Dracaena (Common names are applied to each species)
These popular evergreen foliage plants are found growing at home in tropical countries such as Africa, Madagascar, Upper Guinea and the Canary Islands. The plants genus name, Dracaena, is derived from the Greek word drakaina which means a 'dragon' and alludes to the sap or juice of the stems of Dracaena draco, which was said to resemble dragon's blood. There is also mention that the plant may have been named after Sir Francis Drake.
Generally speaking, they are single stemmed, tree-like foliage plants with mostly narrow, sword-like leaves, green in color, or green with variously colored longitudinal stripes on each leaf. Young dracaena plants naturally have leaves located at the base of the plant, but as the plants mature, they lose their bottom leaves, thus giving the plant a palm-like appearance. It is for this reason they are often called 'False Palms'. Dracaenas rarely flower when they are grown as houseplants, but they do produce red, yellowish or greenish flowers in clusters or panicles when they do flower. Dracaena fragrans and Dracaena goldiana both have very fragrant flowers. These tropical plants can only be grown out of doors in very warm climates (zones 10, 11 etc.)
One commonly grown species of Dracaena which is distinctly different from all the others is D. godseffiana (= D. surculosa) (Gold-dust Dracaena). The species name surculosa means suckering. The plant does not have the long, narrow leaves growing at the top of the stem like that of a palm tree, but rather, a shrubby bush form with wiry stems, smallish 4 - 5 inch long, oval shaped, variegated leaves, irregularly spotted with creamy yellow. These slow growing plants seldom reach 3 feet high at maturity. If the plant blooms, the greenish-yellow fragrant flowers are followed by attractive red berries. Popular cultivars of Dracaena godseffiana include: D.g. 'Kelleri' - spotted creamy leaves; D.g. 'Florida Beauty' - leaves have more cream coloring than green, and D.g. 'Juanita'.Perhaps the most popular houseplants grown today are the cultivars of Dracaena deremensis (meaning - of Derema,
Tanzania). The species has solid green leaves and is not commonly grown. It flowers in panicles, each flower dark red outside, white inside. The plants vary in height, but usually average 3 to 4 feet. Dracaena deremensis 'Janet Craig' has 2 - 3 inch wide, shiny, dark green, strap-like leaves averaging 18 - 24 inches long. D.d. 'Warneckii' has 8 - 12 inch long green leaves with white longitudinal bands near the edge of the leaves. D.d. 'Lemon Lime' is similar to 'Warneckii', but has lime green stripes instead of white. D.d. 'Bausei' - two broad white bands running down the center of the green leaves. D.d. 'Rhoersii' - two thin white lines near the center of the leaf, pale green center, dark green edges. D.d. 'Jumbo' is a more compact form of 'Warneckii'. D.d. 'Yellow Stripe' - solid yellow leaf margins. D.d. 'White Stripe' - solid white leaf margins. D.d. 'Compacta' - a variety of 'Janet Craig' that somewhat resembles a bird nest-like plant, small leaves, approximately 1 foot tall. Other cultivars of Dracaena deremensis include: 'Calypso', 'Compacta Variegata', 'Gold Star', 'Green Stripe', 'Lisa', 'Michiko', 'Sandra Mastella', 'Warneckii Compacta', and 'Yellow Edge'.
Another popular species is Dracaena marginata (referring to the margined leaves) with common names of 'Madagascar Dragon Tree' or 'Red-edge Dracaena'. The plant has a slender trunk with 2 foot long narrow, arching, flat leaves that taper to a point. The predominant green leaves have a red-purple stripe running along the outer edge of the leaf. This dracaena truly resembles a palm tree as its bottom leaves mature and drop, leaving a tuff of green atop the slender stems. The plant can reach a height of 12 feet. Cultivars of Dracaena marginata include: D.m. 'Tricolor' - red leaf edges with white or yellowish stripes running along the green center, giving the plant an overall greenish-gold color; D.m. 'Colorama' - the red stripes on the leaf edges are much wider than those of 'Tricolor', giving the plant a distinct reddish color; others include: D.m. 'Santa Rosa'; D.m. 'Character'; D.m. 'Magenta' and D.m. 'Exotica'.
Another popular species is Dracaena fragrans (Fragrant Dracaena). The species name fragrans refers to the clusters of small, yellow, fragrant flowers. The leaves are solid green in color, graceful, 2 inches wide, 2 feet long, and resemble the leaves of a corn plant. 'Corn Plant' is the common name given to Dracaena fragrans 'Massangeana' (also named 'Massange's Dracaena, after M. de Massange). The dark green, 18 - 30 inch long, 2 - 3 inch wide, broad, recurved leaves have a very noticeable corn colored yellow stripe running down the center of each leaf. The plant averages 6 feet in height. Other cultivars of D. fragrans include: D.f. 'Lindenii' - green centered leaves with creamy-white leaf margins; D.f. 'Rothiana' - thick, leathery, 3 inch wide, 28 to 32 inch long, dark green leaves with a white margin; D.f. 'Victoria' - gold or yellow marginal stripes; D.f. 'Hawaiian Gold'; D.f. 'Character';and D.f. 'Trident'.
'Dragon Tree' is the common name for Dracaena draco. The species name draco means 'a dragon' and refers to the resin (dragon's blood) which exudes from the trunk. The silvery-green leaves which grow in a crowded rosette average 1 ½ to 2 feet long, 1 ½ inches wide, are sword-shaped, and red-edged if the plant is given enough light. It is hard to give an average houseplant height to a plant that will reach 60 feet high in its natural surroundings, but a 4 foot plant is a fairly common size.
For those with small living quarters, Dracaena sanderiana (Sander's dracaena or Ribbon plant) is a good choice. The species is named after Henry Sander, founder of Sander's Nursery. The soft, lax leaves average 7 - 10 inches long, 1 inch wide and are grey-green in color with broad white edges. The plant ranges from 2 - 5 feet in height, but its narrow leaves make it useful in small places. Dracaena sanderiana 'Borinquensis' has a broad white stripe running down the center of each leaf, flanked by a pair of narrow white stripes and green leaf edges.
Dracaena reflexa (formerly Pleomele reflexa) gets its species name from the reflexed flowers (inflorescence), meaning they are turned or bent backwards. The plant has weak stems and often requires a rigid support to keep it from sprawling. If warm temperatures and very moist, humid air can not be provided, the plant will drop its leaves and stop growing. The species is seldom found, but Dracaena reflexa 'Variegata' (known as 'Song of India') is fairly common. It has 6 inch long, yellow edged leaves, and can reach a height of 10 feet. It is not an easy plant to grow, and over-watering will cause the leaves to turn yellow and eventually drop. D. r. 'Angustifolia Honoriae' is another cultivar.
Dracaena goldieana (named after the Rev. Hugh Goldie, an American missionary in West Africa in the 19th century) has large, 10 inch long, light green leaves that are banded and marbled with dark green and silver-grey coloring. Dracaena hookeriana (named after Hooker), forms a trunk and has narrow green leaves that average 24 - 30 inches long. Both D.h. 'Latifolia' and D.h. 'Variegata' have variegated leaves.
One other commonly grown houseplant that is often called a dracaena, but is NOT, is Cordyline terminalis. The plant is often sold under the names Dracaena terminalis or Cordyline fruticosa. The plant has many common names including Ti plant, Polynesian Ti, Goodluck Plant and Red Dracaena. The genus name Cordyline is from the Greek word kordyle (a club) and refers to the large, fleshy roots of some species. The species name terminalis means 'terminal' and refers to the inflorescence (flowers). Cordyline also belongs to the Agavaceae family. There are two easy ways to differentiate between the genera, and that is by examining the roots and leaves of the plant. The genus Dracaena has smooth-surfaced, orange or deep yellow colored rootstocks (inner tissue) that do not creep, whereas, the genus Cordyline has knobbly, white colored, creeping rootstocks. Plants in the genus Cordyline have leaf petioles (stalks on the leaf that joins the leaf to the stem), like the leaves of an African violet, whereas, the leaves of plants in the Dracaena genus do not have leaf petioles - like a spider plant leaf, for example.
Cordyline terminalis (Ti Plant) has 1 foot long, plain green leaves. It is the leaves of this plant that are used in making the famous 'hula skirts' in Hawaii. The plant often grows 6 to 8 feet tall. There are many cultivars of C. terminalis, which have very brightly colored leaves. Popular ones include: C.t. 'Firebrand' - bronzy colored; C.t. 'Amabilis' - green, rose and white; C.t. 'Prince Albert' - green and red; C.t. 'Baptistii' - striped with green, yellow and pink; C.t 'Red-edge' - green leaves streaked with red; C.t. 'Tricolor' - 1 foot long leaves blotched with cream, pink and red; C.t. 'Kiwi' - stripes of light green, dark green, cream and pink; C.t. 'Bicolor' - pink and green leaves. Others: 'Baby Doll', 'Baby Pink', 'Bangkok Gold', 'Black Magic', 'Bolero', 'Bronze', 'Calypso Queen', 'Cameroon', 'Eugene Andre', 'Global', 'Kilimanjaro', 'Nagi', 'Purple', 'Red', 'Red Emerald', 'Red Sister', 'Red Star', 'Rojo' (red), 'Rosebud', 'Schubertii', 'Tango', 'Tequesta', 'Tiffany', 'White Baby Doll' and 'Xerox'.
Other species of Cordyline are C.stricta (also called C. congesta) - a slender stemmed plant with narrow (1- 1 ½ in. wide) green leaves, averaging 16 - 30 inches in length - the plant often producing panicles of light blue flowers. Mature plants can reach 10 feet in height. C. australis (Grass Palm, Cabbage Plant) - green, narrow, arching leaves, 1 ¼ inches wide, 20 - 30 inches long, grow in a rosette about the trunk of the plant. C. australis 'Veitchii' - both the leaf base and mid-rib of each leaf is bright red. C. indivisa - 2 - 4 inch wide, 4 foot long, thick, leathery leaves with orange colored veins and mid-rid, and C. indivisa 'Cuprea' which has coppery-red leaves.