What is Dracaena?

Anna Harrison

Dracaena are common trees and shrubs often found in homes, offices and shopping malls. There are two distinct groups of dracaena. The first is the tree type, which often grows to 10 feet (3 meters) or more. These have wide leaves and broad trunks. Often called by the more common name of dragon tree, they typically grow well in hot, dry areas. The type most commonly seen in businesses and homes is the smaller shrub type, which has long, blade-like, glossy leaves and thinner stems; these shorter, succulent varieties are the ones commonly used as houseplants. Unlike the tree types, these shrubby dracaenas can be found growing on rain forest floors, where the humidity is very high.

Oil derived from the neem tree is often used in natural pesticides to protect dracaena.
Oil derived from the neem tree is often used in natural pesticides to protect dracaena.

The species of dracaena most commonly seen as potted plants are D. marginata, which has red stripes on its long leaves, and D. sanderiana. This species is commonly sold as “Lucky Bamboo,” though it is not bamboo at all. While often marketed as a Chinese plant, it is actually African. It is commonly sold in water, but grows naturally in soil. In order for these plants to thrive as indoor, potted plants, they require a high level of humidity. Frequent misting can help increase the humidity, as does placing the plant on top of a pan of water filled with pebbles.

The dracaena potted trees and shrubs are often a good choice for commercial areas, as they do not require direct sunlight. When grown as a potted plant, dracaena is prone to spider mites and scale as well as mealy bugs. These pests can typically be controlled with commercial pesticide products, or with a spray of Neem oil, which may be safer and less harsh than pesticides.

More than 60 species of this large plant exist throughout the world. Most originated in Africa, though a few are from Central America. They are one of the longest lived trees in existence. Dracaena draco and D. cinnabari were seen as medicinal plants by ancient Romans. They used the red resin, or "dragon’s blood," produced by these trees to treat stomach and respiratory illnesses. Residents of the city of Moomy in Socotra, an island in the Republic of Yemen, used the resin for much more — they used it as a cure for just about anything, from diarrhea to skin problems. Throughout the rest of the world, it is more commonly used as a varnish.

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