Madagascar Dragon Tree – Dracaena marginata

The Madagascar Dragon Tree, from tropical Africa, is a slow-growing shrub-like tree that makes an excellent plant for growing in a container.

It has thin but sturdy woody stems, marked regularly by triangular-shaped leaf scars. When young it has a sheath of leaves at the base. As it grows the leaves wither and fall, leaving the attractive marks on the stems.

Eventually it develops into a plant with one or several stems. The leaves, each about 60cm (24in) long, then grow in clusters of about 30 at the tops of the stems. Generally edged in red, the dark green narrow leaves form attractive arching rosettes.

Growth and size

In a container your plant is likely to reach about 2m (7ft), but since it is slow growing, it will only make about 15-20cm (6-8in) of new stem each year, and will take several years to reach its maximum height. Where it grows in the open ground it can get much taller.

VarietiesMadagascar Dragon Tree - Dracaena marginata

The species plant, Dracaena marginata, has dark green leaves with deep red edging. There are also two variegated-leaf forms. D.m. ‘Tricolor’ has two or more yellow stripes down the leaf and a pinkish hue. am. ‘Colorama’ is similar, but the pink hue is almost wine-red and very attractive. These strongly variegated plants are often called Rainbow Plants, and need rather more care— better light, higher humidity and more warmth.

Display ideas

Young plants can be placed on a windowsill, but after a few years they will be too tall for this position. Then they will probably look best standing on the floor.

Larger plants at different heights grouped together in a large container look very striking and have architectural qualities appreciated by interior decorators.

Propagation

Grow new plants from cuttings. You can use either tip shoots (below), side shoots (right), if they appear, or stem cuttings.

1. Plant the cutting in a moistened mixture of equal parts peat moss and coarse sand or perlite.

2. Cover it with a polythene bag with airholes and keep at a temperature near 23°C (75°F) until it roots.

Keep it shaded but do not water until rooting has occurred.

3. Remove the cutting from polythene after 4— 6 weeks. Water moderately and feed every fortnight.

4. Move it into a larger pot and treat as a mature plant once roots are visible on the surface of potting mixture.

Pests And Diseases

Tips of the leaves turn brown and lower leaves fall. Brown tips may be due to dry air and dry potting mixture. Lower leaves drop naturally, but a serious loss may be due to cold or dryness at the roots.

Treatment: Improve the humidity level and check your watering. See that roots are not waterlogged or too dry.

Leaves hang limply and look unhealthy if soil is too wet.

Treatment: This can happen in winter when the plant needs very little moisture. Keep the compost barely moist.

PLANT CARE

This is an easy plant to grow.

  • Potting: These plants grow best if their roots are quite crowded. Repot only when the roots begin to grow out of the pot — they can often be seen on the surface. When a maximum pot size of 20cm (8in) is reached top-dress in spring, using a soil-based compost.
  • In summer water generously but allow a little drying out of the mixture between waterings. In winter water sparingly, just keeping the mixture moist.
  • Feeding: Apply a standard liquid fertilizer every fortnight during the summer. Do not feed in winter.

BEST GROWTH ENVIRONMENT

  • Light: Your plant will grow well in bright light, but avoid direct sunlight. It can tolerate slight shade, but growth will slow down.
  • Temperature: In summer normal room temperatures will suit it, but keep humidity levels high if very hot. In winter it will tolerate temperatures down to 15°C (60°F).

Buying Tips

  • Buy at any time of year from large garden centres and nurseries.
  • The plant should have lots of healthy dark green leaves if it is a species plant.
  • Variegated forms should have strong colour. There should be no brown patches on tips.
  • This plant grows slowly and will live for many years.

Slow-growing, dramatic and shapely in appearance, the Madagascar Dragon Tree is prized for its attractive palm-like leaves and decorative stems.

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