Crystal Death? Possibly.
Updated: Nov 23, 2021
Now that we’re spending more time indoors as the weather grows cold, our houseplants become a focus of our attention. One of my favorites is Dieffenbachia, commonly known as Dumb Cane. Originally from the tropics of Central and South America, today different varieties can be found in garden stores everywhere. The flowers are not fragrant and look more like a calla lily inflorescence than a showy eye-catching bloom. But these plants, with their large, variegated leaves, can be a show stopper in more ways than one.
Needle-like calcium oxalate crystals are found within specialized cells of the plant, and when the leaves are chewed, the crystals are released, causing swelling of the oropharynx (mouth and throat), rendering the person speechless or worse. The initial pain usually prevents swallowing the mouthful completely, thus avoiding damage to the GI tract. In addition, care should be taken when propagating these plants (use gloves, wash your hands, don’t touch your eyes) to prevent skin irritation or corneal injury. Most importantly, curious toddlers and pets should keep their distance from this potential chemical irritant.