Dracaena Marginata or the Madagascar Dragon Tree is just one of many houseplants belonging to the Dracaena Group. The common name is a combination of its 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.
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).
Light shade is best for your Dragon Tree plant. 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 it's too bright, and if too dark the replacement leaves will be very small and limp looking.
Keep the 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.
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, plus the misting will help remove any dust settling on the leaves.
Regular feeding in Spring and Summer. Sparsely in Autumn / Fall. None in Winter.
No lower than 10°C / 50°F. Ideal growth range is between 16°C - 24°C / 60°F - 75°F.
You only need to repot when the roots are are very congested and the plant is obviously suffering as a consequence. Unfortunately 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 making things very unstable. If this happens conservatively cut back some of the large thick tap roots and reposition what's left to remove the "coil" effect.
There are three main ways to propagate an older Dragon Tree (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 of your plant will become leggy as the leaf area shifts higher and higher up the plant which means you can:
Speed of Growth
Dragon Trees are quite slow growing compared to other houseplants, however in Spring and early Summer they will have fast spurts of growth.
Height / Spread
This depends how tall your ceiling is! To be fair, while natively they can 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 your plant to only reach 2m / 6ft after many (many) years. No wider than 1m / 3ft.
Flowers on the Dragon Tree are very rare and almost never seen on indoor plants.
Are Dragon Trees Poisonous?
The sap found within the leaves and stems do have small levels of a toxic substance that, while unlikely to be fatal, can cause irritation in people and pets when ingested.
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. Having the opposite problem and finding it difficult to actually find a place selling Dragon Tree's? You could always try Amazon or have a read of our where to buy houseplants article for more inspiration.
Yellow lower leaves / leaf drop
If happening slowly this isn't a sign your Dragon Tree is dying, in fact it's showing you're 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 can't 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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