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.
|Botanical Name||Dracaena marginata|
|Common Names||Dragon tree, dragon plant, Madagascar dragon tree|
|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)|
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. In addition to adding beauty and visual interest to your space, they are also beneficial in removing harmful chemicals in your household air.
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.
Is Dragon Tree Toxic?
Beautiful as it is, the dragon tree is also poisonous. While it's not harmful to humans, the leaves are extremely toxic to cats and dogs. Cats are particularly fond of chewing on the leaves, which contain toxic alkyds. If you notice your pet exhibiting any of the symptoms below, contact an emergency vet immediately.
Symptoms of Poisoning
- Stomach irritation
- Excessive drooling
- Loss of appetite
- Irritation inside or around the mouth
- Facial swelling
Dragon Tree Varieties
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.
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 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.
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.
Common Pests and Diseases
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.
Interior Landscape Plants for Indoor Air Pollution Abatement. NASA Technical Reports Server
Odenwald, Neil G., and James R. Turner. Identification, Selection, and Use of Southern Plants: For Landscape Design. Claitor's Pub. Division, 2006
Dracaena. American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals