Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Random plant event: special Dieffenbachia flowering

I've posted pictures of Dieffenbachia flowers before, but nothing quite like these. Previously, for whatever reason, the flowers never actually fully developed. This might have been because the conditions weren't right for it, or it could have been because the plants in question never intended for them to develop all the way in the first place. Really don't know.

So when one of mine at home, a NOID that I've had for about three and a half years now, started to produce flowers a while ago, I wasn't really all that interested. Been there, done that.

Then the plant started doing something brand-new, that I've never seen a Dieffenbachia do before: it looked like it was putting two flowers together, one on top of the other, with a narrower "waist" in between. I pinched the bottom one a few times, just to try to figure out what was going on in there, and it was actually mostly hollow, just a stem inside a big balloon of a spathe.

And but then it got weirder, because the top section worked itself free, and then lower "flower" opened up:

And I was like, ooooooh. I've heard about this.

'Cause you see, when you look up Dieffenbachia or Philodendron or whatever -- aroids -- there will usually be something in there about how the flower spike usually contains both male and female flowers, which are separated spatially. Male on top, female on bottom, with a zone of sterile flowers in between. Previously, I'd always seen inflorescences like the one below (taken from a previous post):

and I'd assumed that when I looked at the white part at the top, I was in fact looking both the male and female flowers, with a zone between the two of sterile flowers, and it just happened that male, female, and sterile all looked identical. And whatever the hell the yellowy stuff below that was, it wasn't really relevant: some kind of misdeveloped flowers, perhaps.

But no. It turns out that two things were happening. One, I was oblivious to anything that was going on inside the spathe, and two, I never happened to be paying attention when the action was happening.

Oh yes. There is action.

Here is the part I'd always assumed was the whole "flower," the male part. It had, at this point, just emerged from the spathe:

And the following day, it was doing this:

That lasted no more than a day, after which the spathe popped back up around the spadix and sealed it back in again.

Meanwhile, the female part, which you can just barely see in that first picture, was doing stuff as well. It's much harder to photograph, because I have to hold the spathe open with one hand while I take the picture with the other, and so the quality is kind of crappy here, but you get the gist. The basic structure is clearly visible in the first picture:

And then the coloring is more true to life in the second:

This is also a very quick process. The next day, the colors and textures had changed:

And then it sealed itself back up again as well.

In nature, my understanding is that beetles pollinate these flowers. The plant attracts the beetles, the beetles crawl into the chamber around the female flowers (hence the need for a lot of space around them: the plant's making room for the beetles), and then . . . magic happens?, and the flower is pollinated. No account of the process I've read so far explains how or why the beetles pick up the pollen from the male flowers in the first place (they're not self-fertile, so it'd have to be coming from another flower), or how the beetles get back out after the deed is done (the seal on the spathe is tight, actually: I found it difficult to open up to try to look at the male flowers again), or what they do while they're in there. But at least the male-female-sterile part makes more sense now. I'm a little bit amazed that I hadn't run into pictures of this stuff before, and I'm a lot amazed that my plant decided to do this while growing inside: clearly it's adequate, but I would never have thought this was the ideal environment for growing and flowering.


Zach said...

Great post. Thanks for taking so many pictures. Steve Lucas (http://exoticrainforest.com) has a lot of information on Aroid inflorescences and how they work... You should check it out.

Nancy in Sun Lakes AZ said...

Absolutely fantastic post. I learn so much from reading your blog! I am so happy I discovered it recently.

Anonymous said...

I just do like your blog so very much! It is part of my daily routine to chek what is new on your site. Thanks. R

Aiyana said...

Great info. Fascinating process, and you are right. Rare sight. I've never seen this documented before.

Anonymous said...


I was searching all over the net about dieffenbachia flowering, and it seems that only yours had sufficient info AND good pictures to support. Im soo happy I stumbled upon this. =)

I was wondering whether you know a thing or two about the flowering process. I just got my first, the flower bloomed (it was so beautiful) only for a night (in the middle of the night) and by the next morning, it closed up until now. Quite disappointing actually.

Could be the spathe covering the spadix? Can I do anything to make it open up again?

And Im also quite confused so to ask, is it possible for the plant to have more than one flower? Cause, I see another similar looking spathe, a bit smaller than the former and it isnt hollow. And both of them, havent reach any consensus on opening up, I mean like, what's up with them? Lol.

Btw, love the pixxx you put up there, at least, it reminds me of mine when it bloomed.

Keep up the good job! -Ola

mr_subjunctive said...

I don't think there's anything that can be done to make the flower re-open once it's closed again; the ones at work seem to stay open longer than the one I had at home, if I recall correctly, so it's possible that light/heat/humidity might keep things going, but I won't promise anything.

I think it is normal to have more than one flower; most of the flowers I've seen have appeared in pairs, though it seems like they're never open at the same time; one leads the other by a few days.

Anonymous said...

My Dieffenbachia is flowering, so I Googled the plant, and came across this blog.

I took pictures...they look just like yours!

helen said...

Amazing blog!Congratulations!
I was searching for details about Dieffenbachia flowering and I came across your post.

I have a Dieffenbachia which is flowering right now, it hasn't opened up yet, but I'm very astonished it's flowering at all, it's only 7 months old!!!!?!?

I was also wondering what to do after flowering. Should I cut it off?

Your pictures are great!

mr_subjunctive said...

Yeah, just cut it off. In fact, it's probably technically better to cut it off before it opens, so the plant doesn't waste energy trying to build it, but I've never done that for my Dieffenbachias.

helen said...

Thanks for your answer.

Also, I've heard that the plant just goes downhill after flowering and that got me really worried.

Were your Dieffenbachias ok?

Anonymous said...

Just discovered today that our Dieffenbachia has 2 flowers on it! We have had Dieffenbachias in our house for many years and had never had one that flowered. This plant was bought at a nursery when we moved to a new house about 1 1/2years ago. Going to be interesting to see what it does next!

queenbu said...

I've had this dieffenbachia for 18 years!Well,actually I have offsprings of it now.Everytime a leaf is accidentally cut off, I just replant and hey presto! I have since moved house and everytime this marvellous plant, or shd I say, about four of them, adapt very well!Two weeks ago,for the first time in 18 yrs, I noticed a flower and then two...I, too, took loads of photos. After two weeks the flowers are still there.I really wouldn't dream of cutting them off!

Lys said...

Queenbu - you said that whenever a leaf got accidentaly cut off you'd plant it and Hey Presto!! I thought that diffenbachia only propogated via segments of the stalk... Will it root from a leaf? Do you put them directly in dirt or water? Do you use rooting hormone?

Anonymous said...

I just noticed my plant begin to flower and came across your blog as I decided to research it. It answered a lot of my questions, thank you! There are a total of three flowers that appeared just days ago.

Anonymous said...

My plant is 5years old and it just began to flower. The flowers are exactly like your pictures. Now if I can just get my Hoya plants to flower again I be happy.

Anonymous said...

Great post, thanks! My plant is flowering now and the information on this post was very helpful. This is the first time my plant has flowered. Believe it or not, I've had this plant for 36 years.

Flora Queen said...

Congrats! Everybody is learning with your posts! Me too! I've had this plant for plant for 8 years too!

Fantastic post! :)

danilb said...

Like everyone else, we are thrilled with your post. We had flowers show up recently, and none of the houseplant books ever mention the dieffs can flower! Any chance they can be pollinated with say, a Qtip? Thanks again!

mr_subjunctive said...


Possibly, if you have more than one flowering at a time, or if you can save the pollen. (I don't know about Dieffenbachia pollen specifically, but Anthurium pollen is supposed to keep in a sealed container in the refrigerator for a while -- I don't know off the top of my head how long -- and it's in the same family.) The problem, of course, is that the pollen happens after the female flowers are receptive, so you'd need another bloom right away, before the pollen from the first one dies.

Matthew Baldwin said...

I have allot starting up on mine.

Anonymous said...

I have two dieffembachias in my living room. They each are next to a window that faces east. I water them once a week. Both of them have flowered the last two years, maybe three.

Venusera Ankh Cerse said...

I just witnessed this very thing!However mine is doing all of this at a very young stage... I hear you guys saying you've have it for years

jennybunny said...

So glad to have discovered this blog,mine has just had a flower,i had no idea it could!!!sat and looked in amazement for ages,will there be more now????

mr_subjunctive said...


Probably not immediately, no. I think that a dieff can produce more than one bloom in a season (at least some of their relatives, like Aglaonema, can produce up to five inflorescences, one after another, on the same stem), but I wouldn't swear that they can.

I only have two Dieffenbachias now, one of which has never bloomed for me; the other blooms occasionally, maybe once a year, but not necessarily in the same season.

So yeah, you'll probably see another one sooner or later; you just won't be able to predict it in advance.

Angela said...

Just like everyone else, I just noticed mine flowering!!! What excites me the most is this plant and subsequent plants are offsprings of my Dad's plant. He passed away 24 years ago. My Mom took over its care beautifully. I took over the care after she died 3 years ago. It has been rooted and rerooted probably over 25 times. Nature is a wonderful miracle! Thanks for your posts!