Madagascar Dragon Tree

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Madagascar Dragon Tree, Dracaena Marginata

Family: Agavaceae, Ruscaceae or Dracaenaceae (Opinions, obviously, vary!)

Also known as: Dragon Tree, Red Edged Dracaena, Money Tree or Rainbow Tree

(Now that’s a name to conjure up all sorts of intriguing images, is it not?  At least we needn’t puzzle over from which region it originated.  But about those dragons . . . . )

Mythical, fire breathing, beasties notwithstanding, this character – along with various new hybrids – is a popular interior home or office plant, in addition to being great for tropical gardens.  They are enjoyed, not merely for their flowers but also for their foliage, inside or outdoors, and are ideal as an architectural plant.

Obviously, botanically speaking, opinions as to what family it belongs vary!

Besides that, there is debate regarding whether it’s a shrub or a tree?  Like the correct identification of its family, that depends upon who one asks, as it’s identified as both by different folks in the (supposed) know. 

With a snake-like or cane appearing trunk, it is capable of growing quite tall – nearly twenty-five feet (7.72 meters).  (Herein, I suppose, is the foremost reason you need to plant these in varying height groups as, otherwise, they are simply, solitarily, spiindly!)

These slender trunks can be grown straight to produce a tall plant, or trained to twist, bend and curve so as to have a quite intriguing presentation.  That being noted, as a result of their somewhat malleable presentation forms, they are generally employed in tropical gardens in lower versions – providing a splash of uniqueness and enjoyable color.  (One might call them the Elton John of the garden set!)

The large genus, of which this is a member, includes plants that grow in a wide array of sizes and shapes, sporting a diversity of leaf colorations.  Those of the Madagascar Dragon Tree are spirally arranged, long, flat, with striped margins of red or purple.  Arching, like a skinny bent sword, these are six to eighteen inches (15.24 – 45.72 cm) long and ¼ to 1 ¼ inch (.63 – 3.18 cm) broad, tapering to a point. 

Several of these plants, placed at varying heights in close proximity – in the ground or a large pot – present a collage of contrast and color.    At the entry to the Grand Terrace here in Ola Brisa Gardens, we have four different varieties, of different sizes, grouped together.  They look quite marvelous displaying their primary pride and purpose in life – those luxurious, flowing fronds.   

(But, as mentioned previously, standing alone, they really do rather look like a scrawny, anorexic palm!) 

While the fully green varieties of this genus flourish in shady locales, others prefer partial to full sun.  At home or in the office, they can tolerate somewhat low sunlight.  They’ll accept dry soil and irregular watering.  However, they are rather susceptible to root decay in permanently wet soil.  

(Now what exactly does this tell us?   Yep, they’re a bit picky about too much water.  For this, a hydrometer would come in quite handy!) 

Like many plants, they require well-draining soil.  But if you’ve no gauge to test the water at root level, allow them to dry slightly between drinks.  After the soil surface is dry to the touch, then water them thoroughly.

Recently, Jose had to treat one of my plants for white Scale – something, heretofore, I’d not experienced with these plants.  So keep an eye out for those little sucking buggers!

An interesting aspect of the Dragon Tree is that if the plant’s stems become too long and bare, simply cut them off at the desired height and new leaves will soon appear.  In fact, they are easy to propagate by air layering, tip or stem cuttings, or by the removal and rooting of basal shoots – any of which should be done in the spring or late summer.

In the category of ancillary bits of minutia, the Dracaena Marginata is said to be very susceptible to fluoride toxicity – this can stem from an overdose of insecticides.  The Madagascar Dragon Tree is purported to be an effective air-cleaner.  (But, I understand will not dust the furniture nor wash the windows!) 

In that cleaning regard, one of my scholarly, botanical tomes states that it is among the best of plants for removing xylen and trichloreoethylene from our homes. 

(I know that this, for us all, is a major concern in our lives.  Each of us, surely, sorely detests how they both build up in tiny invisible, gaseous balls in the living room corners!) 

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Nestled between three Silver Thatch Palms on our Grand Terrace, four Dracaena groupings of three – including two sets of Dracaena Marginata – thrive in the partial shade provided in the mornings by a large African Oil Palm to their east.

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Its long, flat, arching striped with red or purple leaves taper to a point.

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One of the attractive, variegated Dracaena cultivars.

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This short, small set of hybrids is attractive as well.