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Corn Cane plants can give you some breathing room

November 7, 2018

Formaldehyde and gardening are not usually put together in the same sentence, but there is good reason they very much go together. Formaldehyde is a flammable, colorless chemical used in everything from permanent-press clothing and hair spray to mouthwash to plywood.

Even though formaldehyde occurs naturally, and is even produced in tiny amounts by almost all living organisms, it is indeed toxic. According to the National Cancer Institute, formaldehyde in the indoor air can cause symptoms ranging from watery eyes to coughing and nausea.

Nature to the rescue with a seemingly innocuous, easy-to-grow plant that actually removes formaldehyde from the air, the Corn Cane (Dracaena massangeana). Corn Cane is also one of the best plants for removing indoor ammonia, xylene and toluene.

This is one of the easiest plants to grow, and needs very little care. Corn Cane's long, variegated leaves have an attractive broad, creamy-yellow stripe down their centers, and do indeed look like cornstalks. The two-foot-long, wavy leaves are attached along unbranched wooden canes like stalks.

Corn Cane plants prefer low light, so they are perfect placed in corners, hallways, and any room with little light. They are, for the most part, pest free. Once in awhile older Corn Cane plants will bloom with strong-scented flowers, but it’s quite rare when they are grown indoors.

Houseplants in general prefer relative humidity between 50 and 60 percent. Many homes have dry air, especially in winter, with humidity of just 10 to 15 percent, which can cause the edges of plants’ leaves to brown. As with any houseplant, keep them out of drafts and away from harsh, direct sunlight,  Direct sun can sometimes burn the leaves.

When you first bring Corn Cane plants home, they may experience a shock and drop several leaves. This is normal, and once the plants adjust to your home, they will grow again.

Corn Cane plants shed their lower leaves as they grow.  Eventually you will have just a long, bare stem topped with a bunch of leaves. You can easily prune back your corn plant. Spring or early summer is the best time to prune.

Save the cuttings to root for additional plants. Dust the cut end with rooting powder, and plant it in quick-draining potting soil. You can also place a piece of the cane on its side in moist rooting medium, and you may get several new plants from a single stem.

About the only thing you can do wrong with Corn Cane is kill it with love. Never overwater it. Let the top inch of  soil dry out completely between waterings. Never use too much fertilizer. A good liquid houseplant fertilizer used at half strength once or twice a year is fine.

These are slow-growing plants that do not need to be repotted very often, certainly not more than once every three years, if that. Corn Cane plants actually prefer to be slightly root-bound and do better in a somewhat small pot.

Because the top growth of Corn Cane is much bigger than its root system, you may have to secure the pot to prevent it from tipping over.

To add some greenery and remove toxins, try growing a Corn Cane, or several – for in a quirk of physics, having more Corn Cane plants in your indoor space may just give you some breathing room.

  • Paul Barbano writes about gardening from his home in Rehoboth Beach. Contact him by writing to P. O. Box 213, Lewes, DE 19958.