Dracaena marginata, more commonly known as a dragon tree, is an attractive plant with green sword-like, red-edged leaves. Native to Madagascar, the eye-catching spiky tree is known as a great entry plant for household gardeners—it's easy to care for, drought-tolerant, and nearly indestructible.
The slow-growing plant can be planted year-round and boasts tiny white flowers in the spring (though it rarely flowers indoors). This small tree will grow to about 20 feet in warm outdoor climates, but it is generally grown as a potted houseplant and kept pruned to 6 feet or less. Keep the dragon tree away from pets because it's toxic to animals if ingested.
|Common Names||Dragon tree, dragon plant, Madagascar dragon tree|
|Botanical Name||Dracaena marginata|
|Plant Type||Broadleaf evergreen|
|Mature Size||15–20 ft. tall, 3–10 ft. wide|
|Sun Exposure||Full sun, partial shade|
|Soil Type||Loamy, well-drained|
|Soil pH||Neutral to acidic|
|Bloom Time||Spring (rarely flowers indoors)|
|Hardiness Zones||10–12 (USDA)|
|Toxicity||Toxic to dogs, toxic to cats|
Watch Now: How to Grow and Care for a Dracaena (Dragon Tree)
Dragon Tree Care
Thanks to its tolerance for a wide range of temperatures, dragon trees are very popular as large potted plants for homes and offices. They should be planted in well-draining soil and watered regularly during their growing season. Though they can thrive in a variety of light conditions, they do best with indirect bright light.
Dragon trees grow best in bright light but can also survive in partial shade. Keep in mind, plants kept in lower light situations will grow slower and produce smaller leaves with less intense color. Additionally, take care not to place your dragon tree in a spot that receives direct rays of sunlight—its foliage can burn easily.
When growing dragon tree as a potted plant, use a loose, well-drained potting mix—loamy soil amended with peat moss is ideal. Make sure the container you choose has room for the plant's extensive root system. Some varieties are imported from Hawaii and will arrive with lava rock—if this is the case, remove about one-third of the rock and replace it with potting soil.
Like with many drought-tolerant plants, it's easy to over-water the dragon tree. To ensure you don't drown it, wait until the top half of the soil is dry before watering (this can often take three weeks or more). If the plant develops brown tips on its leaves, that's usually a sign that it's either receiving too much water or that the water you're using has too much salt or fluoride, which can cause discoloration. To avoid fluoride, water your dragon tree with distilled or non-fluoridated water. If the plant has yellow leaves, it usually means it needs more water.
Temperature and Humidity
Dragon trees prefer warmer temperatures between 70 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Regular household humidity should be fine for them, but if your house is particularly dry, you can consider misting the pant lightly from a spray bottle every few days.
Dragon trees have a relatively low need for fertilizer and it is not an essential component to having a thriving plant. However, to boost their growth, you can feed them lightly at the beginning of spring with a balanced controlled-release liquid fertilizer. Do not fertilize in the winter.
Types of Dragon Tree
Although there are several varieties of dragon tree, the most commonly found at plant stores (and used as household plants) include:
- Dracaena marginata 'Tricolor': This varietal has dark red margins, green leaves, and an ivory stripe down the leaf center.
- D. marginata 'Colorama': This dragon tree may appear to be completely pink, but it's actually variegated with white and green stripes. It will need very bright light to keep its unique colors.
- D. marginata 'Bicolor': True to its name, this dragon tree varietal has red and green stripes.
It's perfectly normal for a dragon tree to self-shed dead leaves. Just pick them up and discard them. To keep the plant trim and neat, remove leaves that look like they are about to fall or cut back stems with sterile, sharp pruning shears to tidy up the tree. Sterilize your pruning tool with a clean rag doused in a common household item, such as rubbing alcohol or hydrogen peroxide, then rinse with water, and wipe the tool dry before using it on your plant.
Propagating Dragon Tree
You can propagate your dragon tree using stem cuttings rooted in water. In fact, it's so easily done that the varietal is often used in dish gardens and readily propagated by nurseries and retailers. It's best to do this in the spring when the plant is growing vigorously. It takes just about three weeks for the cuttings to sprout roots, and using a rooting hormone isn’t necessary. Dragon tree cuttings can make a thoughtful housewarming gift and using cuttings from your own plant is a personalized touch.
- Using a sterile, sharp scissor, cut a long length of stem that's about 8 inches. Remove any leaves and remember which end goes down into the soil.
- Put the cutting in potting soil that's moist.
- Place the cutting in bright, but indirect sunlight.
- Leaves will sprout on the upper nodes of your cutting and top of the cutting as a rosette.
Potting and Repotting Dragon Tree
Repot your dragon tree into larger pots as necessary. Because these trees grow so slowly, they generally require repotting only every second—or even third—year. In the meantime, you can refresh the potting soil annually to replace any of the mixture that has become compacted.
Although they are fairly disease-resistant, dragon trees are susceptible to scale, mealybugs, and thrips. Mealybugs are easy to identify as they leave small, sticky, cottony deposits on the leaves of the tree. Dragon tree plants are also at risk of acquiring the common plant pest, spider mites. They tend to occur when temperatures are warm and the air is very dry; however, mites are very difficult to see until they have already damaged the plant.
Are dragon trees easy to care for?
It's an easy-care houseplant that's very tolerant.
How fast does a dragon tree grow?
Dragon trees are very slow-growers. It can take a decade for the plant to reach just a few feet tall.
What's the difference between dragon tree (Dracaena marginata) and dragon tree (Dracaena draco)?
Different varieties of the dragon tree have varying leaf shapes, but that's not the case with these two dragon trees because they look virtually identical. The main difference between Dracaena marginata and Dracaena draco is inside the leaves. Marginata does not have a red resin, but draco does have a red resin (called "dragon's blood") that you will see ooze out if you cut into the leaves.
Dragon tree are toxic to pets. Pet Poison Helpline.
Odenwald, Neil G., and James R. Turner. Identification, Selection, and Use of Southern Plants: For Landscape Design. Claitor's Pub. Division, 2006