Dieffenbachia: Information on the decorative but poisonous houseplant

Dieffenbachia: Information on the decorative but poisonous houseplant

The Dieffenbachie (also called Dieffenbachia ) is one of the most beautiful green plants available in German trade. As part of the Araceae family, it consists of about 51 different species that are distributed from Colombia to Costa Rica. Some varieties are found throughout the world as indoor plants . Their popularity is due to their leaves, which, depending on the variety, are white spotted, green margined or marbled yellow. The plant has no great requirements, it also thrives in shady places, but requires moist air.


Dieffenbachia are evergreen, herbaceous plants that grow in shrub-like size. The most upright, thickened stems are often leafy in older plants only in the upper area. This development suffer house plants even with the best care. Thus, leaf loss is not an indication of disease. The usually spirally arranged leaves can be clearly divided into leaf blade, leaf sheath and petiole. The former are often patterned, some varieties even variegated. The plant got its name from the Viennese gardener

J. Dieffenbach (1796 - 1863). He was the head gardener in Vienna at that time. Other names that are used in the German-speaking area are: Giftaron, Schweigohr and Schweigrohr. The latter were chosen for the reason that Dieffenbachia was used as a torture in the 17th century. Many slaves in India have been forced to chew on parts of the plant as a punishment. The poison causes the tongue and mucous membranes to swell, making it impossible to talk for a day. Despite the naming by an Austrian is the home of Dieffenbachia Central and South America. In the rainforests of Colombia and Brazil, the plants find ideal conditions where they can grow wild. Depending on the species Dieffenbachia reaches sizes between 50 and 150 centimeters. species

Dieffenbachia are found in countless colors and with different leaf patterns. The choice of room types is rather limited. The most popular is Dieffenbachia maculata. It is only one meter tall and easy to care for. This Dieffenbachie was used to breed different varieties with different yellow and white leaf patterns. The largest Dieffenbachia available for the

interior is the D. amoneana. It reaches a height of 150 centimeters, has gray-green, white-lined foliage. Some species at a glance: Dieffenbachia amonea

has large, long and elliptically shaped, dark green foliage. The leaves are creamy white along the central main vein. Dieffenbachia X bausei

makes up to 15 cm wide and 35 cm long, lanceolate foliage. They are yellowish-green in color and usually have whitish spots and dark green spots. The edges of the leaves of this hybrid plant are dark green in color. Dieffenbachia bowmannii

has oval-elliptical foliage that can reach up to 60 cm in length. Its basic color is rich green complemented by light green patches. Dieffenbachia Exotica

is a particularly attractive species with 12 cm wide and 25 cm long, oval-shaped leaves with irregularly distributed yellow-green spots. Dieffenbachia imperialis

is represented in the room culture with numerous Untersorten. Most species have broad, elliptical foliage whose ends are pointed. They have a dark green base color as well as irregular ivory-colored drawings along the veins. Location


except for the green-leafed ones, a bright pitch is required to allow the beautiful leaf patterns for which this species is known to form. However, they do not like a very bright location as the leaves burn. Ideal are temperatures between 21 and 30 ° C. In winter the Dieffenbachia should be at least 15 - 18 ° C. The species with thin leaves require a high humidity . The species with thicker leaves tolerate normal room air. It is important that they are not exposed to cold drafts. Video


Dieffenbachia needs a lot of water during the summer. A Dieffenbachia is poured with room-warm, soft water. The leaves quickly accumulate dust, which should be wiped off regularly. Afterwards it is advisable to spray the whole plant

with lime-free water . Between April and September, fertilization takes place every week. In the winter Dieffenbachien stay in the rest period and therefore require less water. Spraying creates a high level of humidity, which is especially important in winter, when heaters dehydrate the air. Once the current pot is too small, it will be repotted. Repotting is always done in March in simple unit earth. A Dieffenbachie, which has left many leaves, can be easily cut back to ten to 20 cm.


Head cuttings, which are obtained when pruning, are best for propagation. In principle, it is also possible to draw new plants from individual parts of the tribe. For this purpose, small offshoots must be formed at the base, which can be removed when repotting.

Is the Dieffenbachia poisonous?

Both the leaves, the petiole and the shoot axis

are poisonous . To date, the exact composition of the poison has been determined. However, the following active substances are included: calcium oxalate, oxalic acid, saponins, proteolytic enzymes, cyanogenic glycosides, alkaloids and pungent substances. For an adult, a dose of just three to four grams of leaves should be lethal. Runoff water is also poisonous. Already touching the plant is dangerous

: Shoot cells that release needles and other toxins open. This can damage the skin and eyes. Outwardly, the injuries are initially seen as severe skin irritation. If the juice gets into the eye, it ignites and corrodes the conjunctiva. It follows strong tearing and cramped eyelids. If the poison is taken orally, it causes symptoms such as burning, swelling and redness of the tongue and mucous membranes. Due to the increased production of saliva and swelling of the tongue, those affected can swallow and speak hard. In the worst case, the poisoning causes diarrhea, nausea, cardiac arrhythmia, paralysis and drowsiness. A particularly high proportion of poison has e.g. the art picta on. Parents with children should give up

on this houseplant . The same applies to pet owners who own cats, dogs or other species that are free in the house. They could take the poison without the owners noticing. Accordingly, it becomes difficult to neutralize the poison. Both dogs and cats as well as rabbits, hares, guinea pigs, hamsters and birds can die from Dieffenbachia venom. FAQ - Frequently Asked Questions

Does the Dieffenbachie be considered toxic to humans?

The parts of plants and especially The leaves of Dieffenbachie contain so-called calcium oxalate crystals, which are dangerous for humans. For this reason, the plants were even used in the 17th century on the Caribbean islands as a means of torture. By chopping the leaves, people were temporarily silenced because the needles contained in the calcium oxalate injure the mucous membranes of the mouth and throat. These needles, which are bundled in the shooting cells of the leaves, are released during chewing. But also saponins, alkaloids and glycosides are included in the components of the plants. The consumption of Dieffenbachie can therefore lead to diarrhea, paralysis, cardiac arrhythmia and nausea. Care should always be taken when handling the houseplant, as the calcium oxalate needles are sometimes released when the leaves are treated a little coarser.
Is the Dieffenbachie poisonous to pets?

Yes, also for pets such as cats, dogs, canaries, rabbits and guinea pigs represents the Dieffenbachia a danger. The green leaves tempt the pets to nibble. By liberating calcium oxalate needles can even suffocate the animal housemates. In addition, infertility threatens.
Dieffenbachie measures are good for their care.

Dieffenbachien are regarded as extremely unpretentious, robust and easy-care. Important is a warm and sunny location. In summer Dieffenbachia needs a lot of water. Fertilizers are required only during the growth phase. It is best to provide the plant with a liquid fertilizer every two weeks. Constant drafts must be avoided. The Dieffenbachia also has low requirements in terms of room temperature: it grows easily at temperatures of 18 to 24 degrees.
How to cut the Dieffenbachia?

Dieffenbachia kept in the room can quickly reach heights of two meters if they are good to be cared for. In addition, they quickly grow in breadth. This voluminous growth requires a regular pruning. The plant is simply cut to the desired height by cutting it in the middle. The Dieffenbachia is well cut compatible and after the pruning is usually quickly put out again.
Where can you buy a Dieffenbachie?

Dieffenbachia is available in various online shops as well as in the garden center. In addition, the popular houseplants are often offered in DIY stores at particularly low prices.
How to multiply the Dieffenbachie?

For the propagation head cuttings can be used. The about 15 centimeters long branches should be cut off in early spring, if you want to pull new Dieffenbachien from it. In addition, the propagation works well on parent parts. For this, a piece of trunk is cut off from Dieffenbachia and cut into several slices, which should have about thumb width. After drying, put them up to the middle in damp soil and place them on the window.
Which pests are common in the Dieffenbachie?

In particular, shield, lice and scavenger lice feel comfortable on the Dieffenbachia. Scale insects are recognizable when looking closely because they have firm and high-arched spine signs. The mealybugs form on the affected leaves a white webbing, which is reminiscent of cotton balls. It is important to examine the Dieffenbachie regularly for an infestation, in order to take rapid countermeasures.
Diseases / pests

When properly cared for, the Dieffenbachie rarely falls ill and is not attacked by pests. If brown leaf tips form, this is a sign of lack of water or too low humidity. Falling leaves indicate a wrong location. A

specific bacterial disease , which occurs exclusively in this plant species, and which is noticeable by an initially glassy, ​​slippery petiole, is very rare. A Dieffenbachie, who are affected by this disease, are beyond saving. Artikelbild: © EurngKwan / Shutterstock