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Dieffenbachia sequine

Botanical Name

Dieffenbachia sequine (Jacq.) Schott. [2]

Synonyms

No documentation

Family

Araceae

Vernacular Names

English Dumbcane, Mother-in-law Plant   [2]

Description

Dieffenbachia seguine is a member of the Araceae family. It is an erect herbaceous plant which can reach 1–5m high. The lower stem shows conspicuous horizontal leaf scars. The leaf petiole clasps the stem. The leaf blade is entire, oblong and pointed with prominent midrib and secondary veins. The leaf measures 35 cm long and has various markings of irregular white spots or blotches. [2], [3]

Distribution

The plant is a native of South America but is not distributed throughout the world and is a very popular ornamental indoor plant seen houses and public places. [3]

Plant Use

Ornamental [1], [2], [3]

Toxic Parts

Whole plant [1], [2], [3]

Toxin

Calcium oxalate (raphides) and a proteolytic enzyme called dumbcain. The sharp raphides are fired from  special cells upon being subjected to mechanical pressure such as chewing. They sequentially fire their entire contents when activated. The proteolytic enzyme, dumbcain, on the other hand produces itching, swelling and pain when introduced into the victim’s tissue by the raphides. The raphides also injures the mast cells, releasing large amounts of histamines into the injured tissue. [1], [2], [3]

Risk Management

This plant should not be planted in homes and public areas where children could be exposed to them.

Clinical Findings

Skin contact – Coming in contact with the crushed stems, leaves or juice will produce itching, burning and local inflammation of the skin.

Ingestion – Upon chewing, it causes rapid development of profuse salivation, burning pain, redness and swelling of the tongue and throat. There is loss of ability to speak due to inflammation of the larynx may occur and last for days. When the inflammation of the mouth and throat is severe it can pose a danger to the extent of fatal choking. Symptoms usually subside within a week, but the lesion may take longer to heal.

Eye – Juice entering the eye causes intense pain, photophobia, swelling of the eyelids and corneal abrasions. This is caused by the calcium oxalate crystals. Free flowing sap without needles usually produces keratoconjunctivitis. The ophthalmic symptoms will fully recover within 3 to 4 weeks. However, in sever cases corneal opacity may persist indefinitely.  [1], [2], [3]

Management

Skin lesions – Immediate wash with soap and water sometime suffice to ally the itching and pain. Applying soothing creams e.g. calamine or a demulcent could provide some relieve to the itching following washing of the affected area. Antihistamines can provide relief, but does not alter the course of recovery.

Ingestion – Immediately wash the mouth and provide cool beverages and demulcents (if available) to provide temporary relief. It has been reported that immediate application of lime juice could help dissolve the calcium oxalate needles. In severe cases, Diphenhydramine or any other antihistamine can help reduce the swelling. Analgesics could be given if the pain is severe. In extreme conditions tracheostomy may be needed. [1], [2], [3]

References

  1. Nellis DW., Poisonous Plants and Animals of Florida and the Caribbean Pineapple Press Inc. Sarasota 1997 pg. 147 – 149.
  2. Nelson L., Shih RD., Balick MJ., Handbook of Poisonous and Injurious Plants, Springer, Berlin 2009 pg. 149
  3. Fuller TC., McClintock EM., Poisonous Plants of California, University of California Press Los Angeles 1986, pg. 273 - 274

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