Dracaena (Dragon) Tree Plant Profile

Madagascar dragon tree
Elizabeth Fernandez G. Photography / Getty Images

Dracaena (Dracaena marginata), also known as dragon tree, is an attractive, stiff-leaved plant with green sword-like leaves edged with red. The plant has narrow, slender gray stems that are topped with shiny, arching leaves that are sword-shaped. In the spring on the outdoor varieties, fragrant tiny white flowers bloom and are followed by circular yellow-orange berries. On indoor plants, flowers and berries rarely appear. These plants are perfect for a beginner gardener because they're very easy to grow 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. Unlike many indoor trees, it tolerates a wide range of temperatures.

Dragon trees are tough, drought-tolerant plants with aggressive root systems that make excellent houseplants. Sometimes they are grown as single-stemmed plants; other times grouped or even braided together in the same pot.

Botanical Name Dracaena marginata
Common Names Dragon tree, dragon plant, Madagascar dragon tree
Plant Type Broadleaf evergreen, usually grown as houseplant
Mature Size 15 to 20 feet; usually kept pruned to under 6 feet; spread of 3 to 10 feet
Sun Exposure Bright indirect light when grown indoors
Soil Type A mix of loam and potting soil
Soil pH 6 to 7
Bloom Time Spring (rarely flowers indoors)
Flower Color White
Hardiness Zones  10 to 12
Native Areas Madagascar and Mauritius

How to Grow a Dragon Tree

Thanks to its tolerance for a wide range of temperatures, Dracaena is very popular as a large potted plant for homes and offices. It should be planted in a loamy, well-draining soil amended with peat moss and watered regularly during the growing season. Best exposure will be a location with lots of indirect light; it will tolerate shadier locations but the leaves will lose some of their bright green color. They are listed by NASA as an excellent plant for removing harmful chemicals from the air. Watering should be slightly restricted during the winter.

Light

Dragon trees grow best in bright light but they can also survive in dim light. Plants in lower light situations will grow slower and will produce smaller leaves with less intense color. Don't put your dragon tree in full sun, which can burn its leaves.

Soil Type

When growing as a potted plant, use loose, well-drained potting mix—loamy soil amended with peat moss is ideal. Make sure their pot has room for the extensive root system. Some varieties are imported from Hawaii and will arrive with lava rock. If this is the case, remove about 1/3 of the soil and replace it with potting soil.

Water

It's easy to over-water this plant. To ensure that you don't drown it, wait until the top half of the soil is dry before watering. In low light, this can take up to 3 weeks. If the plant develops brown tips on the leaves, that is often a sign of overwatering or that the water has too much salt or fluoride in it. Like other plants in its genus, Dracaena marginata is sensitive to fluoride, which can cause discoloration. To avoid fluoride, water dragon tree with distilled or non-fluoridated water. If the plant has, yellow leaves, it usually means the plant needs more water.

Temperature and Humidity

Dragon plants prefer temperatures between 70 to 80 degrees F. Regular household humidity should be fine for them. If your house is particularly dry, consider a light misting from a spray bottle.

Fertilizer

Dracaena plants have a relatively low need for fertilizer. Feed them lightly at the beginning of spring or twice a year with controlled-release fertilizer. Do not fertilize in the winter.

Repotting

Repot your dragon tree into larger pots as necessary. Since these trees grow so slowly, they generally require repotting only every second or even third year. Refresh potting soil annually with fresh soil to replace any that has become compacted.

Propagating

Dracaena marginata roots easily from stem cuttings rooted in water—so easily that it’s often used in dish gardens and readily propagated by nurseries and retailers. It takes about three weeks for the cutting 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.

Varieties of Dragon Tree

Although there are several varieties, the most commonly found at plant stores include:

  • Dracaena marginata 'Tricolor', which has dark red margins, green leaves, and an ivory stripe down the leaf center
  • D. marginata 'Bicolor', with red and green stripes
  • D. marginata, the basic form with dark green leaves and thin red leaf margins

Toxicity of Dracaena Marginata

Beautiful as it is, the plant is also poisonous. While it's not harmful to humans, the leaves are extremely toxic to cats and dogs. Cats, in particular, seem fond of chewing on the leaves, which contain toxic alkyds. Most obvious symptoms are vomiting and excessive salivation. Veterinarian treatment for Dracaena poisoning may include inducing vomiting then giving fluids to reverse dehydration.

Common Pests/ Diseases

Although they are usually disease resistant, Dracaena marginata is susceptible to scale, mealybugs, and thrips. Mealybugs are easy to identify as they leave small, sticky, cottony deposits. Dragon tree plants are also very susceptible to the common plant pest, spider mites. They tend to occur when temperatures are warm and the air is very dry; however, they are very difficult to see until they have already damaged the plant.