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Dumb Cane (Dumbcane) - A Poisonous Plant

Updated on March 24, 2017

Have you ever seen that plant with white spotted/patterned leaves in your home or somewhere outdoors? Well, if you see this plant often and didn’t know about it you should know it now –the plant is known to be poisonous and claims are that just a few drops of its juice swallowed causes a person to go speechless. In this article I’ll overview the science behind this claim and would share my experience with it.

A Commonly Planted Specie of Dumb Cane
A Commonly Planted Specie of Dumb Cane | Source

What is Dumb Cane?

Dumb Cane (genus dieffenbachia ), also known by the common names like Leopard Lily, Mother-in-law’s Tongue, and Dumb Plant is a tropical member of Araceae family –the family of plants to which Arum plant and other 29 species belong. It is a popular indoor ornamental in many regions of the world for its tolerance towards low light and dry heat. The plant was originated in Brazil and now is grown in many households throughout the world especially in US and Canada.


Why Dumb Cane is Poisonous?

Dumb Cane contains highly toxic calcium oxalate crystals which are concentrated in its leaves. Calcium oxalate , a compound derived from oxalic acid, as well as enzymes that trigger the release of histamine in the blood. That is the reason why its juice was traditionally used by Amazonian Indians on their poisoned arrows.

What are the Symptoms of Dumb Cane Poisoning?

Oxalates in dumb cane are needle-like crystals, which on eating can pierce the mouth, throat, and digestive track as they pass through it causing intense discomfort. It can cause dermatitis which leads to ulcers (if touched on the skin), results in temporary loss of vision (if it gets into the eyes), and severely affects kidneys, liver & stomach (if ingested). Ingestion of plant causes such painful inflammation of lips, mouth and tongue that it is temporarily impossible to speak. That is why it is named ‘Dumb Cane’. If taken in larger doses oxalate causes severe digestive problems, breathing difficulties and in extreme cases convulsions, coma and even death .

Some Species of Dumb Cane (Dieffenbachia)


What to Do in Case of Dumb Cane Poisoning?

If you or someone has swallowed Dumb Cane leaves or any other part, call your local emergency number (such as 911) instantly. Unlike other poisons, the effect of this poisoning can’t be cancelled out by taking water.

Should Dumb Cane be Planted in Our Homes?

It is NOT recommended to use Dumb Cane as a household plant. Only plant it if you can take the risk with your small children or pets. In a study conducted it was revealed that in patients with exposure to toxic plants, 70% are children younger than 5 years .

Dumb Plant Specie I Swallowed


My Experience with Dumb Cane Poisoning

I remember very well when I got addicted to this appealing plant as a child. I was just 8 and I had a knack of ‘tasting plants’! It was one of those weekends when my cousins used to visit our place. Everyone was playing, and I was busy tasting some plants which I had missed previously. Being unable to pick my new ‘plant snack’ I finally leaped on to a large dumb cane plant that had caught my eye from the day 1 it had got a place in our garden. Picked the smallest leaf on the plant and put it right into my mouth. The result was more awful that I’d ever expected! I nearly choked, and had the worst stinging on my tongue through my throat! Without telling anyone (fearing scolding) I rushed for water, gulped a few glasses of it but still couldn’t relieve my pain and stinging sensation. It seemed as if I have been stung by a swarm of honey bees. I approached for melon slices my cousins were enjoying in hope to reduce that stinginess but still couldn’t relieve it. I remember to have that hell feeling for 3 whole days but I never told my parents or anyone at that time. Now they know about it and no longer wish to have this plant in our home.

Enough said, it’s always the best way to research about plants before bringing or planting them in your houses. But if you still wish to bring such plants, make sure you keep them out of those curious kids’ and pets’ reach!

Want to know more about Dumb Cane plant? Check out this article which describes its structure and science. 


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    • Spider Girl profile image

      Spider Girl 7 years ago from the Web

      Thanks Sally's Trove, I'm just trying to spread awareness about the toxic plants, may it be useful to many more just like you!

    • Sally's Trove profile image

      Sherri 7 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania

      Super description of the toxic effects of this dangerous plant. Your experience as a child ought to be mandatory reading for anyone who is responsible for children...or pets. Rated up and useful.

    • Spider Girl profile image

      Spider Girl 7 years ago from the Web

      @the pink umbrella, I'm glad to hear it's useful for you!

    • the pink umbrella profile image

      the pink umbrella 7 years ago from the darkened forest deep within me.

      wow, having a child, that's good to know. Especially since it looks so harmless.