The corn plant is a bit of a misnomer, as it has nothing to do with corn. But if you’ve ever shucked corn, you’ll understand where the name comes from. The thick, green leaves that grow from the plant have a similar color, texture, and thickness as leaves you peel off of corn. In addition, the thick, round cane (main stem) of the plant is a solid woody stem with a light brown color that puts you in the mind of a corn husk or hull.
The plant is also known by a few other names, most commonly the cornstalk dracaena, the mass cane plant, or Dracaena fragrans. The latin name contains the word “fragrans” because when it grows in the wild it produces highly fragrant flowers. As a houseplant, though, it rarely blooms so most of the time it’s grown as just a green plant.
You’ll also hear the plant referred to as a “Mass Cane”, which is short for “Massangeana Cane”, one of the most popular variegated cultivars that you’ll find in most shops–typically the variegation will be a yellow stripe down the middle of each left. Mine was supposed to be a Mass Cane, but it looks like it pretty much reverted to its original form as mine doesn’t have any yellow stripes.
The plant is native to tropical Africa, from the Sudan to Mozambique to the Ivory Coast to Angola. There, they’re generally grown as shrubs or hedge plants, as they thrive in the warm, wet climate. That same hardiness makes them practically indestructible houseplants. I speak from experience; I bought the corn plant you see here from 1-800-Flowers on September 18, 2009. Now, exactly five years later, the plant has survived a massive fungus gnat infestation, a repotting where the root ball was so heavy I accidentally broke most of it in the process, long periods of time without water (the soil would literally be dry to the point of cracking), and a spot in the house away from the window that gets no direct sunlight. While I had to trim a lot of it, and you can see a new offset growing at the bottom of the pot, the plant you see here is pretty much the same as I was five years ago.
It’s a versatile plant as well. Some let the cane grow long and tall, while others will cut the cane and cap it, letting offshoots grow off to the sides (which is what I have here). The Janet Craig and the Warneckii cultivars we’ve already talked about all have their roots (no pun intended) in the dracaena fragrans.
This is probably one of the best plants for someone new to plants to grow, because it’s virtually indestructible as long as you remember to water it every now and again. While it prefers bright light, you can put it in a part of the house that gets almost no light and it’ll be just fine. The plant is exceptional at removing formaldehyde from the air.
You can purchase a 6″ version at Amazon that you can grow from a small plant, or if you prefer a full-grown plant that’s going to last years I’d suggest doing what I did and going to a site like Home Depot or 1-800-Flowers.