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Friday, June 13, 2008


I don't or haven't yet gone in for indoor or tropical plants much. But in my professional capacity I can't afford to harbor horticultural prejudices or parochialism since people do like a wide variety of plants and motifs. In reality there are few cultivated plants I can say I would nix from a planting scenario without at least a perfunctory hearing. Pampas grass. Ficus nitida other than 'Green gem'. Those little grafted cactus thingies sold at Thrifty Drug.

So I found myself at a local vendor seeking sources, information and images of indoor plants for a client. At this place there is a large barn filled nearly to the rafters with metal racks full of what they call in the trade "foliage". Foliage is (are?) mostly tropical species grown indoors or, in very mild climates like southern CA, out whose main feature is their green, variegated, multi-colored, twining, shiny, feathery, translucent, spiky, and otherwise interesting leaves.

In the case of dieffenbachia, add poisonous to the list of foliage attributes. Dumb cane, as it's called commonly, contains calcium oxalate crystals in its tissue which if consumed cause an alarming reaction with the consumer's mouth and throat. Swelling of the walls of the esophagus can close off the throat resulting in disaster. It's good to be aware of this quality since your pets, including reptiles and birds can be harmed by eating the plant; on the other hand the list of potentially poisonous plants is long (here's one for reptiles), and it turns out most or all of the plants in the aroid sub-family of which dieffenbachia is member contain calcium oxalate. An interesting side note is that this substance is the same stuff that kidney stones are most commonly made of, when oxalic acid precipitates calcium in the digestive system that then accumulates in the kidney (wiki). At least some insects (aphids, scale, mealybugs) along with spider mites are untroubled by the plant's chemical defenses as these buggies are among the cultural challenges of dieffenbachia growers.

Anyway, I was looking and not eating and thought these big dumb cane leaves were quite pretty glowing in the skylight against the old wood of an urban foliage purveyor's barn.

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