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How To Grow A Dragon Tree In Your Garden | Top Tips

Dragon Tree - Dragos Gemelos

There is nothing subtle about the Dragon Tree (Dracaena draco). It is a stunning specimen tree that is hugely popular with landscapers because of its naturally strong and striking architectural features. It is also evergreen, drought-tolerant, can live for hundreds of years, and will grow in warmer as well as cooler climates. It is an amazing all-rounder! Here is a guide on this tree’s origins, habitat, appearance and how to grow a dragon tree.

Origins and habitat

Also known as Drago, the Canary Islands Dragon Tree and the Dragon’s Blood Tree, this sub-tropical plant’s name derives from the Greek word “drakaina”, meaning female dragon. This is a reference to the reddish resinous sap that “bleeds” from the leaves and bark when cut or damaged, that supposedly resembles dragon’s blood. Its closest living relative is the Dragon Blood Tree of Socotra (Dracaena cinnabari) which is renowned as one of the most beautiful trees in the world.

The Dragon Tree is native to the Canary Islands, Madeira, Cape Verde and Western Morocco. It was first described in 1762 by Swedish biologist Carl Linnaeus as Asparagus draco. In 1767, he assigned it to the new genus, Dracaena.

There is considerable genetic variation among these trees and sub-species include:

  • D. draco subsp. draco: Endemic to Madeira and Canary Islands. Wild endemic populations today are only known in Tenerife and Madeira after recently going extinct in the wild in Gran Canaria.
  • D. draco subsp. ajgal Benabid & Cuzin: Endemic to Morocco. Wild populations in Morocco extend to the southwest Atlas Mountains.
  • D. draco subsp. caboverdeana Marrero Rodr. & R.S.Almeida: Endemic to the Cape Verde islands.

Appearance and characteristics

Dragon Tree

Dragon trees are succulents and occur naturally in harsh environments. Because they will tolerate salty winds, they are also ideal for coastal gardens. The Dragon tree is a monocot with a branching growth pattern that is currently placed in the asparagus family (Asparagaceae, subfamily Nolinoidae). However, despite being a monocotyledon, it still has annual or growth rings.

As a young plant, they have a woody, palm-like trunk and spiky leaves. As they age, their trunks thicken, as do the branches that develop at their top. Each of these branches will then develop its own head of long, sword-shaped blue-green leaves, adding wonderful elements of movement, sound and texture to any garden.

This plant is extremely slow-growing and will remain as a single trunk for around ten to 15 years. In its natural habitat, it can take a decade to reach a little over one metre in height, however, where food and moisture are more readily available, its growth rate may increase. In perfect conditions, the Dragon Tree can grow to up to 12 metres with a width of up to 15 metres. However, this may take a while, as it can take 25 years to reach a height of only three metres!

After up to 15 years, it will stop growing vertically and will produce its first spike of perfumed white flowers. After flowering, a “crown” of growth buds will appear around the base of the spike, and the plant will start branching. Every ten years or so, each new branch will repeat this process and produce a flower spike followed by a circle of buds and then a ring of new branches. This process results in a unique and fascinating forked framework.

Very old plants with a single trunk look like umbrellas or giant mushrooms from a distance. Some may also develop aerial roots that grow downward from the base of the lower branches. They may encircle the trunk and eventually graft naturally into it.

Notable trees

Need a little more inspiration to make a Dragon Tree your own? Here are two stunning examples.

El Drago Milenario

Dragon Tree - El Drago Milenario

By Diego Delso, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikipedia

Also known as Drago Milenario and Drago de Icod de los Vinos, this is thought to be the oldest and largest living specimen of Dracaena draco. It is said to be between 800 and a thousand years old! It can be found in the Parque del Drago in Icod de los Vinos on the island of Tenerife in the Canary Islands. It is around 21 metres tall with a circumference of around 20 metres, has over 300 main branches, and is estimated to weigh around 140 tonnes. When it flowered in 1995, its weight increased by 3.5 tonnes during the fruiting season.

The trunk contains a six-metre-high cavity accessible by a door, and while the Parque del Drago charges for entry, it can be viewed for free from the town square. Sadly, a similar specimen on this same island that was estimated to be 6000 years old was destroyed by a storm in 1868.

More information

Dragos Gemelos

Dragon Tree - Dragos Gemelos

By Photograph by Mike Peel (www.mikepeel.net). – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikipedia

Located in Breña Alta, a municipality on the eastern side of the island of La Palma in the Canary Islands, the Dragos Gemelos are two entwined Dracaena draco trees. The trees are around 1.5 metres apart and have grown to the same height of 15 metres. It is estimated they are around 200 to 250 years old.

They are said to represent twin brothers who both fell in love with the same woman and fought to the death, with the woman planting the trees to remember them. Another legend says that the two trees were planted by a woman in love with twin brothers to get their attention!

More information

Uses

When the leaves or bark of the tree are cut or wounded, they secrete a dark red resin, one of several sources of substances known as dragon’s blood. Dragon’s blood has been used for thousands of years, and there are records for its use in China, India, the Middle East and among the ancient Romans and Greeks. Dragon’s blood obtained from Dracaena draco was not known until the 15th century.

The plant resin was formerly ascribed cure-all properties, including for ulcers, wound healing and respiratory and digestive issues. It has also been said to have antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory and anti-diabetic properties. In modern times, it is still used as an incense resin and body oil and as a varnish for violins!

How to grow dragon trees in Australia

When it comes to growing dragon trees in Australia, climate is an important factor. These plants will thrive in warm, subtropical to temperate coastal areas from Mackay in Queensland to Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide and Perth. Wet tropics and cold, frosty zones should be avoided.

In terms of positioning, they love full sun but need protection from intense afternoon sun. In terms of soil, gritty, well-drained soil is essential as wet roots can be fatal. Protecting your tree’s roots is one of the essential tips to keeping trees healthy.

If your soil isn’t well-drained, consider building a raised planter bed in a one metre diameter mound and fill it with a mixture of well-draining potting mix and sharp sand. It should be 50 centimetres above the natural soil level so the roots won’t remain wet after rain. Only a little fertiliser is needed — a long-term, controlled-release fertiliser is ideal — applied once a year.

For garden-grown trees, natural rainfall is sufficient, and once established, regular watering isn’t necessary. For plants in pots, you will need to water occasionally when the soil is dry to the touch. It is important to note that if you choose to plant your Dragon Tree in a pot, it should be at least 50 centimetres in diameter.

Hardy as well as beautiful, Dragon Trees are remarkably tolerant of pests and diseases. Spiders love making a home in these plants, which are a great form of natural pest control!

Propagation

You can propagate Dragon Trees by cuttings or seeds. Seeds should be sown shallowly into a free-draining potting mix in spring. The seeds should then be covered with a fine layer of grit or sand, which will help keep them in contact with the potting mix. Keep moist but do not water excessively and keep at a temperature of around 18 to 21®C.

Semi-hardwood cuttings and leafless stem sections can be rooted in spring. Branched sections of stem that are removed at the node can be taken at lengths as much as a metre long. Cuttings are best planted into a sandy potting mix and positioned in full sun. Taller cuttings should be staked to ensure they don’t fall, and care taken when handling them to prevent any damage to the growing tip.

Dragon tree cost

In terms of dragon tree cost, it depends on a range of factors, including the size of the tree (particularly because they are notoriously slow-growing). However, here are some average prices you might pay in Australia:

  • 200mm – up to $30
  • 300mm – up to $80
  • 600mm – up to $350
  • 900mm – up to $1650
  • Larger specimens (which can take up to 100 years to grow) – anywhere from $5000 to $100,000!

References

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