Why Is Dieffenbachia Called Dumb Cane?

Lots of plants have some pretty strange names, don’t they? Some are self explanatory – but why is dieffenbachia called dumb cane?

Let’s have a look into the reasons behind this odd name, and why it has been known by this title for so long (some of these reasons are less than pleasant, just to warn you!)

Why Is Dieffenbachia Called Dumb Cane?

why is dieffenbachia called dumb cane

There is usually a tale behind the colloquial names of plants, and dieffenbachia is no exception.

Although it is not used so often these days, as it can be seen as derogatory, the name “dumb cane” has a history and a meaning.

The sap of all parts of this plant is toxic to both people and animals, and can cause great problems if it gets into the eyes, or is ingested.

If it is ingested, the sap can cause the throat to swell up so much that it can prevent speech – hence the name “dumb cane”.

We’re sorry to pass on such a grim meaning behind the plant’s name, but at least now you know!

The reason the sap is so problematic is that is contains calcium oxalate, which causes great problems to both people and animals.

Calcium oxalate is made up of tiny little crystals, that can sting where they touch, and can also cause swelling. Not what you want on your hands or in your mouth. You have been warned!

As long as you don’t get any of the sap in your mouth, and wear gloves or wash your hands thoroughly after you handle it, you should have no problems.

This slightly scary article explains what it is about the sap of dieffenbachia that makes it dangerous.

What Is The Dumb Cane Controversy?

This poor plant has been chased by controversy throughout its time – through no fault of its own!

Because of the fact that its sap stings and causes great problems if touched or ingested, it was used as a punishment in times gone by.

Slavers in the Caribbean used to use the toxic properties of this plant to torture the people they had enslaved – horrifying roots to your favorite houseplant.

Thankfully these days we have left these hideous practices behind us for the most part, so we can move on and enjoy this lovely plant brightening up our homes.

Just remember to be very careful when you handle it, and wear gloves if you have to prune or transplant it.

It is also toxic to animals, not surprisingly, so make sure it is in a place in your home where children and pets can’t chew on it.

What Are The Different Types Of Diffenbachia?

Like many plants, there are lots of different subspecies of dieffenbachia. In fact, this genus has over 50 different species, each with different characteristics!

They all have the same general requirements – indirect sunlight, fertile soil with a watering regime that does not leave them waterlogged, and a good sized pot.

Let’s have a look at some of the most common types:

  • Camille is a beautiful, variegated plant that has pale coloured centres of the leaves, spreading into glossy dark green on the outside.
  • Camoflage has light green leaves with lighter veins, and can often have spots of darker colour on the leaves too.
  • Tropical Tiki is quite a bushy plant, with green leaves that have cream patches on them. It can grow quite large!
  • Seguine is a very striking dieffenbachia, which has creamy white leaves that can grow up to 12 inches long.
  • Compacta is ideal for a smaller space; it will be smaller than some other varieties. Its Light green leaves with their lighter patches will look beautiful in your house.
  • Honeydew produces light, almost yellow leaves with darker green borders for contrast. A very eye catching dieffenbachia.
  • Mary is a bright dieffenbachia, with mottled green leaves. It is a fast-growing plant, so is perfect for when you want a new plant quickly!
  • Tropic Marianne is a very unusual dieffenbachia, whose leaves are so pale they are almost white, except for the dark green border.

Whichever type of dieffenbachia you choose (and there are more than this list, as you know!) it will be a great addition to your houseplant collection.

If you want to check out these, and some more types of dieffenbachia, have a look at this video:

What Does The Dumb Cane Plant Symbolize?

Many plants have ancient symbolism, especially those that come from places with a high respect and love for nature and plants.

Dieffenbachia comes from tropical areas, and in its native Brazil it was revered as being able to protect against negative energy.

These days, we love it for its beauty and for the fact it provides us with lots of lovely oxygen – but where’s the harm in also using it to ward off negativity?

You certainly won’t feel negative when you come back home and catch sight of its gorgeous greenery lighting up your living room!

What Is A Fun Fact About Dieffenbachia?

This is an intriguing plant, with somewhat of a shady history (through no fault of its own, we might add – it can’t help having poisonous sap!)

It was revered in its native culture, as being a plant that can help to remove negativity and protect against the evil eye.

These days, we may think that this is because of its ability to clean the air we breathe, and the fact that it’s just so gorgeous.

We cannot say whether it really can protect your home against the evil eye, but we do know that it is a gorgeous and easy plant to grow.

Whether you want a dumb cane to protect your home against negativity or you just want a beautiful houseplant, we are sure that you will love your dieffenbachia.

This plant is not only a great addition to your houseplant collection, it also has some interesting stories behind it too.

Now that you know the answer to why is dieffenbachia called dumb cane, maybe you can find out the origins of your other plants’ interesting names too?

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Plants & House

6022 S Drexel Ave
Chicago, IL 60637

Amazon Disclaimer

Plants & House is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to


Plants & House does not intend to provide any health advice. We try to help our visitors better understand their plants; however, the content on this blog is not a substitute for medical guidance. For more information, please read our PRIVACY POLICY.