Common houseplant dieffenbachia is not deadly
This plant causes several health complications but not death or blindness
Claim: Social media post claim that a popular indoor plant, dieffenbachia, is so deadly that it could kill an adult in 15 minutes and a child in less than a minute and may also cause permanent blindness.
Fact: Claims that the dieffenbachia plant leads to death if ingested and permanent blindness if rubbed into the eyes, are misleading. While the plant is toxic and can cause several minor health complications, it does not lead to death or permanent blindness.
Fact or Fiction?
For years, viral claims about the purported risks of this houseplant, like death or permanent blindness, have circulated the internet. Most articles and posts that make these claims include the following paragraph;
“It is a deadly poison, most especially for the children. It can kill a kid in less than a minute and an adult in 15 minutes. It should be uprooted from gardens and taken out of offices. If touched, one should never touch his/her eyes; it can cause partial or permanent blindness.”
According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, dieffenbachia, also called dumb cane, is a herbaceous plant of the Araceae family that is often kept indoors as a houseplant. The plant’s cells contain stinging crystals, called raphides, which contain calcium oxalate. Calcium oxalate is If chewed or ingested, the raphides and sap of the plant can cause iration to the mucous membranes which can result in swelling and inflammation of the tongue and throat. While the plant is considered toxic, ingestion is not usually deadly.
Ingesting dieffenbachia or rubbing your eyes after touching the plant may, in fact, cause irritation, which might then result in the swelling mentioned in the viral messages. However, Ed Krenzelok, an emeritus professor of pharmacology at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and a former director of the Pittsburgh Poison Center told Snopes that he was unable to find any cases of fatalities and permanent blindness. Krenzelok stated, “I’ve never ever seen a fatality in my experience related to dieffenbachia or any of the members of the Arum family. I’ve reviewed, virtually […] hundreds of thousands of cases in my career involving plants of this nature.” Regarding contact with the eyes, Krenzelok said he frequently saw cases of eye irritation at his center, but never permanent eye damage or loss of vision.
International Fact-Checking Network (IFCN) signatory Africa Check has also debunked similar claims about dieffenbachia. Dr Lindsay Liu, a pharmacist and specialist in poison information at the National Capital Poison Center in Washington DC told Africa Check that the, “majority of cases develop only mild symptoms” and that “it is possible for swelling after exposure to become so severe that it is difficult to breathe but it is very rare.” Dr Liu also stated that she was not aware of any cases of blindness.
Soch Fact Check conducted a CrowdTangle analysis for the last 12 months period from 23 Aug 2021 to 24 Aug 2022 using the following search terms:
‘The plant (dumb cane or dieffenbachia) is now proven to be dangerous.’
And found that a total of 157 posts have been shared on Facebook with this term and they received a total of 22,950 interactions. The most interacted post received 1300 likes, 388 comments, and 1200 shares.
Conclusion: Viral claims about the toxic plant widely known as dumb cane causing death and permanent blindness is misleading. The plant causes several health complications like itching and inflammation but not death or permanent blindness.