Dragon Trees

Plants are full of surprises.  You never know what to expect and that’s why to dabble in the dirt is to be humble.  Even after years of planting, you are always a beginner in the garden.  Everything you do in the garden – your horticultural laboratory — is an experiment and you should not be afraid to fail.

Growing avocadoes in Temecula was a laughable proposition until one person was bold enough to try and now thousands of acres of so-called alligator pear trees are flourishing there.  Pistachio trees in the San Joqauin Valley?  “You must be crazy,” they said until one fearless farmer proved the doubters wrong and now 300,000 acres of pistachio trees are growing there.

Just the other day, smack dab in the middle of the San Fernando Valley in Sherman Oaks, I saw what I had always assumed was an in indoor plant growing robustly outdoors.  Not only was the plant standing in an unprotected location, with no overhanging trees to shelter it from nighttime frost in the winter and from scorching sun in the summer, but it was facing south, the hottest exposure a plant can face.

Madagascar dragon tree (Dracaena marginata)

The plant I am talking about is Madagascar dragon tree (Dracaena marginata) and the specimen under discussion was multi-trunked, five feet tall and five feet wide.  Dracaena is Greek for female dragon and marginata refers to the thin red line found on its leaf edges.  There are 300 species of dragon trees, native to African and South American tropical climes.

The botanist responsible for naming this genus Dracaena took his cue from the bright red resin — conjuring up supposed dragon’s blood — found in the sap of two species, one of which is Dracaena draco, native to the Canary Islands.  (The other Dracaenas, including marginata, do not have red sap.)

Dracaena draco, dubbed dragon’s blood tree, with its stout trunk and clusters of chalky blue leaves, is an unforgettable arboreal treasure occasionally seen in Los Angeles gardens.  It has an extremely slow growth rate but lives a long time.  A famous specimen on the island of Tenerife was estimated to be 6,000 years old when it fell over in a storm in 1868.

Hawaiian Ti plant (Cordyline fruticosa)

Hawaiian Ti plant (Cordyline fruticosa) is a dragon tree relative, both being members of the asparagus family.  Hawaiian Ti is also of tropical origins and definitely an outlier when it comes to plant selection for Valley gardens.  It is popularly used by Pacific Islanders for food and medicine.  I had never seen a Hawaiian Ti growing locally outdoors until sighting several of them in a front yard in North Hills.

The magenta foliage of Ti plant will remind you of the color seen in the foliage of bloodleaf (Iresine herbstii), a most worthwhile semi-succulent perennial that grows several feet tall and is easily propagatedfrom shoot tip cuttings.

Tip of the Week: Ronald Chong of Hacienda Heights inquired about remedies for a fungus outbreak on the foliage of his rose bush.  Due to the late rains, there has been more leaf fungus this spring – on roses and also on normally fungus free plants — than usual. With the trend away from toxic chemical control of insect pests and plant diseases, treatment formulas concocted from benign household products are on the rise.  One of these involves aspirin.  Mix two 325 mg uncoated aspirin in a quart of tap water (eight aspirin in a gallon) and apply using a hand held sprayer.  Make sure to spray both sides of the leaves.

Another fungicide formula includes one tablespoon of baking soda, one tablespoon of vegetable oil, and one tablespoon of dish soap mixed into one gallon of water.  Apply in the same manner described for the aspirin treatment.

With any plant, regardless of what you are spraying, always treat just a few leaves and wait 24 hours to see the results before spraying the entire plant.  You want to make sure that the plant being sprayed is tolerant of the prescribed treatment.

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