This mature dragon tree at Miami's Fairchild Tropical Garden take on an even more dramatic appearance when illuminated with spotlights at night.
Dragon tree is a palmlike member of the agave family, related to Spanish bayonet (Yucca aloifolia), and century plant (Agave americana). The overall shape is that of an umbrella with a thick, swollen trunk and many stout, upright branches each terminating with a rosette of stiff, sword shaped leaves about 2 ft (60 cm) long. Mature plants produce terminal clusters of greenish flowers, followed by round reddish orange fruits. In cultivation dragon tree barely gets 20-30 ft (6-9 m) tall, but in its native habitat 50 ft (15 m) tall specimens are not uncommon.
Location Dracaena draco is native to the Canary Islands, an archipelago of seven volcanic islands in the Atlantic Ocean about 160 miles (100 km) off the northwest coast of Africa. In its native habitat, dragon tree is an endangered species (listed as "Vulnerable") due to over collecting for its red colored resin, called "dragon's blood". Dragon tree is grown as an ornamental throughout the world in Mediterranean climates, and is very popular in southern California.
Light: Dragon tree does best in full sun. Moisture: Dragon tree is quite drought tolerant. Hardiness: USDA Zones 9-11. Propagation: Sow seeds in spring. Leafless sections of stem will take root in summer.
Dragon tree is a slow grower, taking up to ten years to get just 3 ft (1 m) tall. And, it does not begin to branch until it has flowered for the first time, usually after a couple decades of growth. However, large specimens of this unusual tree make very dramatic statements in the landscape, and are worth the wait. Their palmlike, tropical appearance graces mansions and estates in tropical and subtropical cities throughout the world. Dragon tree is very long lived, with some specimens in the Canary Islands said to be more than a thousand years old. Dragon tree is a good choice for coastal areas since it tolerates salt spray and salty soils.
Dragon's blood, the red resin that flows from wounds on the trunk and branches, was formerly used in Mediaeval alchemy, and for embalming, and is today used as a varnish for violins and other fine wood, and in photoengraving processes.
Dragon tree has red sap (resin) that has been likened to the blood of dragons. (Dracaena means dragon in ancient Greek.) There are some 40 species of Dracaena, a genus closely related to and sometimes confused with Cordyline. Many are small, herbaceous perennials, tolerant of low light levels and popular as houseplants, quite unlike the large, palmlike D. draco, featured here.