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biodiversity explorer

the web of life in southern Africa

Genus: Dracaena

Life > eukaryotes > Archaeoplastida > Chloroplastida > Charophyta > Streptophytina > Plantae (land plants) > Tracheophyta (vascular plants) > Euphyllophyta > Lignophyta (woody plants) > Spermatophyta (seed plants) > Angiospermae (flowering plants) > Monocotyledons > Order: Asparagales > Family: Asparagaceae

About 60 species (warmer regions of the world), with five species native to southern Africa and a further three species that are cultivated in the region. Previously placed in the family Dracaenaceae, then the Ruscaceae, neither of which is now recognised.

Species native to southern Africa

List from Plants of Southern Africa - an Online Checklist (SANBI), and Palgrave & Palgrave (2002).

Dracaena aletriformis (Large-leaved dragon-tree)

A shrub or small tree usually with a main stem topped by a rosette of elongate (usually 60-100 cm long) leaves. Grows in the shady understorey of forests in South Africa and Swaziland, its distribution extending from the Eastern Cape to Limpopo.

Dracaena fragrans (Cornstalk dracaena)

A shrub or tree growing in the understorey of forests in tropical Africa. In southern Africa it has been recorded from eastern Zimbabwe and Mozambique. Widely cultivated as a garden and indoor plant with certain varieties having yellow and green variegated leaves.

Dracaena mannii (Small-leaved dragon-tree)

A many-branch tree with branches terminating in rosettes of relatively short (up to 40 cm) and narrow (up to 2 cm) leaves. Distribution in southern Africa is limited to Kosi Bay area in South Africa, Mozambique and eastern Zimbabwe. It is widely distributed in tropical Africa and in these regions is used extensively for various medicines and has other uses such as for dyes, soaps, and is planted as a hedge.

Dracaena steudneri (Northern large-leaved dragon-tree)

A tree that grows in the understorey and on the margin of evergreen forests in eastern and central Africa, extending as far south as eastern Zimbabwe, and Mozambique.

Dracaena transvaalensis (Wolkberg dragon-tree)

A shrub or small tree with a main stem terminating in a rosette of elongate erect leaves, 30-50 cm long. For a Dracaena it is unusual in growing in a fairly arid, open habitat, with its distribution limited to the dry bushveld escarpment of northern Mpumalanga and southern Limpopo provinces in South Africa.


Other species, cultivated in southern Africa

List from Glen (2002).

Dracaena draco (Dragon tree)

Native to the Canary Islands, Cape Verde, Madeira, Azores, and western Morocco. See Wikipedia.


Dracaena reflexa (Pleomele dracaena)

Native to Madagascar. Note that Dracaena reflexa var. nitens has been synonymised with Dracaena mannii. See Wikipedia.


Dracaena surculosa

Native to tropical Africa.


Ecological interactions


  • Dracaena plants are often grown in garden because of their interesting form but their cultivation is limited by the fact that they are evidently not frost-hardy.

  • Some species of Dracaena produce yield a red sap ('dragon's blood') that is used for medicinal purposes.



  • Palgrave, K.C. and Palgrave, M.C. 2002. Trees of Southern Africa. 3rd Edition. Struik Publishers, Cape Town.