Hoaxes & Rumors

Is the Dumb Cane (Dieffenbachia) a Deadly Houseplant?

Is the Dumb Cane (Dieffenbachia) a Deadly Houseplant?

A warning graphic with the words “Dangerous Plant” has circulated online for several years. Is there any truth to the rumor that this common houseplant is deadly?

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Is the Dumb Cane (Dieffenbachia) a Deadly Houseplant?

There is some truth to the story, although as with many things on the internet, it is somewhat exaggerated.

The story below has been circulating for several years and tells us that the Dumb Cane, or Dieffenbachia, can kill a child in a minute, an adult in 15 minutes, and can cause blindness if contact is made with the eyes.

The Story in Circulation


This plant is very common at our houses, gardens, parks and offices (popular as indoor & outdoor plant). The plant (Dumb Cane or Dieffenbachia) is now proven to be DANGEROUS, so, please take care!

I know that the leaf of this plant causes itching if its sap (milk) touches your skin. But there are more dangerous facts! Read the details below.

May be useful for you. You better believe it.


One of my friends almost lost her daughter who put a piece of the leaf of this plant in her mouth and her tongue swelled to the point of suffocation. This is one plant but there are others with the same characteristics of coloring. Those are also poisonous and we should get rid of them. Please watch out for our children. As we all leave our children at home in the hands of a nanny, we should give them a safe environment where they can play .

Name: Dumb Cane or Dieffenbachia

“This plant that we have in our homes and offices is extremely dangerous!

This plant is common in Rwanda. It is a DEADLY POISON, most specially for the children. It can kill a kid in less than a minute and an adult in 15 minutes. It should be uprooted from gardens and taken out of offices. If touched, one should never touch his/her eyes; it can cause partial or permanent blindness. PLEASE ALERT YOUR FRIENDS”

The Truth About Dumb Cane (Dieffenbachia)

The name “Dumb Cane” refers to the symptoms that sometimes occur when a person ingests the plant, which includes speechlessness due to extensive saliva production and swelling of the lips, mouth, tongue, and throat. Although it is possible for rare cases of ingestion to cause severe symptoms, it is generally thought to be only mildly toxic to humans, and symptoms normally clear up in a matter of days. A Dumb Cane website run by the Australian state of Queensland says the following of the plant:

“The leaves, if chewed, will cause copious salivation and an intense burning sensation, followed by a swelling of the lips, mouth, tongue and throat. This causes difficulty in breathing and swallowing, as well as making the tongue immobile rendering the person speechless. This effect can continue for several days. Handling the plant may cause skin irritation… Seek urgent medical attention if lips or tongue become swollen or if there is difficulty breathing or swallowing.

The U.S. National Library of Medicine and the National Institute of Health provide a web page devoted to Dieffenbachia poisoning. According to this site, eating the plant can cause poisoning due to the presence of Oxalic acid and the protein Asparagine within the plant. As mentioned above, handling Dieffenbachia can irritate the skin, and the eyes can also be affected if they are rubbed by an area of the skin that has been come into contact with the plant.

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The following are listed as symptoms of Dumb Cane (Dieffenbachia) poisoning:

  • Burning mouth and/or throat
  • Swelling and blistering of the mouth/tongue
  • Nausea/vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Hoarse voice
  • Pain in the eyes
  • Damage to cornea of the eye

If someone has ingested Dumb Cane and is suffering from Diefenbachia poisoning, the U.S. Library of Medicine and the National Institute of Health recommend taking the person to the emergency room and/or calling the National Poison Control Center at 1-800-222-1222. The National Poison Control Center is a free service available 24/7 in the United States. They also recommend washing any skin that has come into contact with the plant, rinsing out the eyes, wiping out the mouth with a washcloth that has been dipped in cold water, and drinking milk.

Danger to Pets

Dangerous PlantMany versions of the warning circulating on the internet focus on children and adults, but it should be pointed out that the Dumb Cane is considered toxic to pets as well. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) regards Dumb Cane as being toxic to dogs and cats and lists possible symptoms as: “Oral irritation, intense burning and irritation of mouth, tongue and lips, excessive drooling, vomiting, difficulty swallowing.” If your pet has ingested Dieffenbachia, the ASPCA recommends calling your local veterinarian or the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center at 888-426-4435. It should be noted, however, that the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center may charge callers a consultation fee of $65.

Pet Poison Helpline describes a pet’s reacion to the Dumb Cane as follows:

The family of dumbcane plants contain insoluble crystals of calcium oxalate called raphites. Chewing or biting into the plant releases the crystals which penetrate tissue resulting in injury. When dogs or cats ingest insoluble calcium oxalate-containing plants, clinical signs may be seen immediately and include pawing at face (secondary to oral pain), drooling, foaming, and vomiting. Moderate to severe swelling of the lips, tongue, oral cavity, and upper airway may also be seen, making it difficult to breathe or swallow.

Bottom Line

Dumb Cane (Dieffenbachia) can be harmful if eaten, though in most cases the symptoms would not approach those dire warnings circulated online. There are many items in the home that shouldn’t be eaten, and this is one of them. That said, this is a fairly common plant and probably shouldn’t be tossed out just because eating it is toxic. When handling or pruning a Dumb Cane, it’s best to wear gloves in order to avoid getting the sap on the skin or in the eyes. It is also a good idea to keep them out of reach of children and pets. If someone is suffering from Dieffenbachia poisoning, they should be taken to the emergency room and/or the National Poison Control Center should be called (800-222-1222). If a pet is suffering from Dieffenbachia poisoning, they should be taken to the vet and/or the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center should be called (888-426-4435).

Have you ever had a reaction from a Dumb Cane? If so, let us know in the comments below.

Updated July 6, 2015
Originally published September 2012

  • Clare Oechsle

    hmm had one many years ago,,,moved and couldn’t take with me,,,,anyway never had a problem THEN,,,,and I KNOW the dangers of this plant,,anyway, just bought one and it really needed to be watered,,,and I washed the leaves down also,,,MY SKIN on my arms and hands started itching soooo bad,,,JUMPED IN THE SHOWER,,,,,fine after that,,,I’m much older now and wondering if that’s why I am NOW having that type of reaction?

  • Paul F. Wood

    Yeah, and Ii wouldn’t recommend smoking it, either. I did that, but fortunately there seems to be very little permanent damage to my brain. I have these little spells that come and go, but they’re rare and usually happen only when I xejuA **() HJ&d ddkldksdfa dddduduuuhhh………88ygxWJEE arrrgggwhuppy.

    • Ismaïl Ajíbølå Abdus-Salam

      Go away, Algernon.

  • Jason v

    This plant is very harmful to the mouth if chewed. The cane portion looks almost identical to sugar cane. My wife and came across a lone cane at a river rock which I skinned and chopped up 2 small pieces that we tried, the results were immediate and cased severe oral pain like thousands of cuts inside the mouth. Day 2 right now and no sign of healing, toungue is swollen and lips are huge cheeks are burning. Difficulty eating and talking swallowing is made difficult. No medicine or remedy aids in this at all. It should be considered extremely dangerous. We did not swallow any of the plany or juice it was spit out immediately. I would imagine having to be hospitalized if more were eaten. I can not wait for this feeling to go away at first bite you think your going to die!

  • Donna

    Anyone with houseplants that doesn’t bother to read up on them first really shouldn’t have houseplants.

  • PHAS46

    I can attest to the fact that you lose some of your voice when ingested with slight difficulty swallowing, I ate it when I was seven and those were the symptoms I experienced also my hands itched like crazy. The cure? My mom gave me sugar to eat and that was that.

  • Lindsay

    1. What is with two of the commenters posts about their mothers encouraging them to lick or ingest “to see what happens”? Very disconcerting
    2. They gave me no such warning as the Home Depot gladly accepted my purchase of three 3 foot dieffenbachia — I have a 4 yr old daughter who touches everything! I see the drips on the end of the plants…. Time to bring into the office!

  • Amanda b

    Handled this plant to prune and wash bugs from underside of leaves my fingers have been stinging/burning for 2 days and red. Have taken antihistamine see what happens. Not nice considering getting rid of it as I have pets and children around 🙁

  • Kriss

    My mom was trimming her Dumb Cane once when I was in high school. She talked me into touching the cut end of the stalk to my tongue to see what would happen. Well, it felt like a thousand tiny needles were sticking my tongue (similar to when your hand or some body part goes to sleep)for several minutes. I would NOT do it again.

  • Alethia

    Well it seems as though I have an extreme allergy to this plant. I had a reaction to plant after only handling it for rooting. A co-worker gave me a piece that I cut up into pieces for root bounding and a few minutes later I found my hands extremely itchy. I washed my hands several times, rinsed with rubbing alcohol and put Manuka honey on them. It seemed to help that evening and into the next day. But the following night I found myself scratching my hands in my sleep and when I awoke the second day, I had an extreme rash throughout the fingers. I spread more honey on the hands throughout the day and before bed.

    The pieces are in the kitchen on the counter (behind the faucet) and I fear I may have come in contact with a piece of it again as when I awoke this morning there was a slight rash on my wrist and arms. I’m throwing this stuff out when I get home, trust! Needless to say, I moved from the Manuka honey onto a Betamethasone Dipropionate cream (needing something extremely more powerful) and received a lot of relief and a slow noticeable diminishing of the rash.

    Guess I was extremely dumb in handling this plant without gloves and long sleeves so I definitely recommend covering up if you’re getting this plant. However, with as much of a reaction that I’ve had I won’t be displaying this beauty anywhere near me.

  • Anay

    Hi everyone! I have developed sever eye irritation that now turned into a permanent Uveitis apparently. I have need on constant topical treatment. Resently my mother visited us. She noticed that we have plant in our bedroom, which we moved into our bedroom about two months ago just when my eye problem started. So without any reaserch to find out why we shouldn’t have it there we just moved it. You won’t believe it but for the first time I two months I manage to sleep without using different types of eye drops and waking up without any irritation. What an eye opening! I am glad I came across this website. Hope this info will be useful for many of you.

  • Mike

    As someone who as actually tried Dumb Cane (ah, what’s in a name the not-so-bright man willing to try this might say with a few more years under his [my] belt?), I can say that all the items that are mentioned in the ASPCA description of what happens to animals with consumption happened to me with the exception of the vomiting. My aunt and mother had always heard that it would make it difficult if not possible to talk (make one “dumb”) if consumed and encouraged me to try it (who knows why they would do that ??). So, being the indestructible youth that I thought I was I happily tried it. I would not call it a “Mild Reaction to Most People” as the header above states. I have to say, for about 2 hours I was miserable and quite worried. The ASPCA symptoms of “Oral irritation, intense burning and irritation of mouth , tongue and lips, excessive drooling, vomiting, difficulty swallowing.” do the plant justice. The intense burning made my tongue feel as if it was going to explode. No matter what I tried: milk; sugar; water, etc., nothing helped with the burning and inability to swallow. Pretty scary at the time and I would never recommend it to anyone…not that most people, knowing what I did at the time, would have tried it to begin with.

  • Bec

    As a horticulturist I can tell you that many,many common household and garden plants are toxic or poisonous. Usually they would need to be eaten in large amounts to cause serious illness.
    Many are toxic to animals, but most animals don’t eat toxic plants, HOWEVER, this is not always the case. (Especially when it comes to goats and horses that eat branches and leaves (known as ‘browse’)
    The curled tips of Bracken fern are loaded with cyanide, a friend of mine lost a whole heard of goats that got out of the paddock and into the bracken.
    Cycads can be deadly to horses.
    The fact is that few people chew randomly on leaves, so the plants are not usually a risk, and as I said, you would usually need to eat a lot.
    If worried check with a local horticultural organisation or read some plant books.

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