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wide angle of a dracena tree in a garden setting
The dragon tree or dragon’s blood tree (Dracaena draco) is a dramatic plant with a bold, eye-catching architectural form. It makes the ideal centrepiece for any dry or arid landscape. Its common name comes from the red resinous sap it “bleeds” when cut or damaged.

What you need to know about a dragon tree

Name: dragon tree (Dracaena draco).

Height: very slow-growing—1m in 10 years; up to 5m.

Foliage: long, spiky, blue-green blades. Climate: sub-tropical to temperate; dislikes wet tropics and is frost-intolerant.

Soil: well-drained, gritty soil.

Position: full sun; light protection from scorching afternoon sun.

Flowering: irregular; terminal spike of perfumed white flowers.

Feeding: use a long-term, controlled-release fertiliser sparingly.

Watering: rainfall is usually adequate once established; water potted plants occasionally.

Appearance and characteristics of dracaena

As a young plant, dragon tree looks not unlike other Dracaena species with its woody, palm-like trunk. Its leaves are spiky, like those of a yucca. As it ages, its trunk thickens, as do the branches that develop at its top. Each of these branches will then develop its own head of blue-green leaves.

This succulent is extremely slow growing. It will remain as a single trunk for around 10–15 years, after which it stops vertical growth and produces its first spike of white, perfumed flowers. After flowering, a “crown” of growth buds will appear around the base of the spent spike, and the plant will start branching. Every 10 or so years, each of the branches will repeat this process, producing a flower spike followed by a circle of buds and then a ring of new branches.

In its natural habitat, dracaena can take a decade to reach a little over 1m in height, but in cultivation, where moisture and food are more readily available, its growth rate may increase.

Very old plants with a single trunk look like huge mushrooms or umbrellas from a distance. Some may develop aerial roots that grow downward from the base of the lower branches, encircling the trunk and eventually grafting naturally into it.

There are many other dracaena varieties available for home gardeners to try, including the popular happy plant (Dracaena fragrans “Massangeana”) and “Song of India” (Dracaena reflexa). These varieties are much smaller and grow a little faster than the dragon tree. They’re perfect for pots, indoors or out. It’s important not to overwater, and to make sure pots drain freely.

Close up of a dracaena leaf

How to plant and grow dracaena

Follow these tips when planting your dracaena

  • Dragon trees are succulents—they occur naturally in a harsh environment. It prefers a gravelly or sandy soil that drains very well after rain or watering, and an open, sunny position. It grows well in most areas of Australia, but sadly, if you live in the wet tropics, it’s not for you.
  • If your soil is a loam or clay, your dragon tree should be planted into a 1m diameter mound that’s at least 50cm above the natural soil level so its roots will not remain wet after rain. Use a free-draining, open soil to build up the mound—add coarse washed river sand to open up your existing soil.
  • After planting out, give a little water every two or three weeks over the first summer to help the plant establish, but after that, don’t water it at all. It comes from a region that has very hot, dry summers, so it will survive! It will also tolerate salty winds, so makes a great plant for coastal gardens, and it’s also able to withstand mild frosts
  • Dragon tree can also be grown in containers if your soil is not suitable or you don’t have the space for it in the garden. Being slow-growing, it makes quite a handsome pot plant that needs little attention. Use a premium-quality cactus and succulent potting mix that includes coarse sand or perlite to allow for excellent drainage, and a pot that's at least 50cm in diameter.

Caring for dracaena

Garden and potted plants will benefit from a very light application of 12-month-controlled release all-purpose fertiliser once a year.

Diseases and pests

Dragon trees are remarkably free of pests and diseases. The only problem you may find is rotting of the roots, if drainage is not excellent.

If you like this then try

Agave: architectural succulent with thick, often spiny ‘leaves’; plants die after flowering, but it could take years to flower.

Yucca: similar in appearance to the agave, but flowers every year or so; perfect for dry gardens.

Baobab: Adansonia gregorii, the only Australian native baobab; has a bottle-shaped trunk topped with sparse branches.

Start planting today

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Health & Safety

Asbestos, lead-based paints and copper chromium arsenic (CCA) treated timber are health hazards you need to look out for when renovating older homes. These substances can easily be disturbed when renovating and exposure to them can cause a range of life-threatening diseases and conditions including cancer. For information on the dangers of asbestos, lead-based paint and CCA treated timber and tips for dealing with these materials contact your local council's Environmental Health Officer or visit our Health & Safety page.

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