or, in other words, a leggy houseplant.

The ideal temperatures for growing dumb cane plants range between 65°F and 75°F (18°C-24°C).  These plants thrive in warm environments but they cannot withstand temperatures higher than 30°C, full sun, or temperatures that drop below 55°F (12°C). If exposed to cold draughts, dumb canes will lose leaves.

If you want your Dieffenbachia plants to grow healthy and happy, you can fertilize them at least a few times per year to encourage new growth. Use a high-quality houseplant fertilizer but make sure you only feed them during the growing season (you don’t need to feed your plants at all during the winter months).​

Like many houseplants, Dieffenbachia plants need a type of soil that retains some water but that also drains well. So, blend coarse sand or perlite in the standard potting soil to add aeration. You can also use store-bought potting soil that has a high percentage of peat.

Over time, the leaves of Dieffenbachia plants tend to accumulate dust, especially on the upper sides. You can clean the leaves with a soft brush or a damp cloth.

Dieffenbachia ‘Camille’ Plant, From Amazon

Watering Dieffenbachia Plants

If you water Dieffenbachias properly, they will grow healthy and they’ll quickly become wonderful companions to your other flowers, shrubs, and decorations. Dumb Cane plants are water-lovers, so they need plenty of moisture.

When it comes to the watering needs of Dieffenbachias, which are tropical plants, rainwater is a brilliant resource! Dieffenbachias need regular moisture and don’t like their soil to dry out completely. A large Dieffenbachia might require to be watered twice a week. In the winter, you should reduce the watering.

The best way to water your Dumb Cane is to let it get moderately dry and then to give it a good soaking. Keep in mind that you can only use this method if your container has drainage holes. Without proper drainage, you risk overwatering your plant.

Watering Dieffenbachia Plants
Watering Dieffenbachia Plants

Dumb Canes love humidity, but you need to change your watering habits seasonally. For instance, winter is often a time of low humidity in most homes due to indoor heating. You can easily maintain a healthy plant by lightly spraying the leaves to increase humidity. You can also place the Dieffenbachia’s pot on a bowl with pebbles and water. As the water evaporates, the atmosphere will be pleasantly wet around the plant.

Be careful though, like most houseplants, dumb canes are quite susceptible to root rot so you should avoid excessive watering. Overwatering is a common error that all gardeners have made at least once throughout their gardening ‘careers’. Yellow, drooping, or healthy leaves that are prematurely falling are signs of overwatering. To save your plant, gently remove it from its container and check the roots. If they seem healthy and don’t have an unpleasant smell or a mushy texture, it’s safe to repot the plant in fresh soil.

Propagating Dieffenbachia

The Dumb Cane is a perfect plant to propagate because obtaining successful buds is usually easy and fun.

If you want to multiply your Dieffenbachia, it’s best to wait until spring because that’s when the growing season begins. Start by making a cut up to 12 cm (5 inches) from a healthy stem that has sprouted. Use a sterilized instrument because the dumb cane is very sensitive to bacteria.

After you cut the stem, place it horizontally into a new pot with fresh soil and cover 50% of it. Make sure the buds remain above the soil level. Water the recently planted cutting and take care of it as usual. The rooting process lasts from 2-4 weeks.

Pruning Dieffenbachia

Dumb Cane doesn’t usually need pruning, though you may wish to trim it a bit to achieve a shape or size that suits your space. To reduce your dumb cane’s height, simply cut the top off horizontally, with a sterilized pair of sharp scissors or with a knife. Water your plant after pruning. If you want your plant to look fresh, you can trim the leaves that look damaged and unhealthy.

Indoor plants may attract mealybugs or spider mites. To prevent bugs from attaching to your dumb cane, clean the leaves regularly. If your plant deteriorates due to an infestation, use an insecticide spray or specialized spider mite spray.

Repotting Dieffenbachia

Depending on the size of your dieffenbachia, it may need to be re-potted as it grows. If you decide to re-pot, do it when the growing season is about to start.

This is an uncomplicated process and all you have to do it to gently remove it from its current pot.  Clean off the soil that’s attached to the roots but make sure you don’t damage the roots. Place the plant into a larger pot and drizzle fresh potting soil around its base. Don’t squish the new soil too much, as you risk preventing proper drainage.

Toxicity

According to the ASPCA (The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals), Dieffenbachia is very dangerous for pets, especially cats and dogs. ​The leaves contain oxalate crystals that will hurt their mouths and prevent them from swallowing.

If you choose to grow dumb cane and you have pets, be careful to place the plants in areas that your pets can’t reach. If you observe your pet has eaten Dieffenbachia, take them to a veterinarian right away. ​

Dumb cane is poisonous to humans as well. Ingestion can cause the mouth and throat to irritate and swell. In severe cases, the swelling can block airways resulting in suffocation. Common symptoms of dumb cane intoxication include mouth irritation, excessive drooling, digestive problems, and difficulty swallowing.

In Conclusion

Dieffenbachia, also known as Dumb Cane or Leopard Lily, is a tropical plant that can easily be grown indoors. Whether you’re a beginner gardener or an experienced one, this versatile decorative plant looks great in your home or in your office.

Additionally, its remarkable air-purifying properties and the fact that it absorbs a lot of moisture from the air make Dieffenbachia valuable for any urban residential home.

Now that you know everything about growing and caring for Dieffenbachia, you just have to buy one and to choose a nice pot that will compliment your interior design.

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Miruna Secuianu

Miruna is an experienced content writer with a passion for gardening. She is the proud owner of an outdoor rose garden and an indoor collection of tiny succulents. She bought her first succulent 10 years ago - an adorable Echeveria Setosa. Now she owns more than 100 succulents and cacti of different colors, shapes, and sizes. Miruna is a versatile writer and, as you might have guessed, her favorite topic is gardening. Contact miruna@gardenbeast.com

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