On the island of Tenerife there sits a tree by the name of El Drago Milenario which, according to legend, is a thousand years old.
And while we acknowledge there’s debate about the veracity of that number, there’s no denying that this is a truly ancient tree.
Weighing in around 150 tons, soaring to a height of nearly 21 metres, and boasting over 300 branches, this is a formidable tree. It’s so big that a special ventilation chamber was installed inside to keep air flowing to the centre and to prevent fungal growth.
Truly, an inspirational plant.
That’s great, but what does it have to do with houseplants?
El Drago Milenario is a Dracaena draco, a species in the genus Dracaena, in which you’ll find many distinctive and characteristic plants and trees well-suited to growing in the UK, despite their exotic appearance.
With several centuries and several hundred tons under its belt, El Drago Milenario could be considered the patriarch of the genus Dracaena. And while no plant you grow will likely ever reach a similar size or age, you can incorporate the family’s striking aesthetic into your home or garden.
The best Dracaena ‘dragon plants’ for UK gardeners
As a gardener looking for a plant to grow, it’s unlikely that you have time to sift through this many candidates to find the right one for you. Instead, you probably want to quickly skim a shortlist of viable contenders, with gentle guidance on the one that will best suit your needs.
If this sounds like what you’re looking for, then you’re in luck.
We’ve rounded up nine of the best Dracaena ‘dragon plants’ for UK gardeners.
How we chose the best
First up, a little information about how we chose the best. We don’t want to give the impression that we read a few articles and picked a few plants that looked good.
Oh no. Instead, we reviewed which Dracaena plants have been awarded the RHS Award of Garden Merit. This prestigious award is given to plants with demonstrably suitable characteristics for growth in the UK.
After a trial growth period at Wisley (one of the RHS’ gardens), plants are evaluated by a committee of expert gardeners. They discuss the plant’s qualities and, providing consensus, decide to award the AGM.
Here are the criteria a plant must meet to be eligible –
- Excellent for ordinary use in appropriate conditions (in British gardens)
- Readily available
- Of good constitution
- Essentially stable in form and colour
- Reasonably resistant to pests and diseases
As you can see, this list takes into account aesthetic considerations as well as practical ones. So you can rest assured that any plant with the Award of Garden Merit will be attractive and well suited to growing in your garden.
With that in mind, here are the best (in no particular order) –
Dracaena fragrans ‘Massangeana’
This variety boasts variegated leaves blending rich green and white, in the distinct shape of swords. Though this plant does not flower often, you may catch a glimpse of a distinctive yellow bloom followed by orange berries.
Massangeana is a popular houseplant, thanks to its size, but will grow to heights of around 4m if grown outside. It’s worth noting at this point that the enormous stature of El Drago Milenario is far from typical of plants in this genus!
This variety also exemplifies the exotic confidence that Dracaena plants will bring to any space. Their thick brown stems and bold leaves have the visual clout to act as a centrepiece just as much as an accent.
For best results outdoors, grow somewhere in full sun, with any aspect except north-facing. Keep sheltered from the worst of the elements, and bring indoors during cold spells.
Dracaena fragrans ‘Lemon Lime’
Here we have another houseplant-sized Dracaena, this time sporting slightly lighter green in its still-variegated leaves. It’s from the dazzlingly bright leaves that the plant takes its name, incidentally – they bring to mind citrus.
As with Massangeana, Lemon Lime can be kept at a diminutive size with regular pruning, making it suitable for smaller containers. Left to grow, it will reach heights of around 1.5 metres.
For best results, keep your Lemon Lime in a spot with medium sun. Common to Dracaena, Lemon Lime is prone to scorching or browning if it receives too much or too little sun, respectively.
Dracaena surculosa ‘Florida Beauty’
Where Massangeana and Lemon Lime have variegated stripes of green and white, the Florida Beauty has captivating white mottling on its matte-green leaves. When choosing a houseplant for its visual appeal, you can’t go far wrong with this variety: It will complement other plants around it whilst standing out from the crowd thanks to its distinctive aesthetic.
The leaves of this Dracaena unfurl from stems that are somewhat different to other plants in this genus, giving it another point of interest compared to its cousins.
Like Lemon Line, this plant will do well in a spot with some sunlight. Avoid drafts and constant sun to prevent damage, and make sure to keep the soil well watered to promote healthy growth.
Dracaena draco ‘Dragon tree’
Harking back to El Drago Milenario at the start of this piece, let us now introduce Dracaena draco. This tall tree with spiky green foliage atop an unbranched trunk is distinctly exotic. And on average, it grows to around 4-8 metres: Far more manageable than the gargantuan Milenario.
You’ll notice that the dracos above sit comfortably in pots. While their maximum likely height is several meters, it will take your plant a few years – maybe even a decade – to get to that point, meaning you can keep it inside for the interim.
Keep your draco in bright but indirect light, and water when you’re sure the soil is nearly dry, and this plant will reward you with a very pleasing aesthetic. There’s good reason that the dragon tree is a common and popular houseplant, after all!
Dracaena marginata ‘Madagascar dragon tree’
This member of the Dracaena genus brings another visual quirk to distinguish it from the variously mottled or variegated leaves we’ve seen so far. With this plant, you’ll notice streaks of red running up either side of each leaf. Thanks to its resilience (“nearly indestructible”, as one gardening magazine describes it), this plant is highly recommended for people new to keeping houseplants.
If you keep this plant in full sun or partial shade, and keep it watered regularly, you’ll be rewarded with resilient growth and an attractive plant.
Dracaena reflexa ‘Variegata’
This plant also goes by the name ‘variegated song of India’, which we think is wonderfully evocative, and goes some way toward capturing the exoticism that plants in the Dracaena genus encapsulate.
Part of the appeal of having house plants is that they provide a visual element that’s so frequently missing from interior design. That organic, alive something that a space can feel so empty without.
By integrating plants like the variegated song of India, you bring a little of this life and vitality into your home. The green leaves framed by thick shocks of white invite the eye and, while we may be pushing the analogy a little bit here, bring to mind distant landscapes and cultures.
What better way to liven up your living room!
Dracaena fragrans ‘Warneckei’
Another white and green variegated variety, the Warneckei has an almost modern aesthetic thanks to its bold lines and striking, dark coloration. As a centrepiece in a room with a modern design element, this houseplant would look fantastic.
If you decide the Warneckei is right for you, you’ll want to grow in indirect but bright sunlight – much like the other Draceana plants in this list. Check that the top layer of soil is dry before watering, too, as over-watering is likely to cause root rot: A malady that’s hard to come back from!
Dracaena marginata ‘Tricolor’
The name ‘tricolor’ hints at a certain property of this plant. Can you guess what it is..?
If you guessed “it has three colours,” then give yourself a point. This variety combines the red, white, and green we’ve seen variously distributed across other varieties in the list. And wow, doesn’t it look stunning?
For a houseplant that truly catches the eye and draws attention, look no further than Dracaena tricolor. Contrasting the vibrant reds of this variety with the assorted greens in the usual houseplant palette is a way to bring another exotic flavour to your indoor space, and another demonstration of the versatility and visual excellence of the Dracaena family.
Dracaena marginata ‘Variegata’ – the variegated Madagascar dragon tree
Last but by no means least is the variegated Madagascar dragon tree – a variety renowned for being one of the easiest houseplants to care for. By now you’re probably fairly familiar with the overarching aesthetic properties of Dracaena plants: Green with a little bit of white or red thrown in, variegated stripes, and very spiky.
And you’ll be pleased to know that the Variagata ticks all three boxes!
While the eventual height of this variety can be a little higher than is ideal for a houseplant (about 2.5m), it’ll take at least a few years for the plant to get there. This means that for a good few years at least, it’ll make a fine addition to your home.
Enter the dragons
We hope that our list has inspired you to incorporate a Dracaena ‘dragon plant’ into your interior design plans. These plants are visually captivating, generally fairly easy to look after, and undeniably exotic, making them a great way to bring a little je ne sais quoi into your space.
One of our favourite things when choosing houseplants is exploring the subtle variety available between members of the same plant family. Having a few dragon plants in your home will keep a consistent visual theme running through the space, while allowing you to play with colour, size, and even leaf patterns. Done well, this is an intriguing and alluring way to retain visual interest within and between rooms.
We wish you the best in finding the right dragon plant for your needs, and we’d love to see what you come up with!