A family of plants perennially popular in the home and frequently overlooked, the dracaenas are an easy indoor plant essential and appeal to novice and enthusiast alike. They give fantastic foliage and form, whether in a small studio apartment, corporate office or grand entrance hall.
Here be dragon trees
The name Dracaena (pronounced dra-SEE-nuh) comes from the Ancient Greek δράκαινα – drakaina, meaning female dragon. This most likely came from the red sap which comes from the dragon tree, Dracaena draco, which can't be grown in the home.
The song of India is a beautiful plant that offers richly-coloured foliage without fussy demands, unlike Calatheas and Begonias.
It’s pretty difficult to kill a dracaena, and they’re a great plant for new indoor gardeners, forgiving of underwatering, low humidity, temperature fluctuations and overall neglect.
Light: Bright indirect lighting is best, with variegated varieties needing higher light levels. The plain green types will tolerate a shadier position. Full sun can scorch leaves in summer.
Temperature: These plants can tolerate a wide range of temperatures, but ideally no lower than 10°C (50°F) at night and between 15-21°C (60-70°F) during the day. Draughts and heating sources can cause damage to the leaves.
Watering: Allow the top two centimetres to dry out between each watering, but don’t let the plant dry out completely or you may notice brown leaf tips appear. Feed with a houseplant fertiliser as per instructions during the growing season. Never leave sitting in water.
Humidity: No high humidity demands, but grouping with other houseplants or light misting every other day should be adequate.
Pests and diseases
A close-up of the foliage detail on D. marginata. This plant must be in the top five most forgiving houseplants.
The dragony of choice
Madagascar Dragon Tree (D. marginata)
Reliable, hardy, tolerant of neglect and low light, this is one of the easiest of all houseplants. Long, thin, red-edged green leaves on tall, elegant plants. ‘Bi/Tricolour’ is a little fussier, but still easier than many variegated houseplants.
Cornstalk plant (D. fragrans)
The cornstalk plant is a bold statement houseplant, often used as a specimen for large rooms and offices. The leaves are broad and curved and sit atop stout stems.It is named after its flowers, which resemble corn (maize), and won’t be produced in the home. The yellow-striped variety ‘Massangeana’ is more popular.
Deremensis Group (D. fragrans cultivars)
Cultivars of the cornstalk plant, these varieties are often listed as D. deremensis. ‘Janet Craig’ has glossy, deep green leaves and can tolerate low light conditions, and ‘Compacta’ is similar, but has – you guessed it – a more compact growth habit. ‘Warneckii’ has handsomely variegated foliage and ‘Lemon Lime’ offers a vibrant pop of colour.
'Lemon Lime' has almost neon quality to its foliage and enjoys bright light away from direct summer sun.
Song of India (D. reflexa)
Only really seen in its variegated form, D. reflexa is also known as the pleomele. Its chartreuse-margined foliage and slim growth habit have made it enduringly popular. Although it grows as a small tree in the wild, it should stay below two metres in the home.
Bamboo or Gold Dust Dracaena (D. surculosa syn. godseffiana)
To many, this is the queen of dracaenas, and it’s easy to see why. Firstly, the plant looks more like bamboo, with thinner stems and smaller leaves than your regular dragon tree. But the real appeal lies in the delicate speckling on the foliage - the ‘gold dust’.
This mottling is more prominent in ‘Florida Beauty’, and ‘Milky Way’ has a broad creamy stripe running the length of the leaf. Charming little pom-pom flowers may also make a cameo.
The stunning gold dust dracaena is not quite as tough as its relatives, requiring warm, stable temperatures and humidity.