Dieffenbachia, commonly known as dumb cane, is a tropical plant of the Araceae or arum family, native to the regions of Colombia, Costa Rica, Mexico, and Brazil. The plant got the name 'dumb cane', because of its poisonous sap, which if ingested can cause pain and swelling of the tongue. There are several species of dieffenbachia, of which the most common species and cultivars that are grown as houseplants are, Dieffenbachia Camille, Tropic Snow, Dieffenbachia amoena, and Dieffenbachia maculata.
These houseplants are cherished for their beautiful foliage. Their stems are thick and fleshy with elliptical, and oval or oblong-shaped variegated foliage. The leaves are usually large and gradually tapering towards the apex. They are green in color with deep green border, and white or yellow spots and bands along the lateral vein. The leaves are glossy and they can grow up to a length of 15 to 40 cm.
The leaves of the 'Camilla' variety are usually small and oval-shaped with a pointed apex. They are usually creamy yellow in color with a green border. On the other hand, the Maculata variety has oval-shaped glossy green foliage, marked by white or pale green spots. So, the size and color of the foliage can differ a bit, depending on the specific variety.
The sap of this plant is considered poisonous, due to the presence of needle-shaped calcium oxalate crystals, which are generally known as raphides. If the leaves are chewed or if their sap is ingested, it can cause a burning sensation and inflammation of the mouth, throat, tongue, and the lips. The sap can also cause diarrhea and vomiting, if it is ingested. If it comes in contact with the skin, one can experience itching, redness, and dermatitis. The plant is also toxic for the pets.
The plant thrives in shade, and this is the reason why it is grown as a houseplant. Bright but filtered or diffused sunlight is sufficient to ensure the healthy growth of this plant. In general, the dieffenbachia plant grows well if it is kept within 5 to 7 feet of a window, preferably a north or east window. The ideal temperature range for growing this plant is 70 to 80°F during the day, and 60 to 65°F at night. If the temperature falls below 40°F, i.e. about 5°C, the plant may not survive.
It prefers well-drained soil, usually good loam soil rich in organic matter. You can also consider to apply fertilizers on the soil during spring and summer. For this, you can use a regular or a liquid fertilizer. If the plant is not getting enough nutrition, its leaves will turn yellow.
The soil should be kept moist for growing this plant. Therefore, thorough watering at regular intervals is recommended to keep the plant healthy. However, allow the soil around the root to dry a bit between watering. The plant prefers a high level of humidity, and so, regular misting is essential. As the plant grows, it drops its lower leaves to make way for the new ones. But if due to this, the plant loses its attractiveness and looks too leggy, you can cut the stem back to about 6 to 7 inches. This will promote new growths.
As compared to many other houseplants, the dieffenbachia plant is easier to grow, as it requires little care and maintenance. Moreover, the plant with its beautiful, variegated foliage can truly enhance your home décor. This is the reason why it is so popular as an indoor ornamental plant. However, the plant can become infested with pests like aphids, mealybugs, mites, thrips, two-spotted spider mites, and scales at times. For such problems, you can consider to take the help of a professional.