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Dieffenbachia: A Guide to the Dumb Cane Plant

The Dieffenbachia, AKA The Dumb Cane Plant, is one quirky houseplant. Luscious, patterned foliage characterise this beautiful plant adding style, colour, texture and vibrancy to any indoor jungle. It’s a pretty clever houseplant, too, purifying the air by removing xylene and toluene (two common household chemicals) from the air.

Aside from the tropical vibe, this beautiful botanical will bring to your interior space, it’s also pretty low maintenance, only needing a little TLC to keep it healthy and happy.

Read on to find out everything you need to know about this fabulous houseplant.

The History of the Dieffenbachia

The Dieffenbachia comes from the tropics of South America, Mexico and the West Indies. It’s also known as the “Dumb Cane Plant” because the toxic sap irritates the mouth and makes the tongue swell once ingested, leaving those affected unable to speak until the toxicity subsides.

The plant was named after Herr Joseph Dieffenbach, the head gardener during the 1830s at the Schönbrunn Palace in Vienna, Austria. It’s believed that Dieffenbach brought the Dieffenbachia to Austria from Brazil, making it one of the first plants to come over to Europe during the Austro-Brazilian expeditions of 1817-1835.

Slave owners used the Dumb Cane plant to punish slaves, rubbing the juices on their tongues to inflict pain and maintain control. Similarly, Heinrich Himmler – the head of the SS in Nazi Germany – considered using the plant to sterilise prisoners. However, this plot thankfully failed because the Germans couldn’t ship the plants from Latin America where they grow.

Despite its colourful past, the Dieffenbach is today a much-loved houseplant that’s grown and admired for its bright and vibrant leaves.

Dieffenbachia Fun Facts

The Dieffenbachia doesn’t only have a rich history – there are plenty of fun facts associated with the plant that makes it so unique. Did you know..?

  • In Brazil, it’s believed that the dumb cane plant protects against negative energy and the evil eye.
  • There are approximately 30 Dieffenbach varieties in the world. They all originate from Middle and South America.
  • The plant occasionally produces a long, greenish-white flower that’s similar to the Peace Lily.

In their natural habitat, Dieffenbach plants can  grow up to 10 feet tall. Don’t worry though, we wouldn’t expect that kind of growth indoors.

How to Care for your Dumb Cane Plant

The great news is caring for a Dieffenbachia isn’t tricky at all. Like all plants, it has a few specific requirements, but it’s not too demanding and doesn’t take up too much time. Give your plant exactly what it wants and it’ll reward you with growth and a range of gorgeous colours that you can enjoy.


The Dieffenbachia enjoys having slightly moist soil. It benefits from regular watering, but only once the surface of the soil feels dry. When you think it’s time for a water, press your thumb or index finger into the top layer of soil to check how dry it feels. If the soil’s a little damp, give it a couple more days to dry out before giving it a drink.

Be careful when watering, though, as the Dieffenbachia doesn’t like soggy, oversaturated soil. That means you need to be careful not to give your plant too much to drink in one go. Overwatering is common with Dumb Canes, so this is something to watch out for.

You can also frequently mist your plant to keep it hydrated. As it comes from tropical climates, the plant will benefit from a little humidity. Giving it a regular mist or grouping it together with other foliage plants will help up the humidity.

Soil and Feeding

Dieffenbachias work well in our indoor potting soil that is well-draining, helping the plant retain its moisture but not allowing it to be oversaturated. It also enjoys a plant food every 3-4 weeks, particularly during spring and summer. The Dieffenbachia growth cycle begins in March and ends in October.

We just love these Plant Food spray and Tonic in their stunning brown glass bottles, bringing some style to your plant care routine!


Dieffenbachias are relatively chilled out about where they sit, but they love plenty of indirect sunlight. While they can tolerate low light levels, their growth will slow right down without enough natural sun.

The plant grows towards the sun, so you’ll want to rotate your plant at least once a week to ensure all sides grow evenly. If you don’t, it’ll start to become a little lopsided. Don’t worry, though – if it looks a little uneven, simply rotate the plant and the smaller leaves will eventually catch up.


The Dieffenbachia likes being warm, so keep it away from draughts or cold locations. Anything above 15 degrees Celsius will keep your plant happy, but be sure to give it plenty of water to prevent it from drying out. Placing it in draughts also attracts insects, which isn’t good for your plant.

What’s Available at The Little Botanical?

Our gorgeous Dieffenbachia is the perfect addition to your indoor jungle. The leaves have beautiful leaf markings with various shades of dark green, pale green and white that are mesmerising to look at, adding a pop of colour to your indoor space. It comes in our signature grey pot, our almond stoneware pot and also the charcoal grey stoneware, giving this plant a sophisticated finish that’ll update and transform any room.

Commonly Asked Questions About the Dieffenbachia

Looking for more information about the Dieffenbachia? Here are the answers to our most frequently asked questions. If your question isn’t below, feel free to get in touch with us and we’ll be more than happy to help.

Is the Dieffenbachia Toxic?

Even though the Dieffenbachia’s a beautiful plant, it has an edgy side – the sap is poisonous. It contains calcium oxalate and asparagines, which are both toxic when ingested. When handling or cutting your plant, wear gloves or wash your hands thoroughly to remove any toxins from your skin. This will also minimise the risk of you accidentally transferring the toxins to your mouth.

Is Dieffenbachia Pet Friendly

Sadly, you’ll need to keep your Dieffenbachia plant away from pets because of the toxicity. If your pet nibbles on the leaves, it’ll become unwell. Keep your plant out of reach of animals – particularly cats who can climb up high.

Why Does My Dieffenbachia Have Yellow Leaves?

Dieffenbachia yellow leaves are a sign of overwatering. Underwatering is also likely, so do some troubleshooting to find out which one you’re getting wrong. The soil shouldn’t dry out completely, but it shouldn’t be over-saturated, either.

Other problems can include:

  • Lighting problems (not enough or too much)
  • Extreme temperatures
  • Low humidity
  • Pests
  • Nutritional deficiencies

Yellowing leaves are also a sign of ageing. This is normal, so remove any yellow leaves (without pulling them – they should come away gently) and keep giving your plant the things it needs to be happy and healthy.

What Are the Leaves on My Dieffenbachia Turning Brown?

Brown leaves and tips indicate that you’re not giving your plant enough water. Dry air and a lack of humidity are also to blame. Monitor how much water and moisture you’re giving your plant and increase the amount you mist it.

Now that you know everything there is about the Dieffenbachia, we’re sure you’ll love it just as much as we do! If there’s anything else you’d like to find out about this amazing houseplant, get in touch with us at [email protected] and we’d be more than happy to answer your burning Dieffenbachia questions.

Lots of love, Team TLB xx

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