Family : Asparagaceae
Text © Pietro Puccio
English translation by Mario Beltramini
The Dracaena draco (L.) L. (1767) is native to the Açores, Cape Verde, Canary Islands, Madeira and Morocco where it lives in the dry forests on rocky soils at low altitudes.
The generic name is the Greek substantive “δράκαινα” (drakàina) that is the feminin of dragon; the specific name is the Greek substantive “δράκων” (drakon) = dragon.
Common names: Canary Island dragon tree, dragon’s blood tree, dragon tree (English); long xue shu (Chinese); dragonnier, dragonnier commun, dragonnier des Canaries, dragonnier des îles Canaries (French); albero del drago (Italian); árvore do dragâo, dragão das Canárias, dragoeiro, sangre-de-dragão (Portuguese); drácena de las islas macaronésicas, drago, drago de Canarias, sangre de drago (Spanish); Kanarischer Drachenbaum, Drachenbaum (German).
Evergreen species with shrubby habit of slow growth up to about 12 m tall – even if in nature do exist rare specimens having a major height – with robust cylindrical greyish stem that ramifies by dichotomy (partition of the apex into two branches that, at their time, split repeatedly) after the blooming.
It presents on the apexes of the branches dense rosettes of lanceolate leaves with pointed apex and entire margin, of greyish-green colour, orange at the base, coriaceous, up to 60 cm long and about 4 cm broad, forming an umbrella-shaped canopy.
The inflorescences are showy terminal panicles bearing white-greenish fragrant flowers, with 6 tepals, 8-10 mm long, and 6 stamens arranged in two verticils.
The fruits are globose berries of red-orange colour, of the diameter of about 15 mm, containing one-two globose seeds of 6-8 mm of diameter. The first blooming occurs around the tenth year of age, but in some cases it may be considerably delayed, the further ones follow in 10-20 years intervals. From the stem and the notched leaves gets out a resin that when drying in contact with the air assumes a dark red colour, known as “Dragon’s blood”.
It usually propagates by seed, previously scarified in order to speed up the germinative process, placed just under the surface in draining sandy loam maintained moderately humid at the temperature of 22-24 °C; the seed needs light for germinating, therefore the sowing vessel is to be placed in a particularly luminous location.
The germination times are fairly variable, from one to three, or even more, months. It can reproduce, even if with a certain difficulty, by air layering or apical cutting in summer.
Species of great effect when adult as isolated specimen, cultivable in the subtropical and temperate warm climate zones in full sun and in draining soils, fearing stagnant waters; it may stand long drought periods and, when adult, temperatures up to -4/-5 °C for a very short period.
It can be cultivated in pot for rather long time, seen the slow growth, in luminous place, caring particularly the drainage of the soil, with regular waterings from spring to autumn, spaced in winter, and monthly fertilizations utilizing a hydrosoluble balanced product.
Sacred plant for the natives of the Canary Islands, the Guanches, due to the particular characteristics of its resin that was used for embalming the dead, has been since the remote times, also outside the origin places, at the centre of legends where they were attributed magic and curative properties.
Moreover, the resin has been amply employed for long time for the production of dyes and still now is utilized in the varnishes of violins and of quality furniture. Laboratory studies have evidenced in various parts of the plant the presence of numerous bioactive compounds of possible interest for the official pharmacopoeia.
Because of the reduced number of individuals extant in nature, the species has been inserted in the red list of the IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature) as “vulnerable” (species under extinction risk in the wild).
Synonyms: Asparagus draco L. (1762); Draco arbor Garsault (1764); Draco clusii Crantz (1768); Draco dragonalis Crantz (1768); Oedera dragonalis Crantz (1768); Palma draco (L.) Mill. (1768); Stoerkia draco (L.) Crantz (1768); Oedera cranziana Berens (1770); Stoerkia cranziana Berens (1770); Dracaena yucciformis Vand. (1771); Dracaena draco var. strictifolia Hayne (1796); Dracaena draco var. laxifolia Hayne (1809); Dracaena draco var. pendulifolia Hayne (1809); Dracaena draco var. strictifolia Hayne (1809); Dracaena draco var. angustifolia Schult. (1829); Dracaena boerhaavei Ten. (1832); Drakaina draco (L.) Raf. (1838); Yucca draco (L.) Carrière (1859); Draco draco (L.) Linding. (1926).
The photographic file of Giuseppe Mazza