Dieffenbachia Plant: How To Grow And Care For The Dumb Cane

Learning dieffenbachia plant care is easy and a good way to get started with the basics of indoor houseplant care.

There are many varieties of the “dumb cane plant” on the market, ranging from small almost dwarf type varieties to the large dark green mottled foliage of the Dieffenbachia “Tropic Snow.”

The dieffenbachia plant can grow for years as an indoor plant, where they can reach a height of 4 to 5 feet as an attractive floor plant.

dieffenbachia plant care

Heinrich Wilhelm Schott the director of the Botanical Gardens in Vienna named Dieffenbachia to honor his head gardener Joseph Dieffenbach (1796–1863).

Native to the New World Tropics, this herbaceous perennial has alternate simple leaves with white flecks or spots attached to straight stems. Their tolerance of shade makes them popular and common houseplants. The World Checklist of Selected Plant Families lists 56 species – see below.

Interestingly, the common name for Dieffenbachia is “dumb cane.” Through the years the plant has also been known as the mother-in-law tongue (the common name used for Sansevieria) referring to the toxic sap with calcium oxalate crystals, which inflame the tongue and throat causing temporary inability to speak if ingested. It’s been reported that slaves were given “dumb cane” as a form of punishment. [source]

Dieffenbachia Plant Lighting and Temperatures

The Dieffenbachia plant does well as a house plant, thriving with year round room temperatures averaging 65-75 degrees.

Dumbcane plants are not a “fan” for temperatures dropping below 60 degrees. The plant cannot handle full sun but does appreciate good lighting, like you would find in a kitchen. Dumbcanes do well when grown under artificial lighting.

dieffenbachia-tropic-honey-809

In fact, high temperatures and bright light can make Dieffenbachia weak and sickly.

Watering and Feeding The Dumb Cane

Being from the aroid family Araceae – with cousins (which are also popular houseplants) like the Aglaonema, Spathiphyllum “peace lily” and Philodendron – let’s us know dieffenbachia likes humidity and during the summer, lots of water. Keep soil moist but not wet. Reduce watering during the winter season.

During the primary growing season – March Through October – feed every other week when watering using a complete liquid food or fertilize in spring with a balanced slow-release fertilizer. During the winter months use NO plant food and water only.

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Soil, Potting and Transplanting

The Dieffenbachia plant prefers a well draining soil. I’ve had excellent results using 2 parts peatmoss and 1 part perlite. An African violet soil mix would work well also.

A large plant like Dieffenbachia “Tropic Snow” is capable of reaching 4-5 feet and grown in a relatively small pot. The problem is usually not pot size but plant size making the plant top heavy. For top heavy plants use a cachepot to stabalize the top heavy plant

When potting or repotting plants, springtime is best just before the growing season begins. Do not overpot!

A Part Of Dieffenbachia Plant Care – Propagation

Most propagation of Dieffenbachia is done when the plant gets too big and the plant becomes leggy.

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Topshoots

When plants become leggy the stems become “naked” and plants look like a bunch of stems with foliage up top. Not a pretty sight for a dumb cane.

The topshoot can be cut off, and rooted by placing the “cutting” in a pot with moist well-drained soil – (50% peatmoss & 50% perlite). Another option instead of cutting the top off is the air layer the top.

Stem Cuttings

Stems or canes of Dieffenbachia will root as well. Stems must have an “eye” from which new leaves and stems will emerge.

Place stem cuttings on their side, with about 1/2 the stem buried in the soil with the “eye” pointing upwards. Rooting in a “mini” greenhouse like a soda bottle planter will speed up the rooting process. Roots should start forming in 2-4 weeks. Keep temperatures around the 72 degree range.

When taking cuttings I like to use a razor blade as Dieffenbachia is very sensitive to bacteria.

Pest and Problems

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Bacteria

dieffenbachia-splash

Dieffenbachia is an attractive strong grower – generally. Bacteria is the one disease which can become a real issue as the plant will rot, leaves can become slimy, smelly and stems become soft. Bacteria can spread across the leaves and stems quickly.

Bacteria thrives in wet, humid conditions. When plants get bacteria, there is not much you can do. Throw the plant out.

Indoors few homeowners will experience bacteria.

Winter Brown Spots

Several conditions can cause dieffenbachia leaves to get brown leaf spots during winter months. Either over fertilizing or the plant drying out too much between waterings.

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Differences: The difference between bacteria and brown spotting; brown spotting is dry and bacteria diseases are “wet.”

Spider Mites, Mealybugs and Aphids

Under hot, dry, conditions indoors especially during winter months, red spider mites may show up on the undersides of leaves.

Mealybugs and aphids which suck juices from the plant can also be a problem.

Use sprays designed to control the insect pests such as Malathion or Neem oil for plants.

Dieffenbachia Varieties

There are many varieties of Dieffenbachia on the market. One of the most widely known varieties is Dieffenbachia “Tropic Snow”, others include “Dieffenbachia Compacta”, “Dieffenbachia Camille”, “Splash”, “Topic Honey” and many others.

The video below shows several.

  • Dieffenbachia ‘Alix’ similar to ‘Tropic Snow’ with white and green variegated leaves but smaller and suckers well. image
  • Dieffenbachia ‘Camille’ – bushy grower reaching 20 inches tall, creamy white leaves with green midrib and borders. more
  • Dieffenbachia ‘Compacta’ like ‘Camille’ growing to 22 inches tall with green spots.
  • Dieffenbachia ‘Perfection’ a variety like ‘Compacta’ with cream and green variegation and larger leaves.
  • Dieffenbachia ‘Memorii Corsii’ carries Silver-like marking with a moderate branching habit
  • Dieffenbachia ‘Nelly’ small, well branching, compact slow growing with cream and green leaf variegation. Often used in dish gardens or small 6-inch pots.
  • Dieffenbachia ‘Rudolf Roehrs’ holds leaves are gold-green with white blotches, dark green leaf edges and midvein.
  • Dieffenbachia ‘Triumph’ creamy white leaves with green border and a pink cast at the petiole base. Grows to 22 inches tall.
  • Dieffenbachia ‘Wilson’s Delight’ has large solid-green leaves with a white mid-vein.

Learn about dieffenbachia hybridization at the University of Florida.

Warning: Dieffenbachia Poisonous

As beautiful as Dieffenbachia is it does have a downside. We get this question all the time… “Can you tell me as I have heard, Dieffenbachia leaves are poisonous.”

The Answer: It is true, Dieffenbachia leaves and stems are poisonous if eaten. It has been said… one bite paralyzes your voice, two paralyze you, while three are supposed to be fatal. It is wise, therefore, to keep these foliage plants out of the reach of children and pets.

DO NOT put your plant in locations where pets and children may come in contact with them.

DO NOT allow an animal (cats love them) to chew on its the plants leaves.

Avoid getting any of the sap in your eyes or mouth.

Wear gloves when you handle the plant.

The sap from the plant is toxic and causes painful rashes, allergic reactions numbness, and even the temporary inability to speak or paralysis if ingested.

Even with the “downside” the Dieffenbachia plant is a wonderful addition for indoor use and brings a real tropical look to any interior.

The 56 Dieffenbachia Species listed at The World Checklist of Selected Plant Families Maintained by the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

  • Dieffenbachia aglaonematifolia – Brazil, Paraguay; Corrientes + Misiones Provinces of Argentina
  • Dieffenbachia antioquensis – Colombia
  • Dieffenbachia aurantiaca – Costa Rica, Panama
  • Dieffenbachia beachiana – Costa Rica, Panama
  • Dieffenbachia bowmannii – Colombia, northwestern Brazil
  • Dieffenbachia brittonii – Colombia
  • Dieffenbachia burgeri – Costa Rica
  • Dieffenbachia cannifolia – Colombia, Ecuador, Peru
  • Dieffenbachia concinna – Costa Rica, Nicaragua
  • Dieffenbachia copensis – Panama
  • Dieffenbachia cordata – Peru
  • Dieffenbachia costata Klotzsch – Colombia, Ecuador, Peru
  • Dieffenbachia crebripistillata – Panama
  • Dieffenbachia daguensis – Colombia, Ecuador
  • Dieffenbachia davidsei – Costa Rica
  • Dieffenbachia duidae – Venezuela, Guyana
  • Dieffenbachia elegans – Bolivia, northwestern Brazil, the Guianas
  • Dieffenbachia enderi – Colombia
  • Dieffenbachia fortunensis – Panama
  • Dieffenbachia fosteri – Panama
  • Dieffenbachia fournieri – Colombia
  • Dieffenbachia galdamesiae – Panama
  • Dieffenbachia gracilis – Peru, northwestern Brazil
  • Dieffenbachia grayumiana – Costa Rica, Panama, Colombia
  • Dieffenbachia hammelii – Costa Rica, Nicaragua
  • Dieffenbachia herthae – Ecuador
  • Dieffenbachia horichii – Costa Rica
  • Dieffenbachia humilis – Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, northwestern Brazil, the Guianas
  • Dieffenbachia imperialis – Peru
  • Dieffenbachia isthmia – Panama
  • Dieffenbachia killipii – Panama
  • Dieffenbachia lancifolia – Colombia
  • Dieffenbachia leopoldii – Colombia
  • Dieffenbachia longispatha – Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama, Colombia, Venezuela
  • Dieffenbachia lutheri – Panama
  • Dieffenbachia macrophylla – Peru
  • Dieffenbachia meleagris – Ecuador
  • Dieffenbachia nitidipetiolata – Panama
  • Dieffenbachia obliqua – Peru
  • Dieffenbachia obscurinervia – Panama
  • Dieffenbachia oerstedii – southern Mexico (Veracruz, Tabasco, Campeche, Oaxaca, Chiapas), Central America (all 7 countries), Colombia
  • Dieffenbachia olbia – Peru
  • Dieffenbachia paludicola – northwestern Brazil, the Guianas, Venezuela
  • Dieffenbachia panamensis – Panama
  • Dieffenbachia parlatorei – Colombia, Venezuela
  • Dieffenbachia parvifolia – northwestern Brazil, Bolivia, Ecuador, Peru, Venezuela
  • Dieffenbachia pittieri – Panama
  • Dieffenbachia seguine – West Indies, south to Brazil and Bolivia
  • Dieffenbachia shuttleworthiana – Colombia
  • Dieffenbachia standleyi – Honduras
  • Dieffenbachia tonduzii – Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama, Colombia, Ecuador
  • Dieffenbachia weberbaueri – Peru
  • Dieffenbachia weirii – Colombia
  • Dieffenbachia wendlandii – southern Mexico (Querétaro, Veracruz, Oaxaca, Chiapas) south to Panama
  • Dieffenbachia williamsii – Bolivia
  • Dieffenbachia wurdackii – Peru
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