Plant of the Week
Latin: Dracaena Marginata
One of the most dramatic houseplants is the red-edged dracaena, or as it is sometimes
called, the Madagascar dragon tree.
This striking plant has a bold and architectural outline that looks at home in an modern museum of art or anyplace there is a blank wall against which it can be displayed. Not only does it have a unique form, but it’s also easy to grow and tolerates interior conditions without flinching.
The red-edged dracaena, a member of the century plant family, is from the tropical island nation of Madagascar off of the east coast of Africa. It has only been cultivated in this country since the 1930s but it was grown in European greenhouses during the Victorian era. It has gray, rope-like stems that can grow to 8 feet tall with each stem having a topknot of linear leaves 12 inches long. The leaves are green with a red margin. The plant can be quite long lived in the home and becomes more picturesque with age as the stems take on unique character.
Dracaenas hold a bit part in the annals of Cold War craziness. In 1966, a New York polygraph expert, Clive Backster, attached his polygraph leads to a dracaena in his office and elicited a fright response when he had bad thoughts towards the plants. In 1970, Russian scientists reported results of experiments that identified an electrical field surrounding plants. In later work, they went on to claim that people could communicate with plants telepathically and proposed that, in the event of radio failure, Russian cosmonauts might be able to communicate with plants back on earth. It was never explained how they would teach the plants to understand Russian or how the squeals their electronic equipment generated when attached to the plants could be converted into the spoken word.
This spurred a series of bizarre experiments around the world. One reported study "demonstrated" that plants, when allowed to observe a mutilation of one of their own kind, had memory and could identify a "plant murderer" when he entered a room but would show no response to innocent parties. Another study found that vegetables showed a fear response and "fainted" just before being dropped in boiling water. Obviously, just as many humans have a an instinctive fear of snakes, vegetables must have an instinctive fear of boiling water! All of this polygraph testing was put to rest when British researchers demonstrated that the same kinds of polygraph readings could be elicited when a wet rag was substituted for a plant. Alas, the testers were causing the response, not the plants.
Red-edged dracaenas tolerate interior conditions well. They are usually best kept in a smallish container and somewhat on the dry side. Temperatures should be kept above 45 degrees Fahrenheit. Plants tolerate low light, down to as low as 30 foot candles, making them ideal for those dark corners away from the windows.
In the summer, the plants can be moved outdoors and allowed to make some good growth. Fertilize monthly with a houseplant fertilizer when growing conditions are good. Mealybugs are the only serious pest on the plant.
By: Gerald Klingaman, retired
Extension Horticulturist - Ornamentals
Extension News - January 7, 2000
The University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture does not maintain lists of retail outlets where these plants can be purchased. Please check your local nursery or other retail outlets to ask about the availability of these plants for your growing area.