The Dracaena Corn Plant is a slow growing, sometimes flowering, shrub which is wildly popular as a houseplant. The scientific name for the corn plant is Dracaena fragrans, which is the true corn plant in its native and original form, with solid dark green leaves.
Many other varieties of Dracaena plant now exist, including Dracaena deremensis, Dracaena sanderiana, and Dracaena massangeana. The most commonly known Dracaena in western society is the massangena variety, which is known for the yellow-lime green colored stripe that runs down the center of each dark green leaf.
All of the Dracaena plant varieties can be collectively referred to as corn plants, all growing upright on thick branches, with leaves sprouting from the stems in a manner reminiscent of corn.
|Scientific Name||Dracaena fragrans|
|Family||Agavaceae Dracaenaceae (University of Vermont, Indoor Plants)|
|Common Names||Mass Cane, Corn Plant, Massangeana Cane|
|Maximum Growth||6 ft|
|Ideal Temperature||Over 55°F|
|Varieties||Massangeana, Compacta, Warneckei, Lemon Lime, deremensis, sanderiana, Reflexa|
|Light||Moderate light, away from direct sunlight|
|Watering||Water once the soil has become dry, keeping it moist, not wet|
History of the Corn Plant
Native to Upper Guinea in Africa, the corn plant originates from a tropical climate, where it grows in humid forests. The ‘true’ corn plant, Dracaena fragrans, has solid green leaves and is often found growing surrounded by taller vegetation, which provides it with shade. It gets its name from the highly fragrant flowers it produces, which open after dark. (University of Florida- Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences)
The plant was first introduced to Europe in the 1700s, where it became popular as a houseplant. It wasn’t until the early 1900s that the corn plant made a name for itself in the United States, but it rapidly gained support thanks to how easy it is to grow and care for, along with its tall and elegant style.
Benefits of the Corn Plant
- Like all plants, the corn plant produces oxygen and makes the air in your home healthier for all of your family. However, the corn plant is especially good for improving air quality, as it also absorbs toxins. The NASA Clean Air Study found that Dracaena plants remove toxic substances from the air, including formaldehyde, xylene, benzene, and trichloroethylene (NASA- Interior Landscape Plants for Indoor Air Pollution Abatement).
- The corn plant is slow growing, so it does not need frequent pruning or maintenance. The slow growth also means it will act as an ornament in your home, happily filling a space where it can remain for some time without becoming too big for the area.
- The corn plant is inexpensive and easily attainable. It can be commonly found at garden nurseries and plant stores at very reasonable prices compared with other houseplants of its size.
- The corn plant is tolerant of most lighting conditions, and can, therefore, be suited to any number of places in your home.
- The corn plant is quite hardy, making it easy to look after for almost anyone. Gardening beginners or people who have very little interest in caring for houseplants should still find the corn plant easy to grow. It requires very little attention, yet it is highly rewarding.
How to Care for Your Corn Plant
Depending on the level of light your corn plant receives, you will likely only need to water it every week or two. In strong light, you may need to water it more frequently, but only ever enough to moisten the soil. The soil should be allowed to dry out between each watering. Before watering, dip your finger around one inch into the soil of your plant, and if it's dry then, you can water it. If it isn't dry, leave it for another day or two and re-check the soil before adding more water.
As well as being slow growing, this plant is also slow to react. This means that if your watering technique is slightly off, it will be several weeks before the plant shows any symptoms or signs of damage from overwatering or underwatering, so it's best to err on the side of caution when watering, being sure to keep up to date on the condition of the soil.
The corn plant is very tolerant of most lighting conditions, though it thrives in moderate and indirect light. Bright direct light will result in a faster-growing plant, though it can also cause the leaves of the plant to become pale or scorched. If you position this plant in an area of strong light, try to use curtains or window blinds to filter the light and give your plant the best chance of growing healthily. If this isn't possible and the plant receives lots of direct bright light, it would benefit from a specialized fertilizer to prevent chlorosis and bleached looking leaves.
Corn plants in low lit areas will grow more slowly, and the colors of the leaves will become less vibrant; in some cases, the yellow stripe becoming almost imperceptible.
To allow your corn plant to flourish, place it in moderate natural sunlight, ideally in a north facing window.
Due to its tropical nature, the corn plant enjoys high humidity. However, it will fare perfectly well in homes with moderate humidity. This plant can be considered as quite sociable, as it does well when set nearby other plants, which help to increase humidity levels. If the humidity in your home drops and the plant seems to suffer as a result with browning leaves, you can spray the plant with a light water mist to combat this.
The corn plant is at its happiest with temperatures ranging from 60°F (15°C) to 75°F (24°C). If the temperature falls below 55°F (12°C), then the leaves will suffer, turning a pale gray or brown color. Try to shield the plant from cold wind by keeping it away from open windows.
In warmer months, keep the plant out of windows that get direct sunlight where it may become too hot. Alternatively, use a curtain to help filter the light and lower the temperature. When the corn plant is in an environment which is too hot for it, the leaves may curl inwards on themselves, or the leaves may start to point towards more shaded areas. If you notice this happening, it's a sure sign that you need to move your plant to a more suitable spot, as it is trying to guard itself against the sun.
This is a plant that doesn't necessarily need any pruning, though you may wish to trim it to achieve a shape or size which suits your space. To reduce the height of your corn plant, simply cut off the top portion with garden shears, directly across horizontally. You may also wish to prune any leaves which have turned brown or have become unhealthy looking. Simply trim these off at the nodes; this is where the leaf sprouts from the branch.
The corn plant is an ideal plant to propagate because achieving successful shoots is usually easy and doesn’t cause any issues.
To propagate your corn plant, wait until springtime to take your cutting. This is because the original plant will be in its growing season, and the cutting will, therefore, continue to grow. Cut between two and five inches from a healthy stem that has buds, with a sharp knife or shears. Plant the cutting into a new pot with new soil, making sure the buds remain above soil level. Water the cutting immediately and continue to care for it as necessary. To increase your chances of success, you could also use rooting hormone on the cutting; however, this isn't essential.
The corn plant should be repotted annually to maintain high levels of health. To repot the plant, lift it from its current container and remove the surrounding soil, taking extra care not to disturb the roots. Then, place the plant into a larger pot that will allow it more space to grow over the coming year, and pour fresh potting soil around the base. Don't pack the new soil in too tightly, as compressed soil won't allow for good drainage.
Some fertilizers can cause the leaves of corn plants to turn brown, as they do not like baron or fluoride, both of which are commonly found in fertilizer. For this reason, some suggest not using any fertilizer at all, as it can cause more harm than good, and generally, corn plants do very well with just water alone. If you feel the need to supply your plant with extra nutrients, you could do this on an occasional basis, such as annually or biannually.
Care through Winter
The corn plant thrives in high humidity, though winter is often a time of low humidity in homes, due to indoor heating or naturally low temperatures. You can easily maintain a healthy plant by lightly misting the leaves with a water spray to increase humidity, or place the plant pot on a tray filled with pebbles and water. Humidity will be created around the plant as the water evaporates.
Remember to also keep the temperature steady during winter, ideally above 60°F, and certainly not below 55°F. If temperatures fluctuate too much, even within the ideal range, the plant will show signs of distress.
Before spotting mealy bugs on your corn plant, you may first notice a sticky residue on the leaves of your plant. This is the excrement produced after having eaten the sap from your plant. Mealy bugs gather on the underside of leaves and stems, attacking the plant and causing loss of leaves and stunted growth.
To identify an infestation of mealy bugs, look for white fuzzy looking insects. These can be removed with a heavy stream of water, such as with a powerful hose. If this doesn't work, your infestation may be more serious and will require the use of insecticides to treat properly. Some people also have success with neem oil.
Spider mites are notoriously difficult to spot because they are so tiny, they are almost impossible to see with the naked eye. Infestations usually occur in the summer, when the mites suck the juices from the plant leaves, leaving behind marks of discoloration. In most cases, the yellow or brown spots are noticed before any physical indications of the spider mites are seen. To identify a spider mite infestation, look for the white eggs, which are usually laid near the veins of the plant.
To eradicate spider mites, spray the leaves extensively with running water, or use miticides in more severe cases.
The corn plant is commonly a host for scale, a small white pest which ranges in color from brown to white. They attack the plant by sucking the sap from the leaves, resulting in a weak plant that sometimes completely stops growing.
Introducing a natural predator which is harmless to plants can help to control scale, such as ladybugs or parasitic wasps; however, this isn't always a suitable treatment for houseplants. Alternatively, a horticultural oil may help to rid the corn plant of the infestation, or an insecticide.
Thrips are small, thin, winged creatures, who feast on weak corn plant leaves that haven't been watered enough. Thrips pierce the leaves and suck out the liquids from inside the plant cells, sometimes leaving behind a nasty black residue on the leaves.
Prevent a thrip infestation by sticking to a good watering regime with your plant. If a thrip problem does occur on your corn plant, combat it by removing any badly damaged leaves, and thoroughly rinsing the remaining leaves with water.
If your corn plant resembles the leaning tower of Pisa, it is likely a result of uneven watering, or the plant is growing in a direction towards or away from a source of light. This is an easy problem to solve. Simply prop your cane back in an upright position, and pack soil around its base to keep it stable. Going forward, be sure to rotate your plant so that it gets even light coverage, and water it as evenly as possible.
Brown colored spots on leaves are fairly common, particularly on fresh growth. This could be caused by a buildup of salt in the soil, which is a result of salt deposits in the water. If you suspect this is a possibility, add more soil to the pot. Brown spots could also be caused by escaped roots which have grown outside of the pot. If this is the case, either trim the roots back to restrict further growth, or move the plant into a larger pot.
Yellow or Brown Leaves
Discolored leaves, especially on the tips, are almost always a watering issue. Corn plants that are overwatered or under watered will display their distress in the form of brown or yellow leaves. Adjust your watering habits to help the situation improve. Yellowing leaves could also be the result of old age.
If the tips of your corn plant are suffering from discoloration, trim the ends or remove the entire leaf to encourage new healthy growth. A good tip for removing an unhealthy leaf is to tear a slit in it at the tip, creating two parts of the leaf. Pull the two sections away from each other, and the leaf will easily come away from the stalk without leaving any leaf remnant behind.
Discolored leaves can also be a sign of toxicity. Corn plants are sensitive to the chemicals in most fertilizers, so if you regularly fertilize your corn plant and the leaves have started to turn yellow or brown, then you should discontinue your fertilizer regime with immediate effect. Corn plants are also sensitive to fluoride, which is found in tap water.
If you suspect your leaves are suffering from a toxicity problem, then water your plant with rainwater or bottled water instead and see if that makes a difference. Corn plants react slowly, so you will need to continue this for several weeks to know if the fluoride is an issue. If your corn plant does recover after switching to bottled water or rainwater, continue this program to maintain the health of the corn plant. Ideally, you’ll want to collect rainwater in containers outside your property or on outdoor window sills to use for watering to reduce the unnecessary expense of using bottled water.
Out of Control Stalks
The stalks on old corn plants can get overgrown and wild looking if they are not kept under control. If your plant has any spindly stalks which are too long, simply cut them back to an appropriate size.
Wrinkly or Rotten Stalks
Wrinkled stalks are an indication that your plant is thirsty and has been severely under watered, while rotten stalks indicate the opposite; the plant has been overwatered. As long as the damage is not too severe, you can reverse the problem by carrying out a better watering regime.