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Toxicity of dieffenbachia

(Dieffenbanchia ssp.)


Scientific noun: Dieffenbachia ssp.

Common noun: Dieffenbachia

Family: Arum family - Araceae

Habitat: Tropical plant that can be found as a cultivated indoor plant.

Active principles

- Calcium oxalate

- L-asparagine

Active parts: The juice of the plant, especially in its stems and in the petioles of the leaves.


What is dieffenbachia like?

It is a perennial tropical plant up to 2,5 m.

Erect stems, thick and fleshy with big leaves ending in pointed apex; largely petiolated, marbled with white or yellow.

Flowers in spadix surrounded by a sheath-like leaf; small, white-greenish. .

It rarely flourishes when it is cultivated , only sometimes at the beginning of spring when the plant is well grown-up.


A drawing of the plant


Uses of dieffenbachia

- As a toxin to poison the arrows: : The juice of the plant has been used by the native Amazonian people to be part of the preparations with which they poisoned the arrows.

- As a gardening plant : The dieffenbachia is an ornamental plant that is used fundamentally like an indoor plant. (See gardening details)

- As a medicinal plant: Some research is being done to test this plant as an anti-cancer medicine. It is thought that dieffenbachia derivatives can prevent the development of cancer cells.

- As a magical plant: Brasilian people use to include dieffenbachia among those herbs that are considered adequate to expell bad influences


Toxicity of dieffenbachia

Toxicity is medium. The toxicity of this plant is due to its content in calcium oxalates. (Theories exist on the presence of other components, as proteolytic enzymes that propitiate the histamine production)

Its sap is irritating because of the presence of oxalates that appears in form of crystals that damages the skin tissues by contact, when injecting this component.

Calcium oxalate has, also, vomitive, irritating and inflammatory properties and it is, together with calcium, one of the main reasons for the production of kidney stones . Calcium and magnesium oxalates are two of the main components of poisonous plants.

Equally the ingestion of this plant produces irritation and inflammation of gastric mucous and it can damage the kidneys, the arteries, or the stomach of those who eat it.

Being such a habitual plant in our homes, it is advised to be wise in its manipulation. It is convenient to use gloves when one has to cut a leaf and we should care to take it away from the reach of the small children to avoid any possible accident.

Photo of dieffenbachia

Photo of dieffenbachia

Side effects of dieffenbachia

Poisoning with this plant shows the following symptoms:

- Applied externally: Dermatitis in the skin, with reddening , itchiness or burning pain . More serious symptoms can appear such as bladders or ulcers. In contact with the eyes, it produces irritation and transitory lost of vision.

- When its juice is ingested: It can produce vomits or diarrhea and even big inflammations of the digestive tract, especially in the mouth, the throat and the lips.

Among the most habitual symptoms we found : Swallowing difficulty , salivation, lost of sensibility with tingling sensation in the tongue, itchiness or ulcerations in the lips.


Consequences of eating dieffenbachia

A big ingestion of the plant, something which is not very habitual, can end up producing breathing difficulty. The quick action of the toxins of this plant usually propitiates its spitting what prevents the patient to continue chewing it .

The accidents are usually more common in children who chew the leaves, which produces a quick irritation with inflammation of the mucous membranes and a great salivation.

Although there have been describe some severe cases, it usually gives rise to very painful local inflammations that don't usually affect to the circulatory system or respiratory tract.


How to treat dieffenbachia poisoning?

Dieffenbachia poisoning requires the following medical treatment:

- Mouth rinsing with plenty of water to eliminate the small pieces of the plant that could still remain in the mouth.

- Demulcents to alleviate the irritation and soothe the membranes.

- Immediate medical care with antihistamines and analgesics has to be applied.


Is dieffenbachia toxic to animals?

It is a plant whose ingestion is toxic for domestic animals. There have been registered many cases of intoxication with mortal result in dogs, cats, rabbits and canaries that ate it.

Symptoms in animals are similar to those produced on people.


Species of dieffenchabias

There are about 30 different species approximately. Among all, we would mention the following ones:

Dieffenbachia seguine

Dieffenbachia maculata

Dieffenbachia bausei

Dieffenbachia imperialis

Dieffenbachia aerstedii

punto rojo More information about plants in the listing above.

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This material is for informational purposes only. In case of doubt, consult the doctor.
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