HOW TO GROW DRACAENA

7-13 deg C/45-55 deg F

This is an important genus for house-plants. since several species and cultivars have attractively marked and coloured foliage. They are not infrequently incorrectly described as palms by the layman. but this is understandable because of the shape and arrangement of the foliage in some of the species.

A common name sometimes used is ribbon plant, since the leaves are frequently striped or bordered. Of special interest is D. draco, the dragon lice. It is one source of dragon’s blood. which is the name of a reddish resin used in the colouring of varnishes. This species can grow into an enormous tree, such as the famous one at Icod in Tenerife. but it can be easily grown from

seed and makes a useful pot plant for some years. It can also be used outdoors as a feature plant for sub-tropical bedding effects.

When small, it is happy as a houseplant in a position of good light, and needs only about 7 deg C (45 deg F) winter minimum. It can make an impressive foliage plant for a porch, foyer or entrance hall, where il can be left to reach an imposing size. The other dracaenas are less tolerant of cool conditions.

Palm-like in habit, and bearing its sword-shaped foliage as a cluster at the top of its stem, is D. marginata, the Madagascar dragon tree. This too can grow very tall, but is extremely slow in developing and therefore a useful pot plant. There are forms with cream-striped foliage or reddish-edged leaves. D. deremensisjias broad, strap-shaped

foliage with banded colours, varying according to the cultivar. ‘Warneckef has a dark green border, with a striking white stripe centred with a fainter green and very attractive stripe. ‘Bausei’ is similar, but without the central stripe. ‘Janet Craig’ has fine white striping, and ‘Rhoersii’ has a pale green central stripe bordered with a pair of fine white bands.

D.fragrans bears many similarities to D. deremensis, but the foliage is considerably longer and wider, and is usually much less pointed. The striping is a deep cream to gold in colour. The most frequently seen cultivar is ‘Massan-geana’. the corn plant, so called because of its cream-striped foliage, like variegated maize.

D. sanderiana is distinct, since it tends to branch readily at its base and bear foliage evenly up the stems to give a bushy appearance. It is often called the ribbon plant. The long leaves are slightly waved and are usually pale green, with cream to silver contrasting margins. When well grown, it is very attractive and in the home can reach 1m (3£ft) in height in good conditions, but can be kept much smaller by restricting the size of its pot. This species is also easier to keep in centrally-heated homes, where the humidity may be low. The others need reasonable humidity coupled with congenial warmth, and during summer can be watered freely and sprayed from time to time. In winter, keep them slightly dry. At all times, choose a position of maximum light, avoiding direct sunshine in summer. In dim places, the leaves will not develop their best colour and contrast.

Plants will need potting-on, the frequency depending on the species and the environment. Young plants can usually be kept in 13cm (5in) pots, but a final size of 18cm (7in) or larger may be needed for vigorous species. The best potting time is April. Scale insects are the most frequent invaders of these plants, but are easily removed by wiping the leaves. Root aphids are a less common pest. The more tender species described here will deteriorate in cold or draughty homes, and the plants will become sickly and the foliage turn yellow. These beautiful plants are worth a little care.

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