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Dracaena reflexa Lam. 1786
pronounced: dra-KEE-nuh re-FLEX-uh
(Asparagaceae – the asparagus family)
synonym: Pleomele reflexa (Lam.) N.E.Br. 1914
pronounced: plee-OH-muh-lee re-FLEX-uh
common name: Malaysian Dracaena, Pleomele
Dracæna is Latin for a she-dragon; reflexa is from reflexus, bent backwards. In the synonym, Pleomele is from the Greek πλειων (pleion), many, and μηλον (mélon), an apple, presumably referring to the fruits.
This is a tropical shrub or small tree native to Madagascar, Mauritius, and other nearby islands of the Indian Ocean. It is widely grown as an ornamental plant and houseplant, valued for its richly coloured leaves and thick irregular stems. In nature, it can reach up to 9 m in height, but in containers it seldom reaches more than 2 m. It is slow-growing and upright in habit, tending to an oval shape with a open crown. The cultivar ‘Song of Jamaica’ is variegated with off-white to yellow-beige coloured stripes, and ‘Song of India’ has a bright yellow variegation.
The lanceolate leaves are simple, spirally arranged, 5–20 cm long and 1.5–5 cm broad at the base, with a parallel venation and entire margin; they grow in tight whorls and, in the type species, are a uniform dark green. The flowers are small, clustered, and usually whitish in colour. Dracaena reflexa var. augustifolia differs in having a magenta tint to its flowers, a shrubby habit, and olive green leaves. The fruits are only about 1 cm in diameter, green then orange then red. In Madagascar, the fruits are important to the diet of the Malagasy Black-and-White Ruffed Lemur (Varecia variegata variegata). Here, judging by the rapidity with which the fruits disappear, I presume they are popular with the birds.
This is an attractive and useful plant, both in the landscape and the home. It can be enjoyed as a specimen plant, or pruned to create a border. As well as the cultivars mentioned above, there are several others, particularly variegated clones with cream and yellow-green margins. It performs well as a house plant, tolerating infrequent waterings. It prefers bright, filtered light, without direct sun exposure. Although it can survive in relatively low light levels, it will usually grow spindly if given insufficient light. The plant can be propagated from herbaceous stem cuttings.
Traditional medicine practitioners of Madagascar have long believed Dracaena reflexa to cure malarial symptoms, poisoning, dysentery, diarrhoea, and also to be useful as an antipyretic and haemostatic agent. The leaves and bark are mixed with parts of a number of other native plants and brewed into a herbal tea.
Information about medicinal qualities of plants, or about their use as medicines, is for interest only, and is not intended to be used as a guide for the treatment of medical conditions.
Photographs taken in Picnic Bay 2011, 2015
Page last updated 15th November 2016