The dieffenbachia plant is a small genus in the araceae family and aroideae subfamily. These tropical plants are best known for their unique foliage which consists of variegated, oblong leaves and fleshy stems. In color, their apexed leaves are medium green with either yellow or cream centers – depending upon the species – and deep green outlines. Their flowers – which are made up of a spadix that is well concealed by a green spathe – are highly subtle, and often go unnoticed. Dieffenbachia, which is native to South America, grows its best in rich, thoroughly moistened soil, and can thrive in low sunlight.
The dieffenbachia plant is unquestionably one of the most common house plants around. This is not surprising, as they are not only interesting in appearance, but easy to care for as well. Despite its over 150 years of domesticity, the dieffenbachia is still considered a highly poisonous plant. When damaged, this plant releases a sap that is filled with raphides – or needle-like calcium oxalate crystals that contain sharp barbs – which can cause a number of unfortunate effects such as a burning sensation or paralysis of the lips, tongue and jaw; intestinal upsets; redness, itching and skin rashes. These results can occur in both humans and animals, so most dieffenbachia enthusiasts know to keep these plants on high shelves. The toxicity of the dieffenbachia plant first came to light when the ancient physician, Dioscorides, highlighted it in one of his many medical texts. In spite of this, the plant was touted for its positive effects. For example, during the 18th century, dieffenbachia was boiled in wine as a treatment for gout; in the 19th century, it was thought to be a highly effective curative for impotence and edema.
Because the dieffenbachia plant has such a pernicious history, it is easy to identify it with caution. As a gift you may very well be telling the recipient that although the outside of a situation may be beautiful, the inside may be harmful. On the other hand, these plants can also have a more positive expression and are often presented as a welcoming gesture, or simply to let the recipient know that they are being thought of with fondness.