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. With a composed upright habit, slender trunk and fabulous palm-like crown of foliage, Dracaenas dazzle with their form and foliage. They slot neatly into the narrow nooks of an apartment, create a dramatic entrance in a hallway and add a tropical flourish to a lounge or office space.
Of the estimated 120 species belonging to the Dracaena genus, there are many strapping cultivars that cope well with indoor life, from the paint splatter leaves of Dracaena Godseffiana to the broad floppy foliage of Dracaena fragrans. However, the most popular Dracaena plant for beginners is Dracaena reflexa var. angustifolia, formally known as Dracaena Marginata.
Here be dragon trees | Fascinating Dragon Tree facts
- The name Dracaena (pronounced dra-SEE-nuh) comes from the Ancient Greek δράκαινα – drakaina, meaning female dragon. Dragon's blood refers to the red sap which oozes from the dragon tree, Dracaena draco, which can't be grown in the home.
- Some species of Dragon Trees are threatened in the wild due to habitat loss, mainly caused by the spread of ranching and farming. The climate crisis is also hampering its ability to grow in its native habitat. And it is now categorized as Vulnerable on the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List of Threatened Species. However, you won't find a shortage of them in nurseries, plant shops or the Candide Marketplace, as it is widely cultivated.
- This ornamental plant's striking silhouette can't help but make us think of sunny holidays in far-flung places, but it is no relation to the Palm.
- As well as being easy on the eye, Dracaena fragrans Janet Craig, Dracaena reflexa var. angustifolia and Dracaena massangeana were tested by the NASA air filtering study, which found them to be effective at reducing benzene, formaldehyde, xylene and toluene, from the air. Although, it's important to emphasise that this study was conducted in conditions that are hard to replicate in our homes.
The song of India is a beautiful plant that offers richly-coloured foliage without fussy demands, unlike Calatheas and Begonias.
Madagascar Dragon Tree care tips
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.
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.
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. Understandably, these tropical natives aren't big fans of the cold so only grow outside if you live somewhere with a balmy climate.
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.
No high humidity demands, but grouping with other houseplants or light misting every other day should be adequate.
How to prune Dragon Tree
To keep the Dragon Tree looking shapely, trim off new unwieldy stems. Save your Dragon Tree cuttings for propagating.
How to propagate Dragon Tree
The best time to propagate the Dragon Tree is during the growing season in spring or summer. Choose a healthy stem and cut a section from the tip of the plant (aim for around 8-10cm long). Make sure it has a node as this where the roots will sprout from. Remove the lower leaves and pop the stem into a glass of water.
Why is my Dragon Tree dying?
This tough plant can withstand neglect (to a point!) and will bounce back given the right conditions.
- Brown tips: Once you've ruled out cold drafts and under watering, brown tips are usually a sign of dry air. Consider moving your plant to a room with higher humidity, such as the bathroom or kitchen. In addition, you could raise humidity levels by getting your mist on.
- Tree lost its leaves? It's normal for the lower leaves to fall off as the plant ages. You can also pull them away so the plant can refocus its energy on putting out healthy new foliage. However, drastic Dracaena leaf drop could be worthy of further investigation. Watering too little or too much, cold drafts and overheating can all cause leaves to fall out - not unlike when stressed humans experiencing hair loss.
- Drooping leaves are usually a symptom of watering too little or too much. If the former, your plant should perk up after a thorough soaking. If the latter, hold off on watering until the soil feels dry to the touch. Repot in fresh soil if root rot has set in.
- Are those distinctive green and red leaves looking lacklustre and turning yellow? Again, this is usually a watering issue. Yellow tips can be a sign your plant is receiving too much water. Adjust your watering accordingly.
Worried you've overwatered your houseplant? Read this:
Pests and diseases
Is the Dragon Tree poisonous?
The Dragon Tree is toxic to cats and dogs. In particular, keep an email on your cat as they might mistake it for grass and nibble on it.
[D. reflexa var. angustifolia and its varieties make the perfect low-maintenance houseplants.]
A close-up of the foliage detail on D. marginata. This plant must be in the top five most forgiving houseplants.
The dragon of choice | Popular Dragon Tree types
Madagascar Dragon Tree (Dracaena reflexa var. angustifolia formally known as D. marginata. The Belmont Rooster unpicks the change here.
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 formally known as 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.
Where to buy Dracaena
Fancy adding this attractive plant to your urban jungle? You can find the Dragon Tree for sale on the Candide Marketplace today.