When a Corn Plant Blooms

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Corn plant (Dracaena fragrans ‘Massangeana’). Photo: Costa Farms

The corn plant (Dracaena fragrans), also called corn palm. cornstalk plant and false palm, is a popular houseplant, cultivated for its beautiful growth habit – an erect trunk with arching lanceolate leaves, each a with broad yellow to pale green band in center in the case of the most popular cultivar, D. fragrans ‘Massangeana’ – and its surprising ability to resist almost any combination of indoor growing conditions, from full sun to shade.

The corn plant is a “survivor”, able to tolerate the worst kind of neglect. It is, in fact, nearly unkillable! That’s why it’s not unusual to see specimens that are 10, 20 or even 40 years old: a very rare situation indeed for a houseplant!

On the other hand, the corn plant is universally considered a foliage plant, cultivated solely for its attractive leaves. But sometimes it offers you a surprise.

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Corn plant (Dracaena fragrans ‘Massangeana’) in bud. The flowers actually open at night.

Yes, from time to time, perhaps only after decades of cultivation, it flowers, producing arching  terminal panicle of pinkish buds that open into masses of white flowers. They only open in the evening and at night, but then, what a perfume they give off! Intense, heady, sweet, the fragrance invades the whole house. It is so intense that it sometimes becomes intolerable and the owner feels obliged to cut the flower stem off or to stick the plant in a spare bedroom and close the door at night.

A Personal Anecdote

Back in 1984, I was working in a 5-story office building in the Old Port. One evening I stayed on a bit later than usual, then, shortly after 6 pm, an extraordinary perfume began wafting into my office. What was it? I set off in search of the source of the incredible fragrance, finally to find discover it 3 floors below, in the building’s lobby: a corn plant in full bloom. Imagine, blooms so intensely fragrant that they can fill an entire 5-story building with their scent!

Patience Will Be Rewarded

If you want to experience the corn plant’s extraordinary fragrance, buy one… and wait patiently! No one knows what causes this plant to bloom and it can take place in any season, but almost inevitably it occurs only after several to many years. The chances yours will bloom are much, much better, though, if you place it in good light rather than the “dark corner” to which this plant is usually relegated.

Best of luck!

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40 thoughts on “When a Corn Plant Blooms

  1. Babs

    Hi,
    I would like to thank you for this article on corn plants. I have owned my corn plant for 18 years and it is blooming!
    We didn’t even know what was going on with the plant until I read your article.
    After 18 years a plant is blooming? Doesn’t seem like a good survival strategy to us…
    It is still in the bud stage with clear dripping sticky stuff coming out.
    I will take pictures,, there are 6 bloom stalks!
    Thank you again and you can contact me at mossholder@optonline.net.
    Best regards,
    Babs

      • Micki Cole

        Glad to hear that it is not unusual! I’ve had my corn plant for 21 years and it just started blooming!

    • B. Ertel

      We have had this Draecena for less than a year. It was repotted when webpurchased it. It has been indoors and three feet from an eastern window in middle Georgia. It is healthy, beautiful plant, but the one stalk of blooms (in early December) are giving off a fragrance that is too strong to keep it in the house. If we remove the blooming stalk, will the fragrance stop? Please HELP!

  2. Babs

    Hoo Boy! My plant, although fantastic, makes me worry about the fragrance. It is still in the bud stage but I am particularly sensitive to floral fragrance. Most times it makes me nauseous. I do hope I will not react to my corn plant.
    Will send pix when I can figure out how to download them from my camera.

  3. Matt

    My corn plant has started to bloom only after 2 years of owning it! I had no idea they wouldn’t even bloom until this happened and someone pointed me to your article.

  4. Brenda Anderson

    My corn plant bloom about two three years ago and the flower was blue and they look and smell like a lilac so is it didn’t look like I’m the pictures Are there different kine of corn plants

  5. CLH

    FINALLY, my mystery is solved all thanks to this website! About 5 days ago we started to notice a very strong fragrance when walking thru the family room & kitchen but we wrote it off to the new perfume spray my husband had just got for our dog. The smell was gone by the morning, but then returned with a vengeance that evening making the kids & I think that their Dad was really overdoing it with the dog spray. But as they continued to watch TV while I was washing dishes, I just happened to look out toward the window & noticed a partial flower on the backside of the palm tree which immediately drew my curiosity. So I went over, turned it around & let out a very loud WTF?! as I was in absolute shock over what I saw. I’ve had this palm for 15 years & had NEVER seen anything like this. It quite literally just popped out of nowhere & I couldn’t believe how long it was, having about 15 individual flowers on a long stem…how did I not notice this & how long has it been growing? My kids immediately thought it was something poisonous & that the strong smell was it’s way of infecting us (kids, lol). But I must say it was alarming so I immediately got on the internet to search for answers but for the life of me I couldn’t recall the type of palm tree it was so without that I couldn’t find anything that looked even close to the flowers on my palm. But then today, 5 days later for some unknown reason, the name just popped into my head….CORN PALM!!! And with that I went back to my computer & here I am, soooooooo relieved to know this is normal & it’s not some creepy parasite that’s invaded my beautiful palm!
    So I say all of that to ask….
    1. Do the flowers eventually die & then you just cut off the stem?
    2. What is the clear, gooey, sticky stuff coming out of the flowers?
    3. Once it blooms, will it continue to do this on a regular basis or is it a once in a 10yr kind of occurrence?
    Thank you so much for creating the site!!

    • 1. Yes. It’s very unlikely they’ll produce seeds, so they’ll die and dry up, then you can cut off the stem.
      2. The gooey stuff is nectar. It’s sugary sweet and, in the wild, would feed the type of moth that does the pollinating.
      3. Blooming is never regular with this plant, but yours is now mature and will likely bloom again within a few years, not necessarily after a decade.
      I’m glad you enjoyed the text… enjoy your corn plant!

  6. John H

    I was gifted my plant by a friend that had a bit too many in a cluster. His has grown several feet and currently stands inches from the ceiling; and mine is very full with long broad leaves coming from two stalks. Yesterday I noticed what looked like a slightly different growth of the leaves. At inspection, I thought the girth and shape seemed like a bloom. Thanks to the internet I found this site and was able to read about this rarity. I am excited to see and smell this fragrance few even know can exist. Thank you for providing the resource, and I’m glad everyone has shared their experiences.

  7. Kathy Joseph

    My incredible Corn plant..I have only had it for 8years..it surprised me with these amazing blooms..I am beyond excited..I had no idea what was growing out of them. What a beautiful fragrance..and the flowers are something to behold..

  8. Vicki

    I have had several corn plants … one lived 30 years. One I have now did bloom. It did not open at night and did not give off perfume. After it open I am getting yellow on some leaves and one totally died. Is that normal? Thank you. btw the rest of the leaves look normal. 😀

    • That doesn’t sound normal, but I can’t point out the exact reason. You might want to consider repotting into a fresh mix (for the one with yellow leaves) or supplying a bit more light.

  9. Linda

    Yay! So grateful for this blog and all the comments! My corn plant (I was told it was a Dracaena) has bloomed! I live at 7830 elevation in Lake Tahoe, NV, so I was surprised that my two potted plants, acquired at a yard sale last July, would even survive the winter much less bloom! Definitely a night blooming, sweet smelling, odd looking stalk with tiny white flowers. I am excited it bloomed for me it’s first year living in our house.
    Excited to find this blog and continue to learn more about my house plants and outside deck flowers for our short summers.
    Loving greenery inside,
    NevadaMom

  10. Mona Miltenberger

    My indoor corn plant bloomed and was a surprise and joy to me and friends. Now it has stopped blooming and flower parts are turning brown should I leave them alone or cut them off?

  11. Claudia

    Mine just started blooming after 10 years or more… however the leaves seem to dry up quicker now – is it possible because of the flowers?
    thank you!

  12. JUDY L DARBY

    I’ve had mine about 15 yrs, gifted and it started to bloom about 4 yrs ago.. couldn’t figure out what the smell was around the house, and some white gooey flowers on my floor till I looked it up one day and there it was… I researched a little further and BOOM…
    This yr it’s way much for us, 3 blooming stocks the dog is sneezing up a storm so, I went online to see if I cut them off without hurting the plant … and here U were … I did cut the blooms and placed them in a bowl, and put them in the basement where they will do good thank U for all the info and the conversation of others who have a corn plant/palm

    Darbs

  13. Kim Brumfield

    My corn plant just bloomed for the first time in over 19 years! I got it from my dad’s funeral in 1998! My husband just started putting coffee grounds in the pot this past year. It must like coffee as much as we do!

  14. Dawn & David

    LOVED this article. LOVE my corn plant. I’ve had it 30 years; just a baby the year we got married. I’ve never sustained a houseplant anywhere close to this long. Its survived relocation twice and a house fire! We just moved back in and it bloomed – we were SHOCKED, by the speed at which it grew, that the flowers are so pretty, and that the fragrance is COMPLETELY overpowering. (it’s next to our bed in a corner with 2 windows and is easily 8 feet tall) I had just cut it back a month prior! While AMAZING; we did have to cut the blooms – wow – it Felt like we were in a funeral home with about 1,000 flowers – Easter X 10 people. Crazy fun experience. Just like marriage – it can still surprise us after 30 years!!

    • bodybeautifulforever

      I live in the tropics of Far North Queensland and my Happy Plant blooms here in the “Winter” months (June, July, August).
      The perfume from the flower spike(s) is truly outstanding and fills my large garden with an exquisite fragrance!
      This plant is tough as boots but always rewards with love and care.

  15. Michelle L

    When I went off to college in the late 90’s my mom gave each of my sisters and I a piece of her corn plant. Twenty plus years later each of us still own each of our beautiful corn plants. I happen to be the only one to have my corn plant bloom flowers. Not even my mom’s original plant has bloomed! Mine started to bloom about 5-6 years ago – at first once/per year and then every other year. I never know when to expect it. I love the fragrance that it leaves throughout my entire home air freshener has NOTHING on this plant. My reaction is always the same when I discover that there is a bud soon to be flowered. I take pictures of the growing flower bloom daily until it dies. Truly a stunning and fragrant sight. My corn plant that has grown to be over 7ft tall and its bloom continues to amaze me. I find that it will only bud if the very top of the plant is shorter than the window or glass door it is in front of. When I moved the plant where it was in front of a window but the very top of it had no direct sunlight exposure it didn’t bloom. I relocated to a home with very tall windows less than two months ago and couldn’t believe that after a year of nothing, it is budding again. This baby cannot be put in a corner!!! 🙂

    • Ed

      I think you’re onto something regarding the windows. I have had my corn plant for a little over a year and it must really love my NYC apartment with a 10 ft tall wall of windows and filtering roller blinds. My plant grew from around 5 feet tall to almost 7 feet tall. It has thrived! A few days ago I noticed an extremely strong, aromatic smell when I came home. I thought maybe some fruit had spoiled in the fridge or maybe a neighbor was using some strong cleaning products. I just now finally got around to looking at the side of the plant facing the window and there it was – a huge stalk full of these fragrant flowers coming out of the top. I suspect that it is has something to do with the fact that the entire plant gets bathed in filtered, indirect light because of the size of the window (and I leave the roller blinds down 80% of the time). I had no idea these plants flowered so of course I had to search online to find out what the heck was going on. I’m relieved that this isn’t an omen of climate change or the end of days!

      • Most indoor plants don’t really get as much light as they would like, so when they do, they react very postively. I agree with you: your plant is really loving the improved lighting!

  16. Jillian

    I’ve personally owned one for 9 years after it was handed off to me at over 6 feet tall and several years old. It is now 10 feet, with no signs of stopping and is right now, flowering for the first time!!! Smells amazing!!! It’s so tall, however that it is now at my ceiling and I’d love to know how to properly cut off the 4 branches that stem from the single trunk to repot them without killing the whole tree??

    • Jillian

      In case it matters, the conditions in which it’s blooming… it’s been sitting directly in front of an air conditioner which had been operating 24/7 through a very hot new England summer. The air conditioner has been turned off for the past couple weeks after running for about 3 months nonstop. Apparently the tree is loving the new warmth and showing it! The roots are showing a bit and Id like to put some more soil on top. Any advice on best soil to buy?

    • First, you can cut the whole thing nearly to the ground if you want to and it won’t kill it. It will simply grow back (slowly) from just below the cut. When you do cut back, do so much lower than you think you want or you’ll soon be in the same situation again.

      The branches you cut off can be easily rooted. Take about an 8 to 12 inch tip cutting, remove the lower leaves and root in moist potting soil as shown here. https://laidbackgardener.blog/2017/03/06/rooting-cuttings-step-by-step/ It takes a while (the corn plant is very slow to do anything), but it will work.

      My suggestion? Wait until March before you prune/take cuttings. It’s less stressful for the plant under spring/summer conditions.

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