Dracaena Marginata (Madagascar Dragon Tree)

The Madagascar Dragon Trees

Dracaena Marginata or the Madagascar Dragon TreeDracaena Marginata or the Madagascar Dragon Tree is just one of many houseplants belonging to the Dracaena Group. The common name is a combination of it's native origin, "Madagascar" and its more famous cousin Dracaena Draco (meaning Dragon) well known for its tendency to ooze red blood like resin when cut giving it an "alive" quality. Dracaena Marginata does not have the red resin, but that's families and long lasting reputations for you!

Like the rest of the Dracaena varieties grown indoors the Dragon Tree does have a few drawbacks, but when compared side by side the Marginata remains slender and looks good even when quite tall, it can also support itself without any help from you. Arguably the easiest to look after and perhaps the most popular today. Starting to live in our homes in the 1960's, the Dragon Tree cleans the air and is especially adapt at filtering out xylene and trichloroethylene it also comes in four main varieties and cultivars.

Photo of three Dragon Tree plants, the standard Dracaena marginata, D. marginata tricolor, and D. marginata colorama

D. marginata

The original Dragon tree.The leaves have a narrow red purple like banding along the edges, with the central parts being a darker green (top left).

D. marginata 'tricolor'

Tricolor is the same as the original Marginata except it has three colours in its leaves. A band of yellow separates the light green from the edged red stripes, producing an overall greenish-gold effect (middle left).

D. marginata 'colorama'

This is the most modern cultivar, with the same growth pattern as the original (although perhaps a little slower) with the difference between the two being seen once more in the leaves. It mirrors the tricolor with the three colours except the red bands on the outside edges are much more prominent, creating an overall reddish or pinkish look (bottom left).

D. marginata 'tarzan'

Unlike the previous three, this easily stands out as quite different. While the leaves are the same colour as the basic Dracaena Marginata they are quite bit tougher and wider, laid out by the plant in an almost spiky ball shape (or perhaps they look like the end of a Dragon's tail) at the very top of each stem or cane. New leaves emerge pointing upwards, as they grow and are gradually replaced by newer leaves they start pointing sideways, before finishing off by pointing downwards. These downward facing leaves then yellow up and drop off, in this way the canes get longer and longer and the "balls" are able to "travel" (shown below).

A large Dracaena marginata 'tarzan'

Plant Care and the Secrets to Success

Light

Light shade is best. For example actually sitting on a North facing window ledge, close to an East / West facing window or some distance away from a South facing one. The leaves will scorch if too bright, and if too dark the replacement leaves will be very small and limp looking.

Watering

Keep soil moist at all times (never soggy). Cut back the watering in Winter but even then the soil shouldn't be allowed to dry out completely.

Humidity

Reasonable humidity is required. Often not achievable in the average home so consider misting the leaves from time to time especially if the air is quite dry.

Feeding

Regular feeding in Spring and Summer. Sparsely in Autumn / Fall. None in Winter.

Temperature

No lower than 10°C / 50°F. Ideal growth range is between 16°C - 24°C / 60°F - 75°F.

Repotting

You only need to repot when the roots are are very congested. The roots of a Madagascar Dragon Tree which has outgrown its potUnfortunately the Dragon Tree roots grows exceptionally fast so by this definition you may end up doing this twice a year! Instead we would advising being a little cruel and only repotting every two years.

On occasion you may find the large tap roots start to "coil" around and around the pot causing the root ball to rise up out of the container. If this happens conservatively cut back some of the large thick tap roots and reposition what's left to remove the "coil" effect.

Propagation

There are three main ways (excluding air layering which none of us have ever had success with), and typically you can do all three methods at once to create multiple plants. In time the canes will become leggy as the leaf area shifts higher and higher up the plant which means you can:

  • Remove the crown and pot it up in potting compost to start a new plant, use a rooting hormone and to increase your chances further, provide bottom heat.
    Tip
    - if you can't provide bottom heat, only attempt this in Summer and keep it warm.
  • Once the crown has been removed you can cut the remaining cane back to about half the original length (or more or less depending what you are trying to achieve visually). New growths should eventually form at the cut edge.
    Tip
    - because several new growths can form at the cut, you can create a multi caned plant. Look at the bottom two pictures in our gallery above right to see how this works.
  • Assuming you've done both things above, you will have a piece of cane left which can be cut into bits around 3 inches long and used to create a "Ti Tree". Allow to dry slightly before sticking straight up in potting compost or a small container filled with water. If planted in soil keep warm and moist. If trying to root in water, when a reasonable number of roots have appeared plant up in potting compost.
    Tip
    - the pieces need to face "up" in the direction they were growing when part of the parent plant so you may want to mark the cane before you get started.

Speed of Growth

Slow growing.

Height / Spread

This depends how tall your ceiling is! To be fair, while natively it could reach 3m / 10ft or more, indoors you will probably run out of large enough pots to allow the plant to reach that size, so expect it to only reach 2m / 6ft after many (many) years. No wider than 1m / 3ft.

Flowers

Flowers on the Dragon Tree are very rare and almost never seen on indoor plants.

Anything else?

If you have followed all the Dragon Tree propagation methods to increase your chances of getting at least one viable new plant, you could get lucky and end up with too many! Rather than throw them away, source a nice pot and give them away to friends and family.


Help! My Dragon Tree is Dying

Yellow lower leaves / leaf drop

The lower leaves of a Madagascar Dragon Tree yellow and fall off as they grow olderIf happening slowly this is not a sign your Dragon Tree is dying, in fact it's showing you are treating it well!

All Dracaenas are False Palms with a crown of leaves sitting at the top of their stems, new growth forms at the very tips of these stems, and the older leaves at the bottom of the crown will gradually yellow and fall. This happens quite often, but providing new leaves are forming too it's perfectly normal.

Leaves with brown spots

Underwatering. Try to keep the soil moist. If they are more "blotches" than spots it's caused by overwatering.

Leaves have brown tips and yellow edges

Usually caused by dry air or cold draughts.

New Dragon Tree leaves are very small / lack variegation

Almost certainly too little light. A Dragon Tree wont give any thanks if you treat it with poor light conditions.

Bleached dry leaves

Scorched leaves caused by too much light.

Mealybugs / Red Spider Mite

Mealybugs need to be treated with something like a cotton wool bud soaked in methylated spirit, gently rub over the insects with the soaked bud to remove. Red Spider Mite can be treated with an insecticide or if you'd prefer not to use chemicals you can consider increasing the humidity for a few weeks or so, i.e. by daily misting.

Soggy Cane / Stem

Far too much water over a prolonged period. If this happens then your Dragon Tree is probably already dead and cant be saved in its present form. If any parts of the stem feel firm, or the leaf crown is intact you could try and propagate.



Credit for Dracaena marginata 'Colorama' - Article - Sunshine Tropical
Credit for Dracaena Marginata flower - Gallery - Forest & Kim Starr
Credit for compact Madagascar Dragon Tree - Gallery - BotBin
Credit for compact Madagascar Dragon Tree Tarzan - Gallery - Piotrus


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