The Canary Islands are a place shrouded in legends and rituals uncommon to the rest of the world, a fantastical place if there ever was one. One piece of mythology that stems from this area has to do with a majestic tree, the Dragon tree, or Dracaena draco. Here, we take a deeper look into the tales spun around this tree and break down the care and maintenance of it to enable you to be able to grow one of your own incredible trees, perhaps adding some mystic legend to your own collection.
Background and Historical Uses
A well-loved sub-tropical native of Macaronesia, the Canary Islands, the Madeira Islands and Morocco, this tree is a sought-after horticultural collector’s item because of its unique ornamental appearance and growth habits. It is so named the ‘Dragon tree’ because of its blood-red resin and the legend surrounding it. The tree is a monocot that currently belongs to the Asparagaceae family, after much debate because of its wide array of characteristics. There are no two dragon trees that are exactly the same and to find a mature tree is akin to finding an art piece to add to your collection. This is becoming harder and harder, especially considering that it is a protected species and has been for many years since the Spanish over-harvested the tree to use its many valuable assets during their conquests. It is extremely slow growing, taking up to ten years to reach one meter in height but is very long-lived, with the oldest one thought to be at least 550 years old. It is an evergreen tree, and very top heavy, with thick stout branches that array truly befitting the “crown” terminology for trees. As the tree grows, the crown will often be twice as wide as the full height of the tree, with beautiful blue-green spiked leaves that compliments any aesthetic.
Because of its unique characteristics, the tree has played a number of different important roles throughout history. At the beginning of its recorded history, the sap from the tree was used by the Guanche people of the Canary Islands for mummification purposes. The red resin that it is so well-known for was used by the Romans as a natural colorant for clothes and many other things. In more recent history, it was used in Europe as a varnish and antioxidant for iron tools and can also currently be used as an insecticide. It is also well-known that Stradivarius used the resin to enrich the deep coloring in the making of his famous violins.
Not least because of the color and chemicals that are contained in the valuable resin, this tree has always been considered an important ecological player. It is believed that the fruit was an important staple in the diet of a bird that was Dodo-like, endemic and flightless, that is now extinct. When the fruit would pass through the digestion system of the bird, it would trigger the germination process. The extinction of the bird in this complimentary partnership is thought to have been a large factor in the degradation in the natural growth of the tree since the germination process must now be manually carried out.
The History Behind the Legend
If you thought that its practical uses and history were interesting, the legend surrounding the tree will be all the more intoxicating. This tree is thought to be a direct ‘descendant’ of Ladon, an ancient dragon that had 100 heads and could speak the tongues of just as many different languages and voices. As the story goes, at the time that Juno, the queen of the gods and mother of Mars, was married, Gaia, her mother, gifted her with three golden apples and set Ladon to guard them in the Garden of the Hesperides.
Many years later, the story picks up again with Herakles, know more commonly known as Hercules, who, to complete a series of labours, needed to steal the apples to succeed in the eleventh one. After finally locating the garden, he battles with Ladon to retrieve the apples and defeats him, spilling his blood on the ground of the garden. From the blood sprang up the first of these dragon trees and are said to still contain the blood of the dragon in their own veins. This is where the name originates from stemming back before the time of the Romans and has been known as thus ever since.
Proper Care and Maintenance
If adding one of these incredibly fascinating trees to your yard and collection is your prerogative, we are here to equip you to do this, giving you a quick guide on their growth habits and how to best care for them to ensure the hundreds of years of growth that this tree is capable of.
The trees grow from a single stem that will add thickness as they mature. When the tree is ready to produce a flower spike with berries, the stem will stop growing and will begin to branch out. This process is the beginning of the canopy’s formation, slow but sure over the years. The flower itself is a greyish color that has a gentle, lilylike fragrance. Flowering happens only every 10 to 15 years and each time, the tree will begin to focus on branching out once more, splitting off again from the branches created from the last cycle. This unique branching habit is what gives the tree its umbrella-like appearance. Because of its exceptional growth pattern and the fact that it has no interior growth rings that can be used it age it, it is the branches themselves that are used to date the tree.
The dragon tree doesn’t need special fertilizer or a lot of water, liking it in dryer conditions and has a high drought tolerance. One condition not to skip over, however, is that it requires well-drained soil. It prefers a warmer climate and grows markedly faster in a hot, coastal climate. It can also be a potted plant indoors, although this doesn’t encourage as much longevity that the tree has a potential for and will be much shorter than if planted outdoors, an appealing factor for some growers.
Even with drought-tolerant tendencies, it is important to consider your watering habits when caring for this plant. It is a good idea to water it deeply, but infrequently, allowing it to dry out in between watering. One of the biggest killers of these plants, especially if they are potted, is root rot from being too moist for too long. If potted, the tree should be re-potted about every two years to allow the roots more room and encourage more stem or canopy growth. This will also give you the chance to check for unhealthy roots to be cut off before filling it back in with soil. Grooming the tree will give it a more aesthetic look and by doing this you will give it a denser, more rounded appearance. Pruning back the stems and branches will instigate two more to form at each cut and give the tree a fuller appearance. Any cuts should be made at a 45-degree angle towards the stem that will stop water from collecting in it and open a door for disease. Any discoloured leaves can be cut off with a scissors if the tree has not yet dropped them, which will happen naturally.
Armed with this information and intrigued by the history surrounding this plant, if becoming one of the collector’s that has this rarer and rarer species in their own collection is your desire, then look no further. We have the largest range of Dragon trees in Australia with trees that are immediately available to suit any budget. Here we match you with a plant that will be a part of your assembled family for as long as you, your children and perhaps even grandchildren are alive, making a mark on your history as well as the design in your yard and garden for many years to come.