Dieffenbachia is a type of tropical plant from the Araceae family. Although toxic, they're most often used as houseplants because they are able to tolerate low levels of light. The name applies to about 30 herbaceous plant species. The leaves of Dieffenbachia are typically oval-oblong shaped and can have spotted, striped or speckled patterns of white or yellow. A well-grown Dieffenbachia can grow to more than 5 feet (1.5 meters) tall, and when raised as houseplants, they tend to lose their lower leaves to give a False Palm effect. Common varieties of the Dieffenbachia include Tropic Snow, Australian and the Exotica Compacta. All varieties are sometimes referred to as "Dumb Cane" because of the numbing effect the juice has on the mouth if it's accidentally ingested.
Dieffenbachia is quite easy to propagate. Suckers that grow from the base of the plant can be replanted, top pieces of the plant can be removed and planted, or pieces of stem with nodes on them can be cut off and planted. With any of these methods, new roots should start to grow after just a few days. The plant tolerates high levels of shade and is not particularly prone to disease, making it a popular variety of houseplant because it's fairly easy to keep alive. To be kept outside, the plant usually needs temperatures of 40 degree Fahrenheit (5 degrees Celsius) or higher year-round to survive.
Although Dieffenbachia isn't prone to disease, certain insects, including Mealybugs and Spider mites, are often attracted to it. Mealybugs can usually be removed with a cotton ball or swab soaked in rubbing alcohol. Spider mites can normally be killed by increasing the humidity around the plant — mites tend to prefer hot, dry air. Non-insect problems the plant may face include yellowing leaves, which may be a sign that it's too drafty for the tropical plant; faded leaves, which are often caused by too much light exposure; and browning of leaves, which often indicates dry soil.
Because Dieffenbachia are toxic plants, ingesting the juice can cause burning in the mouth or throat, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting and swelling in the mouth or tongue. Drinking milk after the juice has been eaten may help relieve some of the symptoms, but Poison Control should still be called. Consuming too much can be fatal to pets and children; swelling of the mouth can block the airways and be fatal to adults in extremely rare cases as well. The plant was named in honor of German naturalist and physician Ernst Dieffenbach.