Excerpts from Jim Conrad's
Naturalist Newsletter

Madagascar Dragon Tree, DRACAENA MARGINATA

from the November 15, 2015 Newsletter issued from Hacienda Chichen Resort beside Chichén Itzá Ruins, central Yucatán, MÉXICO

At a hotel across the road from the Hacienda, at Villas Arqueológicas, I've never been quite sure about the multi-trunked, 15-ft-high (4.5m) tree shown above.

A look at a single tuft of blades at a stem tip is provided below:

Madagascar Dragon Tree, DRACAENA MARGINATA, tuft of blades

Madagascar Dragon Tree, DRACAENA MARGINATA, leaf scars on stemIt's not a palm because its leaves are sword-shaped, not fan- or feather-like. Its leaves gathered in tufts at the end of long, naked branches suggest a yucca, but I've been watching this plant and others like it for years and have never seen white flames of yucca flowers igniting from the stems. The leaves don't have wiry filaments curling from their margins like some yuccas, and they seem softer than normal yucca blades. Also, the stem is unlike any yucca stem I recall. At the right there's a close-up showing its broad, shallowly U-shaped petiole scars.

Finally, a Google image-search on yucca species turns up nothing looking like this.

Therefore, I began checking closely related genera -- genera in the same family as yuccas -- and quickly was drawn to the genera Dracaena and Cordyline. We've looked at a pretty, tree-like Cordyline at the Hacienda, the Ti Plant, shown at http://www.backyardnature.net/yucatan/ti-plant.htm.

That species has much broader leaves that aren't tufted, so it's not that.

After doing image searches on tree-like species of both Dracaena and Cordyline, finally something turned up looking exactly like our plant, though most photos showed smallish plants in pots up North, not leggy, 15ft-tall, clumping ones like ours. Judging from pictures on the internet, it's unusual to see such large members of the species as this one.

It's DRACAENA MARGINATA, sometimes known as the Madagascar Dragon Tree. Madagascar, because originally it's from that big island off the African coast in the Indian Ocean, and Dragon Tree because a more famous species in the same genus exudes red sap when injured, and some dreamy botanist someplace once thought to associate the red sap with blood that sprang from the dragon slew by Hercules. Sap of our Dracaena marginata, however, isn't red, so the Dragon part of the name is a bit silly, but the species seems to be stuck with it.

Madagascar Dragon Trees are favorites for malls up north. Maroon color, multicolor and rainbow varieties have been developed. In general, Dracaena species need heat, and many species are very drought tolerant. They produce flowers but this species' are small, and I guess I've just missed them.