Name: dragon tree (Dracaena draco).
Height: very slow-growing—1m in 10 years; up to 5m.
Foliage: long, spiky, blue-green blades. Climate: sub-tropical to temperate; dislikes wet tropics and is frost-intolerant.
Soil: well-drained, gritty soil.
Position: full sun; light protection from scorching afternoon sun.
Flowering: irregular; terminal spike of perfumed white flowers.
Feeding: use a long-term, controlled-release fertiliser sparingly.
Watering: rainfall is usually adequate once established; water potted plants occasionally.
As a young plant, dragon tree looks not unlike other Dracaena species with its woody, palm-like trunk. Its leaves are spiky, like those of a yucca. As it ages, its trunk thickens, as do the branches that develop at its top. Each of these branches will then develop its own head of blue-green leaves.
This succulent is extremely slow growing. It will remain as a single trunk for around 10–15 years, after which it stops vertical growth and produces its first spike of white, perfumed flowers. After flowering, a “crown” of growth buds will appear around the base of the spent spike, and the plant will start branching. Every 10 or so years, each of the branches will repeat this process, producing a flower spike followed by a circle of buds and then a ring of new branches.
In its natural habitat, dracaena can take a decade to reach a little over 1m in height, but in cultivation, where moisture and food are more readily available, its growth rate may increase.
Very old plants with a single trunk look like huge mushrooms or umbrellas from a distance. Some may develop aerial roots that grow downward from the base of the lower branches, encircling the trunk and eventually grafting naturally into it.
There are many other dracaena varieties available for home gardeners to try, including the popular happy plant (Dracaena fragrans “Massangeana”) and “Song of India” (Dracaena reflexa). These varieties are much smaller and grow a little faster than the dragon tree. They’re perfect for pots, indoors or out. It’s important not to overwater, and to make sure pots drain freely.
Garden and potted plants will benefit from a very light application of 12-month-controlled release all-purpose fertiliser once a year.
Dragon trees are remarkably free of pests and diseases. The only problem you may find is rotting of the roots, if drainage is not excellent. Spiders do love making a home in these plants, but they make a great form of natural pest control.
Agave: architectural succulent with thick, often spiny ‘leaves’; plants die after flowering, but it could take years to flower.
Yucca: similar in appearance to the agave, but flowers every year or so; perfect for dry gardens.
Baobab: Adansonia gregorii, the only Australian native baobab; has a bottle-shaped trunk topped with sparse branches.
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Photo credits: iStock, Rachael Wilson
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