From Corn Plant to Lucky Bamboo, and even your favorite Snake Plant, Dracaena has always been a mainstay to most ornamental house plant collections due to its sculptural strap-like foliage that gives a bold but inviting accent to any space. Even for new houseplant enthusiasts, you can never go wrong with these undemanding gems.
Origin and Description
Dracaena is a genus of more than 100 trees and succulent shrubs under the family Asparagaceae, subfamily Nolinoideae. From the Greek word drakaina or “female dragon”, Dracaena has a red resinous sap that is likened to a dragon’s blood.
Most species are native to the tropical regions like Africa, South Asia and Central America so they can stay fairly dry for long periods. With the hardiness of 10b-11, some species can even tolerate more cold.
The leaves are frequently contracted in rosettes either at the end of aerial branches or at the top of an underground stem or rhizome. Their leaves are strictly parallel-veined and vary from sword-shaped to strap-shape to cylindrical. (1,2)
Uses of Dracaena and its Toxicity
Aside from giving a robust and tropical vibe, some Dracaena plants are also noted as effective in removing air pollutants which make them good indoor plants for office and home. It helps in removing benzene, trichloroethylene, formaldehyde, xylene, toluene and carbon dioxide.
Some believe that dracaena plants can bring good luck (Lucky Bamboo) and others even used them in rituals and peace-making ceremonies a few centuries ago.
Dracaena plants are also used in veterinary medicine. However, the saponin compounds in the plants are toxic to household pets like cats and dogs. When ingested, it can result in vomiting, diarrhea, drooling or loss of appetite. (2)
It is best to place your dracaena plants outside of your pets’ reach to avoid this. If ever this accident occurs, make sure to contact your veterinarian as soon as possible.
How to Grow and Care for Your Dracaena
Most dracaenas will grow their best when given bright, filtered or indirect light daily, while some are more tolerant of lower lights. When a plant growing in a dim light has been moved to a brighter location, the new leaves will be thicker and sturdier.
Consider moving the plant further to the light source if you noticed pale, dry patches on the leaves. The best light condition gets two or three hours a day of sunlight filtered through a translucent blind or curtain.
Water and humidity
Allow the surface of the soil to dry out before watering thoroughly. Overwatering the plant will cause the root to rot. Mist regularly as inadequate water or dry humidity may cause brown tips and spots on the leaves. You can improve humidity by placing the plant on water-filled pebble trays.
Dracaenas are best grown between 65° to 80°F. At temperatures below 65°F, very little growth will occur, and below 55°F might cause chilling damage to the plant when exposed to wind.
Pest and Problems
Plant diseases or insects that could cause serious problems to Dracaena plants very rarely occur. But you should still watch out for thrips, scales, shore flies or mealybugs which can stunt the growth of your dracaena plants.
Brown tips or spots can be a sign of inadequate watering or dry humidity. Root rot can be caused by overwatering or lack of proper drainage.
Dracaena is very sensitive to fluoride. Avoid using fertilizer that is high in superphosphate and other phosphorus sources containing fluorides. Tap water may also include fluoride, so it would be best to use purified water. Maintain soil pH between 6.0 to 6.5. High pH of 7.5 to 8.0 may result in iron chlorosis. (3,4,5)
Propagation and Maintenance
Most dracaena plants are propagated by cutting and division and the best time to propagate is during its early growth cycle in spring.
Some tips on successfully propagating dracaenas are dipping the cuttings in rooting hormone to encourage early root formation and once planted, enclosing the set up in a plastic bag to regulate temperature and humidity. After 4 to 6 weeks, the plant should show new signs of growth and is ready to be moved indoors (4).
Best Varieties and Species of Dracaena to Grow
A slow-growing shrub usually sold as potted plants with lengths varying from 6 inches to 5 feet, Dracaena fragrans is simply one of the most popular and best interior plants. It has long, rugged leaves that have resemblance to corn foliage, hence, the common name Corn Plant.
The species has entirely green leaves but most houseplant aficionados prefer its more-colorful cultivars, like Massangeana, which accounts for nearly 90% of the corn plants sold. Also called Mass Cane, it has a rosette of long, sword-shaped leaves highlighted with golden-yellow stripes in the middle.
Other attractive cultivars include “Lindenii”, “Victoria”, “Lemon Lime”, “Janet Craig” and “Warneckii”.
Popular for its distinctive appearance, Dracaena Marginata or also known as Madagascar Dragon Tree or Red-edged dracaena, boasts bold but elegant dark green leaves with red margins. What makes this slow-growing plant a favorite for most houseplant enthusiasts is that its stems can be trained into different shapes which can give it different architectural vibes.
Other cultivars of the Madagascar Dragon Tree (“Tricolor”) have longitudinal ivory stripes through the center of their leaves, adding highlight to its green and red elegance.
Commonly called Pleomele, it generally has dense dark green rosettes of leaves swirling around the end of the stems that can be used as table plants, bush or tree. Song of India has yellow margin highlighting the short, sword-like leaves while Song of Jamaica has white longitudinal stripes.
Ribbon Plant, Chinese Water Bamboo or Lucky bamboo might have a striking resemblance with bamboo, but it is not actually bamboo. Usually sold as stem cuttings, this tough little plant can be grown in water for a year or more.
It will start to decline eventually if held in just water so it would be best to supply nutrition occasionally. The resemblance with bamboo makes it associated with the art of Feng Shui.
Unlike the other members of Dracaena, Dracaena surculosa (also Dracaena godseffiana) has oval shaped leaves with a pointed tip. It is commonly called Dracaena Gold Dust or Spotted Dracaena because of its cream and golden yellow blotches in its dark green shiny leaves.
It is also called Dracaena surculosa ‘Japanese Bamboo’ because of its thin bamboo-like stems. If grown in proper condition, it might even reward you with radial white inflorescence.
Other popular cultivars/varieties include: ‘Florida Beauty’ which has bigger and denser spots, and Dracaena surculosa ‘Kelleri’ with thicker elliptical leaves.
(1) Vermeulen, N. “Encyclopedia of House Plants”. 1999. Taylor & Francis. P. 40
(2) Quattrocchi, U. “CRC World Dictionary of Medicinal and Poisonous Plants: Common Names, Scientific Names, Eponyms, Synonyms, and Etymology”. 2016. CRC Press. P. 1466
(3) Poole, R., Chase, A., and Osborne, L. “Dracaena Production Guide”. University of Florida, IFAS. Retrieved from https://mrec.ifas.ufl.edu/Foliage/folnotes/dracaena.htm
(4) Mertz Library, “Dracaena”. 2020. New York Botanical Garden. Retrieved from https://libguides.nybg.org/dracaena
(5) Home & Garden Information Center, “Dracaena”. 1999. Clemson University. Retrieved from https://hgic.clemson.edu/factsheet/dracaena
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