Dragon trees are amazing. Like many plants, they can help clean the air through the simple process of taking in carbon dioxide and giving off oxygen. Since this is a characteristic of most plants, it comes as no surprise that dragon trees can do this.
Dragon Trees Clean More than Carbon Dioxide
According to a list published by NASA in 1989, dragon trees can clean up more substances than just carbon dioxide. The do very well at cleaning chemicals such as formaldehyde, benzene and trichlorethylene out of the air. These toxic agents are part of what has come to be called “sick building syndrome” where furnishings and building materials outgas stuff that no one wants to breath into the indoor environment.
According to the Wikipedia article about the Clean Air study, red-edged dracaena, a particular type of dragon tree, was one of the plants on the first list of plants beneficial for indoor air quality.
The original study indicated that one medium sized houseplant placed about every 100 feet in a living space could make a big difference in indoor air quality.
How Valid Was the Study?
When it comes to making statements like, “Dragon trees can help clean your air,” it is always a good idea to double fact check. The original study was done in a controlled environment that was sealed to simulate conditions on a space station. Further studies have been done in offices and in homes, with mixed results.
Plants Are Going to Space
The experiment involving red-edged dracaena was carried out on earth. The International Space Station was not launched until November of 1998. Scientists on board the space station continued to study how weightlessness and other factors might influence plant growth away from earth.
Most of the experiments have involved food plants. The old clipper ships had difficulty with nutrition-based illnesses, such as scurvy. The space station is resupplied with frozen and dried food stuffs, so scientist working there are unlikely to develop vitamin deficiencies. If the generation ships of science fiction lore are actually launched someday, it will be very useful to know what kinds of plants can be grown in such a manmade environment, and whether they will have the kinds of nutrients people will need.
Plants Lift the Heart and Give a Sense of Home
Plants on board the space station, in offices and inside your home do more than just provide nutrition. They give scientists who are high above the atmosphere a little bit of the planet to have with them. Participants report that it gives morale a boost to have something green and growing in such an impersonal and perhaps even intimidating environment.
In offices, a plant gives that little homey touch, as well as possibly cleaning up the air. One study suggests that even the microbial life in potting soil can make a difference in making indoor air more breathable. For homes, it can give that sense of bringing the outdoors inside.
But What About that Brown Thumb?
People who are good at growing plants are said to have a green thumb. Those of us who have better luck killing plants than growing them, are sometimes described as having a brown or black thumb. This is where the dragon tree plant can really shine.
Dragon trees are super growers. It takes a lot of neglect and abuse to kill a dragon tree. One home grower describes having left a dragon tree with a neglectful family member for two months, yet the tree managed to live.
Growing Dragon Trees
The easiest way to get a dragon tree started is to buy a young one from a garden nursery. Set it in a sunny location. If you need to pot it, dragon trees like a moderately fertile loam that is well drained. Young trees should be kept moist, but not soggy. A light watering once or twice a week is all that is needed. They don’t need a lot of fertilizer, but a feeding in the spring will help keep it nourished. Watering with a compost tea will probably do.
Sunlight can be a little tricky. They need medium light. Not enough, they get leggy. Too much, and its leaves will develop, dry brown tips.
The most common error with dragon trees, however, is overwatering. Like many semi-tropical plants, it just does not like wet feet.
Enjoy Your Little Dragon Tree
Your dragon tree will probably never go to space, and it might not clean every bad smell or toxic chemical out of your household air. But if you take care of it, the happy little plant will give that air of bringing the outdoors inside.
If you live in a warm climate, you can plant your dragon tree outdoors in your garden and enjoy its unique foliage and coloring there.