Dragon trees, Dracaena marginata, Dracaena deremensis (Janet Craig), Lucky Bamboo (nope, not bamboo, it’s a dragon tree), corn plant (used in NASA studies), Gold Dust, Ribbon Tree, Madagascar Dragon Tree, or Song of India (or Jamaica), every variety of Dracaena is gorgeous. Better yet, they are mostly pretty easy to grow, whether you are cultivating them as houseplants or out of doors. They are lovely plants. The Janet Craig variety is one of the plants listed in How to Grow Fresh Air by Dr. B.C. Wolverton.
Notes from How to Grow Fresh Air
Dr. Wolverton writes that the Janet Craig variety will grow to a height of about ten feet, but can be contained through pruning. Pruning is good news because one of the easy ways to get more dragon trees is by starting them from pruned off shoots. She adds that Dracaena Compacta will grow to a height of about three feet, but gains height more slowly.
One reason dragon trees make good houseplants is because they are highly tolerant of neglect. They like to be a little on the dryer side. They are an understory plant, and therefore tolerate low light levels. They aren’t even going to go into shock if you lose power for a while and temperatures in your home or greenhouse drop significantly. They can tolerate temperatures down to forty degrees Fahrenheit.
Dr. Wolverton noted that it seemed as if dracaena Janet Craig was very good at cleaning toxins out of the air, especially chemical vapors. Since the study of which she was part was focusing on how to keep air clean and breathable on a space station where plastics would make up a large part of the environment, this was a critical point.
Not for Pets
With all these good things going for it, of course dracaena has some drawbacks. One of them is that it is toxic to dogs and cats. With dogs, all you really need to do is keep the plant on an upper shelf where your pooch isn’t likely to chomp on it. Cats, since they love to climb, are a little more problematical. For the felines in your household, it is a good idea to keep your dragon tree in an area where they are not allowed.
Growing Dracaena Outside
If you live in an area where the low temperatures range in the forty to sixty degree Fahrenheit range, then you can grow your pretty dragon outside. Dracaena marginata is a good choice for outside. It likes full sun and well-drained fertile soil. The University of Florida grew dracaena marginata out of doors in their Teaching Garden. Their website notes that this variety of dragon tree can grow up to fifteen feet tall, with long, slender trunks. They grow at a rate of up to 18 inches a year at first, but then slow down. They have few problems with pests. Occasionally, they will be troubled with mealy bugs or scale.
Legend of the Dragon Tree
Dragon trees have their own legend. In those long ago days when legendary heroes walked the earth, Herakles killed the dragon Ladon because it guarded the three golden apples of Juno. Those apples show up in a lot of legends, and whenever they do, they are nothing but pure trouble – but that’s a story for another day. When Ladon was slain, from each of the droplets of blood that fell upon the earth, a dragon tree sprang forth. To this day, when a dragon tree is cut, it bleeds bright red droplets in memory of Ladon.
Dragon Tree Resin
The beautiful red, resin of the dragon tree has long been prized. It is what gives the Stradivarius violins both their beautiful sheen and their tone. The native people used the dragon tree’s wood to make shields and they used the resin to dye their hair red. It is also one of the plant substances that can be used in mummification.
Moving Dragon Trees
Dragon trees can be moved, but they are very fragile. A large tree can crush its own limbs if it is laid on its side, and all chains or ropes must be padded because even the lightest bindings will make an impression on the bark. With great care, a prized dragon tree can be transplanted, but this process should be approached with caution. Transplanting a mature dragon tree should be a move of last resort.