Dieffenbachia seguine (PROSEA)

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Plant Resources of South-East Asia
List of species

Dieffenbachia seguine (Jacq.) Schott

Protologue: Wiener Z. Kunst 1829(3): 803 (1829).
Family: Araceae
Chromosome number: 2n= 34, 68


  • Dieffenbachia maculata (Lodd.) D. Don (1839),
  • Dieffenbachia picta (Lodd.) Schott (1852).

Vernacular names

  • Dumb cane (En)
  • Vietnam: môn trường sanh.

Origin and geographic distribution

D. seguine originates from tropical America, and is commonly cultivated as an ornamental in gardens elsewhere in the tropics, including South-East Asia. It is a common indoor potplant in colder regions.


D. seguine is a popular ornamental, especially those forms with variegated leaves. The sap is used in tropical America as an antidote (counter-irritant) against snakebites, and to treat rheumatism and gout externally. It is also used to treat tumours and warts. The seed oil is applied on wounds, burns and inflammations. In Brazil a leaf decoction is gargled to relieve angina. However, the plant is better known for its toxic properties. It is used to poison rats and cockroaches, and for making arrow poison.


D. seguine is notorious for its toxic effects. It may cause dermatitis, corneal injury and has a toxic effect on mucous membranes, probably by ejection of calcium oxalate crystals (raphides) leading to injury of mast cells and a subsequent massive histamine release. When parts of the plant are ingested, this can lead to significant toxicity, especially in children. However, in most cases the symptoms are of short duration and the outcome can be classified as minor. The toxic manifestations have been partly attributed to proteolytic activity, but the exact principle is not yet known. Contraceptive activity in rats has been recorded.


  • A herb with ascending to erect stem, having distinct, smooth and green internodes.
  • Leaves alternate, simple and entire, oblong-ovate to elliptical, 15-50 cm × 7.5-20 cm, fleshy, often variegated; petiole usually long, with petiolar sheath almost reaching blade.
  • Inflorescence a spadix, several together, short-peduncled; spathe tubular at base, upper part expanded into a short blade, green; spadix cylindrical, shortly stalked, female zone at base, adnate to spathe, laxly flowered, male zone at apex, densely flowered.
  • Flowers unisexual, without perianth; male flowers with 4-5 connate stamens, anthers sessile; female flowers with subglobose ovary, 1-3-celled, stigma sessile, broad, staminodes 4-5.
  • Fruit a subglobose berry, orange to red at maturity, 1-3-seeded.
  • Seeds ovoid-globose, without endosperm.

Dieffenbachia comprises about 30 species native to the American tropics.


In tropical America, D. seguine occurs in mixed evergreen lowland forest and lower montane forest, up to 1300 m altitude.


Propagation of ornamental Dieffenbachia can be practised by tip cuttings, stem cuttings 5-8 cm long, air layering and division of basal shoots, using a 1:1 peat/sand mix.

Genetic resources

There is no information about the genetic variability of cultivated D. seguine, although it is commonly cultivated as an ornamental, also in South-East Asia.


Although D. seguine can be dangerous for children, it will maintain its importance as an attractive and hardy foliage ornamental in South-East Asia. The prospects as a medicinal plant seem limited due to its toxic properties.


62, 163, 268, 647, 892.

Other selected sources

121, 611, 646.

Main genus page


R.H.M.J. Lemmens