Is Oozing Dieffenbachia Harmful?

If eaten in large amounts, Dieffenbachia can cause throat swelling and blocked airways.
If eaten in large amounts, Dieffenbachia can cause throat swelling and blocked airways. (Image: Jupiterimages/ Images)

Dieffenbachia, more commonly known as dumb cane, is a houseplant that is poisonous to humans, cats and dogs if ingested or touched. All parts of the dieffenbachia plant are poisonous, so if any area of the plant is oozing with cell sap, care should be taken when handling.

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Dieffenbachia goes by many names, including dumbcane, giant dumb cane, spotted dumb cane, tropic snow, exotica and exotica perfection. The most distinguishing feature of dieffenbachia are the large green leaves, which are covered in ivory or white splotches and fall in alternating patterns on an erect, six-foot tall branchless perennial herb. When in bloom, the flowers of the dieffenbachia plant appear on a spadix, or spike, and are surrounded by a spathe, which encloses the flower. Dieffenbachia can be found throughout the U.S., but is native to the tropics.

Human Toxicity

The two dangerous, poisonous compounds in dieffenbachia are asparagine and oxalic acid, which occur in all parts of the plant. If your dieffenbachia is oozing, the substance is most likely cell sap. Minor skin irritation is possible if you touch the sap, but it usually only lasts a few minutes. However, if the sap or any other part of the plant is ingested, severe mouth pain may occur, and large quantities of ingestion can be fatal. Other symptoms include mouth or tongue swelling, eye pain with possible cornea damage, gastrointestinal reactions such as nausea, vomiting and diarrhea, and a hoarse voice. In the worst case scenario, some fatalities are possible if the throat swelling blocks the airways. The name dumb cane is derived from this symptom, as a person who ingests the plant cannot speak, or is struck "dumb" as his airway closes.

Animal Toxicity

If you own a cat or dog, dieffenbachia plants are a bad houseplant to have around, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. The plant is toxic to both cats and dogs, and fatal if eaten in large doses. Symptoms of dieffenbachia poisoning include large amounts of drooling, difficulty swallowing, vomiting, mouth burning or oral irritation.

Emergency Assistance

If you believe that your pet has been poisoned by dieffenbachia ingestion, the ASPCA recommends seeking immediate veterinarian assistance.Humans who accidentally ingest dieffenbachia should seek immediate care via a medical emergency center or a poison control center hotline. Remedies include drinking milk and wiping out the mouth with a wet cloth. For a link to the National Capital Poison Center's hotline, which can provide first-response assistance, see Resources.


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