The dragon tree, also called dragon's blood plant or by its Latin name, Dracaena draco, is an evergreen succulent tree native to subtropical zones on and near the northwest coast of Africa. It is closely related to the corn plant, but unlike that species, dragon tree is a much less common houseplant because of its large size. It is, however, quite slow-growing, so don't let its 25- to 50-foot mature size dissuade you—this plant can take 10 years to reach 4 feet in height.
The dragon tree forms a palm-like canopy of long, pointed leaves on stems that emerge from a thick trunk. It is not the most beautiful of houseplants, but it has the single most important quality for your indoor foliage: It is tough beyond all measure.
The dragon's blood name comes from the fact that it exudes reddish resin from wounds and nicks. As a point of interest, it is said that this resin was used as a wood dye to stain the famous Stradivarius violins. It is a member of the agave family and is related to the yucca and century plant.
This is a very slow-growing species but one that is very long-lived. In the garden, it can take as much as 25 years to reach 25 feet, but its slow-growing nature can be an advantage for an indoor plant, as the dragon tree will take many years to outgrow its space.
|Botanical Name||Dracaena draco|
|Common Name||Dragon tree, dragon's blood plant, drago|
|Plant Type||Broadleaf evergreen tree|
|Mature Size||15–50 feet (but very slow-growing)|
|Sun Exposure||Full sun to part shade|
|Soil Type||Any well-drained, porous soil|
|Soil pH||6.0–6.5 (slightly acidic)|
|Bloom Time||Begins producing a single flower after 10–15 years|
|Hardiness Zones||9–12 (USDA)|
|Native Area||The Canary Islands, northwest coastal Africa|
|Toxicity||Mildly toxic to animals|
Dragon Tree Care
This plant likes to grow in relatively bright light, but it may resent being in full harsh afternoon sun. Indoor plants will do best in a location that gets a full 10 hours of bright but indirect light.
Dragon tree prefers a very loose, well-drained potting mix. A succulent/ cactus potting mix can work well; or you can make your own mix by blending fine gravel, peat moss, and leaf humus in equal parts.
Allow the plants to dry between waterings, but not completely. These are more susceptible to root rot, so be very careful never to allow them to sit in standing water.
Temperature and Humidity
D. draco is more cold-tolerant than other Dracaena species and can briefly tolerate temperatures below 50 degrees Fahrenheit. In native settings, this plant absorbs most of its moisture from the air rather than the soil, so you may find it helpful to humidify indoor air, especially during dry winter months.
Feed your plants every six months with controlled-release fertilizer. Well-fed plants will develop a slightly reddish tinge to the edges of the leaves.
D. draco is only one of several related species that can be grown indoors. In addition to the dragon tree, there are some other options:
- Madagascar dragon tree (D. marginata) boasts long, slender leaves that may be deep green with a thin dark red edging or deep green with red edges and a yellow line up the center.
- Corn plant (Dracaena fragrans) is native to Africa. Indoors, it grows to about 6 feet with olive-green leaves which feature a creamy yellow center line.
- D. reflexa 'Variegata' grows to between 3 and 6 feet tall indoors and features lime-green stripes on the outer edges of its leaves.
Pruning for shape is not necessary with this plant, but do remove dead leaves as they appear. If necessary because of space limitations, the top branches can be cropped, which will stimulate denser growth.
Potting and Repotting Dragon Tree
Repot this plant annually or every other year. D. draco thrives when slightly pot-bound, but make sure the plant doesn’t become top-heavy, which can tip over smaller containers. Make sure the potting mix is very porous and well-draining, and that the pot has several good drainage holes. Wet roots can kill this plant.
Growing Dragon's Blood Outdoors
If you are in USDA plant hardiness zones 10 through 12 you can grow D. draco outdoors. It will develop a thick cylindrical trunk topped with rosettes with sword-shaped leaves you see in the houseplant. It can take 10 to 15 years to mature and flower, after which it will start to grow stout, upright arms in an umbrella shape.
These trees can live for hundreds of years, and some specimens are highly revered in the Canary Islands just like Canary Island pines and the Pride of Madeira. You can sometimes see old ones in the U.S. on estates or in botanical gardens.