The corn plant (Dracaena fragrans) is an oldie but goodie in the houseplant industry. Europeans have been using these tropical African evergreen trees as indoor plants since the mid-1800s, and they’ve been popular in the United States since the early 20th century.
Corn plants grow fairly slowly from one or more thick canes (stems) that produce long, narrow leaves (like those of corn) toward the top. This growth habit gives them a similar appearance to a palm tree, which is why they’re sometimes referred to as “false palms.” They make good houseplants because they are tall and narrow, typically only reaching around 4 to 6 feet tall in containers, and they can withstand a fairly significant amount of abuse from casual indoor gardeners. Springtime is ideal for starting new plants, though you can typically pot nursery plants indoors at any time of year.
|Botanical Name||Dracaena fragrans|
|Common Names||Corn plant, dracaena, false palm|
|Plant Type||Broadleaf evergreen shrub/tree|
|Mature Size||15–50 feet tall and 3–10 feet wide outdoors; container-grown plants can grow up to 6 feet tall|
|Sun Exposure||Part shade, filtered sun (avoid any direct sun)|
|Soil Type||Rich, moist, well-draining|
|Soil pH||6.1 to 6.5 (slightly acidic)|
|Bloom Time||Mature indoor plants flower rarely, if at all|
|Hardiness Zones||10–12 (usually grown as a houseplant)|
|Native Area||Tropical Africa|
|Toxicity||Toxic to dogs and cats|
Watch Now: How to Take Care of a Corn Plant (Dracaena Fragrans)
Corn Plant Care
Home gardeners usually grow corn plants as large potted plants rather outdoors in the garden. Corn plants do best in bright indoor locations that are protected from direct sunlight, drafts, and airflow from air-conditioning and heating vents. Also, maintaining a high humidity environment indoors is key for these plants.
You can bring your corn plant outdoors during the summer if you place the pot in a sheltered, somewhat shady location. Make sure it is protected from strong winds. Bring the plant indoors well before temperatures fall below 50 degrees Fahrenheit.
The ideal indoor location for this plant is near a window with filtered sunlight. Too little light will result in the leaves losing their color variegation and might stunt the plant's growth. Exposure to direct sun can burn the plant and cause it to wilt. Outdoors, the plant does best in part shade.
A loose, loamy potting soil mix is the best option for growing corn plants. Make sure the soil has good drainage because roots don't do well in standing water.
Keep the soil evenly moist but not soggy during the growing season (spring to fall). Reduce watering in the late fall to winter. However, never let the soil completely dry out. Soil that is too wet or too dry can cause leaf tips to dry out and turn brown. Moreover, like other Dracaena species, corn plants are sensitive to fluoride and boron, which can be found in tap water. Thus, it's best to use distilled water to avoid leaf tip burn, stunted growth, and even plant death.
Temperature and Humidity
Corn plants do best in temperatures from 60 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit. Avoid exposing them to temperatures below 50 degrees—if you have moved plants outdoors for the summer, make sure to bring them back indoors before temperatures reach this point.
Try to maintain humidity levels between 40 percent and 50 percent, which mimics the plant's native environment. If you need to raise the humidity, use a humidifier or place the pot on a tray of water and pebbles. Do not let the bottom of the pot touch the water, and mist the leaves regularly.
Corn plants prefer organically rich soil. Use a balanced liquid fertilizer about every month throughout the growing season, and feed sparingly or not at all over the winter.
Is Corn Plant Toxic?
Dracaena fragrans contains saponin compounds in the plant's leaves and bark that can cause a variety of problems in dogs and cats. The corn plant is not considered toxic to humans, although some sensitive individuals may have an allergic skin reaction when touching the plant.
Symptoms of Poisoning
Symptoms of ingestion for pets include vomiting, anorexia, excessive salivation, and depression. Contact your veterinarian immediately if your pet has ingested any parts of this plant.
Corn Plant Varieties
The following varieties of corn plants offer a range of leaf colorations:
- Dracaena fragrans 'Massangeana': This variety is the most common and features a yellowish lime-green stripe down the center of its leaves.
- Dracaena fragrans 'Lindenii': The leaves of this variety have yellow edges rather than a stripe down the center.
- Dracaena fragrans 'Victoria': This variety is very similar to 'Massangeana'; a yellow stripe runs down the center of its leaves, but it has smaller, wider, and almost triangular leaves. It is rarely available in garden centers.
- Dracaena fragrans 'Lemon Lime': This variety has leaves with white-yellow stripes around gray-green centers.
- Dracaena fragrans 'Limelight': This cultivar has glossy yellow-green leaves that gradually turn a lighter lime green as they mature.
The lower leaves on corn plant will begin to yellow in approximately two to three years, which is roughly their natural lifespan. Once they become unsightly, prune them off. In addition, if the plant grows too tall for your space, you can cut the tops of the canes; new leaf buds will appear near the cut.
Propagating Corn Plants
Corn plants root readily from stem cuttings. Take a cutting that's at least a few inches long, and push its end into warm, moist soil. Rooting hormone can help in this process. Don't be discouraged if it takes some time for new cuttings to root. Propagating corn plants is an inexact science, and even experienced gardeners can have trouble with it.
Potting and Repotting Corn Plant
Repot your corn plant every year or two into a slightly larger container with fresh potting soil. To repot this plant, remove the loose soil around it, carefully lift the plant from its base, and place it in its new container, making sure not to damage its roots in the process. Then, fill the space around it with fresh potting soil, but don't pack it too tightly to ensure that the container maintains good drainage.
Common Pests/ Diseases
Corn plants may develop brown leaf tips if they are irrigated with fluoridated water, and leaf discoloration can be caused by inadequate watering or calcium deficiency.
Also, monitor the plants for spider mites, thrips, and scale, which can be a problem with many houseplants. These plants can cause the leaves to look damaged and unhealthy, and you might even notice small insects moving around on the plant. Dust the leaves of the plant regularly with a damp cloth to keep it looking its best and to disrupt the environment for pests.
Growing Indoor Plants With Success. University of Georgia Extension.
Dracaena- Tip Burn. Pacific Northwest Plant Disease Management Handbook Oregon State University.
Bertero, Alessia et al. Indoor Companion Animal Poisoning by Plants in Europe. Frontiers in Veterinary Science, 7, 487, 2020. doi:10.3389/fvets.2020.00487
Corn Plant. ASPCA