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Dracaena draco (L.) L. 1767
(Asparagaceae – the asparagus family)
synonym: Asparagus draco L. 1762
pronounced: as-PAH-ruh-guss DRAK-oh
common name: Dragon’s Blood Tree
Dracæna is Latin for a female dragon, and draco for a male dragon. The red resin from the plant was known as Dragon’s Blood, and used in medicine and alchemy, for embalming, and as a constituent of the varnish used on violins.
This is a native of Macaronesia (the Canary Islands, Cape Verde, Madeira and Porto Santo) and now endangered in its native habitat, but is not actually a tree, being a monocotyledon: there are no growth rings with which to estimate the age of the plant. The age can be roughly estimated by the amount of branching. When it is young it has a single stem, which stops growing at the age of 10-15 years and produces a large branching flower spike with pinkish white or greenish white lily-like perfumed flowers, followed by orange-red berries, each containing a whitish seed. A crown of terminal buds appears, and the plant starts branching. Each branch repeats the growth pattern of the original stem, so a mature plant often has an umbrella-like appearance. The plant pictured, in a Picnic Bay garden, looks to have started life as a clump of several plants in a single pot.
There are records of very ancient specimens of this plant, and many appear to be 400 or so years old. The one known as El Drago Milenario (the thousand-year-old dragon), growing at Icod de los Vinos in north-west Tenerife, is reckoned to be the largest and the oldest living plant of the species, but it is unlikely to be as old as its name suggests. There was another specimen, also on Tenerife, observed by Humboldt in 1799, that was worshipped by the aboriginal inhabitants, who had hollowed out its trunk to make a small sanctuary. It was 21 m tall and 14 m in circumference, and was reckoned to be 6,000 years old. It was destroyed by a storm in 1868.
Some Dragon’s Blood Trees never flower, and therefore never branch, producing bizarre skyrocket-like forms – there are some such in the Garrison Library Gardens in Gibraltar.
Dracaena draco is widely used as an ornamental in parks and gardens, and in environmentally-friendly gardens where it is desired to use as little water as possible. It is a very hardy plant, so long as it has well-drained soil, warmth and full sun. It would fit very well in Jurassic Park; its very distinctive flat-topped and regularly arranged swollen branches make it strikingly different from other plants, and I’m sure the dinosaurs would feel at home among a forest of them.
Photograph taken in Picnic Bay 2012, 2014
Page last updated 15th November 2016