DIFFENBACHIA ACULATA (syn. D. picta) (dumb cane, leopard lily)

15 deg C/59 deg F

The handsome foliage of this plant -beautifully variegated and coloured to give bold contrasts – makes it a much admired houseplant. Unfortunately, it is rather fussy about its environment, and unless there is adequate warmth the year-round, together with good humidity. it invariably deteriorates. Where it is too cool it will drop its lower leaves. but with the return of warmth it may recover.

There is some doubt as to whether this plant is a true species or a natural variety of some other plant, since it is very variable. Its various cultivars have been given fancy names such as ‘Roehr-sii. which has markedly contrasting cream veins on the leaves, and ‘Exotica’ with pale yellow leaf colouring and a vivid-green mid-rib. ‘Exotica Perfecta’ has ivory markings and green margins and veins. Very similar, but with an

overall white tinge, is ‘Marianne’. ‘Bausei’ is pretty with silvery leaf spotting. In all cases, the leaves can exceed 30cm (1ft) in length in well-grown specimens, and they are broadly spear-shaped. Some cultivars have been selected for compact, bushy growth with sideshoots more readily produced from the base: ‘Compacta’, which resembles ‘Exotica Perfecta’, is one of these, while ‘Camilla’ has an overall whiter tinge. All parts of this plant are poisonous, the sap especially so. If it gets into the mouth it is said that speech will be impeded for some time. Hence the common name dumb cane.

Give it a very bright position, especially during the winter months, but shade slightly in summer. The plant likes excellent humidity, although it should always be watered carefully and the compost should not be allowed to stay wet for long periods. In ideal conditions, where there is central-heating with humidilication. or the plants are grown in with groups of others to achieve a humid microclimate. the plant will grow vigorously and look delightful the year-round. It is a waste of time to try growing this plant where the temperature falls below

the recommended minimum, or where there are wide temperature fluctuations. The plants are native to the West Indies and Tropical America. In good conditions they may require potting-on each year and a final 20cm (5 in.) pot. Chills and inadequate humidity are the main causes of deterioration, yellowing and leaf drop.

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