Is The Dieffenbachia Plant Poisonous?

The Dieffenbachia or dumb cane plant its common name has been grown as a houseplant for decades. Its care is easy.

Give Dieffenbachia bright indirect light, a well-drained soil, occasional liquid fertilizer and left undisturbed the plant should do well.

Poisonous Dieffenbachia laying on table

However, mention the Dieffenbachia plant from the family Araceae and people will warn about it its toxicity and being poisonous to their pet and children.

So what is the deal?

Is The Dieffenbachia Plant Toxic or Poisonous To Dogs and Cats?

The ASPCA (American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) list Dieffenbachia as toxic to dogs and cats.

What are the signs of Dieffenbachia poisoning?

  • Burning and irritation of tongue, mouth, and lips
  • Oral irritation
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Excessive drooling
  • Vomiting

The calcium oxalate crystals in the stems and sap of many plants including the dumb cane are the irritant.

The oxalate crystals have a needle shape and come packaged in bundles called raphides. When damaged, the crystals are released and embed themselves in the areas like the oral cavity.

Rinse the mouth with milk or water. [source]

What Part of Dieffenbachia is Poisonous?

According to Medline all parts of the plant – the leaves, stems, roots, and flower. [source]

Is Dumb Cane Toxic And Dangerous To Humans?

When working with spotted dumb cane follow the below advice:

  • Keep pets, and children away from the plant – touching or chewing on it
  • Avoid contact with the “juices” or sap
  • Wear long sleeve shirt and gloves when handling Dieffenbachia plants
  • Wash your hands after working with or doing any dumb cane care
  • Avoid touching your mouth or lips during and after handling plants

As shared from The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia:

“Oxalate crystals can cause intense pain and swelling if they come in contact with the skin or mouth. When any part of these plants is chewed and swallowed, the crystals stab the sensitive tissues of the tongue, gums, and throat, creating the sensation of biting into ground glass. Pain, difficulty swallowing, swelling, and temporary hoarseness may occur.”

The intense mouth pain usually stops children from eating or swallowing any large quantity of a calcium oxalate containing plant, making poisoning rare.

Personal Note: As a past grower of Dieffenbachia ‘Tropic Snow” I remember a time when packing up some large specimen plants for shipping experiencing a little poisoning from exposure to the plant.

I did not chew on any leaves. From just handling the Dieffenbachia and wiping away the sweat on my face I must have got a small amount of the calcium oxalate acid on my face and lips.

Soon my throat became scratchy with a burning sensation and wondered just what was going on. I will agree, the toxic effects were very uncomfortable. I did not have to go to the emergency room or call the poison center. There was no blistering. I just needed to be a little more careful when handling the Dieffenbachia plant.

That is also the case with other ‘toxic plants” in the Araceae family such as the Philodendron, Caladium, Aglaonema, and Spathiphyllum.

Poisoning Treatment And Remedies

If you or a child eats or comes in contact with any part of a plant containing oxalate, wipe out the plant residue from the mouth. Have them drink a cool beverage or eat a snack like a popsicle, applesauce or yogurt.

If swelling prevents an adult or child from taking anything by mouth or experiences breathing difficulty, go immediately to the nearest emergency room.

“When the juices of the plant come in contact with the skin, burning, pain, and swelling may occur. Lather the exposed area repeatedly with soap and rinse with warm running water to ease the irritation. If the pain continues, contact your child’s physician.” [source]

Make sure you keep the Poison Control Center number handy: 1-800-222-1222