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Araceae, Dieffenbachia seguine, Spotted Dumb Cane

October 23, 2009

Dumbcane is a very common ornamental plant, typically relied upon for interior decoration by people who have little ability or interest in actually caring for their plants. Dumbcane is easy to grow, its easy to propagate, it has somewhat quintessential large, waxy tropical foliage.

Little do most people know, this is a highly toxic plant, historically employed for murder and torture and other such nefarious activities. It is classified as a cytotoxin, meaning it damages the function and/or structure of cells. It is a common cause for consultation in poison centers.

All parts of the plant are poisonous. Apparently the toxic principles are not yet fully understood. Among other things it contains calcium oxalate raphides, needle-shaped crystals, located within its cells, which can shoot out into other cells when pressure is exerted.

Parts of the Dumb Cane have been used for torture. When chewed, the chewer becomes silent as their tongue grows so swollen they are rendered unable to speak. Raphides are also thought to cause temporary sterility. Thus, traditionally, the plant has been used as a contraceptive, and, interestingly, as and aphrodisiac (I’m not sure how, or in what quantities). It has also been used for the treatment of cancer, oedema, and skin disorders.

Following the ingestion of toxic quantities of the plant your initial symptoms will include severe burning and inflammation of the mouth, throat and oesophagus. The swelling in ones throat and tongue can lead to suffocation. Within an hour after the onset of such symptoms it will become difficult or impossible to swallow, nausea and vomiting will ensue along with severe gastrointestinal disorder, coma, and even death by cardiac arrest or fatal kidney damage. Sap in the eye results in intensive pain, conjunctivitis and keratitis, in which the cornea becomes inflamed resulting in impaired eyesight.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. F.BONILLA permalink
    October 19, 2010 10:08:15 am


    • October 19, 2010 10:08:50 am

      Great. Thanks for visiting the site. Please let me know if you’re looking for any additional information.

  2. Adele Roodt permalink
    October 20, 2010 10:08:56 am

    I trimmed the plant back a week ago and had severe swelling, itching and burning on my hand and fingers. It went down the next day, but now, a week later, ithcing and swelling has come back. What should I use or should I rather consult a chemist?

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