I generally find that houseplants are more trouble than they are worth. Constant maintenance like watering, feeding and checking for bugs is just too much work. But, I have found a family of houseplants that require little care – and that is the genus Dracaenae.

Background story

Dracaenae (usually Dracena in the United States) are native to Africa, with a few species from Asia and Australia. According to Marlie Graves writing for Plant Profiles, the name comes from Ancient Greek and means female dragon. There are around 110 species of Dracaena.

Growing requirements

Dracaena are not picky and can grow well in a number of indoor situations. They prefer bright indirect light. Since they are tropical, they do prefer good humidity and the soil should not be allowed to dry out. While they can be put outside in a shaded area in the summer, they do not tolerate temperatures below 50. Feed lightly during the growing season. Stop feeding during winter months for a period of dormancy.

Problems

The Dracaena is typically care-free, but, there are a few things to watch for. According to Jon VanZile, author of House Plants for a Healthy Home, the plants may get brown leaf tips caused by using fluoridated water. According to the American Society for the Prevention and Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), Dracaena is toxic to dogs and cats and ingestion may cause diarrhea and vomiting. They are not toxic for humans.

Cultivation/Propagation

There are two ways to propagate Dracaena plants. When the plant becomes too leggy or tall, you can take a top cutting by removing the leafy portion of the plant. Make the cut below the leaf line being sure to include several nodes. You can put the cutting in moist soil or in a vase of water. The stem that is left in the pot should sprout new growth.

The second way is to take stem cuttings. You should cut the stem sections so that they are about 8 inches long, remembering which end is up. You can get multiple cuttings from each stem. Place the cuttings in damp soil or water in a warm location with indirect light. Rooting hormone may be used.

Common varieties

Although there are over a hundred species in the genus Dracaena, there are a half dozen or so that are commonly used as house plants. Some of the most common are:

  • Corn plant (Dracaena fragans) – One of the most common cultivars, its name comes from the shape and coloring of the leaves which resemble corn (the edible type). Corn plants have thick canes and grow tall and narrow, so they don’t take up much room.
  • Lucky bamboo (Dracaena sanderiana) – Lucky bamboo is usually grown in containers of water. They are practically indestructible. They often exhibit intricate shapes which result from braiding the stalks or manipulating the light exposure. Bamboo is a misnomer as these plants are in the Dracaena family.
  • Warneckii (Dracaena warneckii) – This species comes in two different forms, both bushy and upright. According to Plant Care Today, the Warneckii is known for its stiff green leaves that are striped with white or gray. The upright form can grow up to 5 feet tall. The bush form grows shorter and the leaves are somewhat longer.
  • Janet Craig (Dracaena deremensis) – There are two varieties of Janet Craig Dracaena. The original grow to 4 feet high with dark green leaves measuring 3 inches wide and about 2 feet long. There is also a compact form (Dracaena deremensis ‘Janet Craig” compacta). This form is upright with shiny green leaves that are 2 to 4 inches long.
  • Lemon lime (Dracaena fragrans) – Related to the Warneckii and the Janet Craig Dracaenae, the lemon lime variety is one of the more colorful cultivars. It has the same long, sword-shaped leaves, but they are a bright green with yellow- or lime-colored stripes. They can reach 5 to 7feet indoors.
  • Dragon tree (Dracaena marginata) – This colorful species features narrow green sword-like leaves that are edged with red or pink. The marginata has slender stems that, like the Lucky Bamboo, can be braided to increase the interest. It can grow up to 20 feet tall.

Choices – and more choices

Dracaena is grown primarily for the upright, straplike foliage that is either green or variegated while bushy forms of younger plants suit mantels, tabletops, and desks.

Whichever variety of Dracaena you choose, you can’t go wrong. They are all easy to maintain and grow. And while they make great specimen plants, if you have the room, a grouping of one variety or a mix of several can make an interesting statement in your décor.

The Gardeners’ Dirt is written by members of the Victoria County Master Gardener Association, an educational outreach of Texas A&M AgriLife Extension – Victoria County. Mail your questions in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, TX 77901; or vcmga@vicad.com, or comment on this column at VictoriaAdvocate.com.

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