Friday, June 17, 2011

Dracaena Reflexa

It’s no secret that Dracaenas are one of my favourite plant groups. How can they not be? They are versatile, tolerant and fairly undemanding. Nearly all of them handle poor growing conditions very well, and look good in spite of it. And in addition to their carefree nature, this extremely popular bunch is made up of very attractive and distinct members, each unique in its own way. Exotic-looking with spiky, striped, solid or variegated leaves, and resembling palm trees, corn plants and grass, there is a Dracaena for every plant lover looking for something interesting to grow.

I don’t actually have a favourite; I like almost all of them. But if I had to list five Dracaenas that I really, really like, I would include: Dracaena deremensis 'Lemon-Lime', Dracaena fragrans 'Massangeana', Dracaena marginata Tricolor, Dracaena reflexa ‘Song of India’ and Dracaena deremensis 'Warneckei. And out of these five I’d pick the Dracaena reflexa ‘Song of India’ if I had to choose one that I really, really, really like.

I picked up my first Dracaena reflexa about six years ago at a small but (occasionally) interesting garden centre situated inside a supermarket that I used to shop at regularly. I say ‘occasionally’ because at certain times of the year, especially when the outdoor gardening season is in full swing, this shop is a mess and has nothing to offer but plants that are neglected and fading away. Most, but not all, of these shameful periods occur after major holidays such as Christmas, Valentine’s, Easter, Mother’s Day and Halloween, and involve festive plants that weren’t lucky enough to find a happy home. So it’s not one of those beautiful-plants-are-available-all-year-round stores. And it’s certainly not a beautiful-plants-are-available-all-year-round-at-great-prices type of place either; the foliage and flowering plants are generally more expensive at this small shop than they are at the larger greenhouses and retailers.


Every once in awhile, at some random period of the year when nothing holiday-wise is going on, this small, mostly overpriced and often poorly-managed garden centre is in tip top shape and offers some beautiful foliage and flowering plants at reasonable prices that are very hard to resist. Such was the case with my Dracaena reflexa, which I happened upon in the month of August a few years back. There was nothing going on that month, unless the back-to-school rush qualifies as a plant-selling period. I don’t know.

What I do know is that I was able to pick up a beautiful, medium-sized Dracaena reflexa in a 6” pot for only seven or eight dollars. It wasn’t the bargain of the century, but it was reasonable. And I was very happy. How happy? Well, I was so happy that I repotted it as soon as I got home, gave it a hearty drink of water and put it on display in a very bright spot where everyone could see it.

Did the plant share my soaring enthusiasm? Not really. The next day, some of the leaves had turned a sickly yellow. By day three, most of them were hanging limply. Within five days, the plant was bent over. And after only one week, my new purchase was headed for the trash bin. When I pulled the plant out of its pot to inspect the root system, I discovered that it, along with part of the stem, was a rotted mess. And let me tell you... When a Dracaena reflexa (or any Dracaena for that matter) rots, the rotted roots and stem smell like the bowels of hell; I mean, holy cow, does it smell. Not something you’re likely to forget. Or want to experience again.

What happened? I had over-watered in compacted soil - an absolutely lethal combination for any Dracaena. I don’t know how on earth I could have been so careless, especially when I was experienced enough at the time to know better. But there it was; I had drowned a formerly thriving plant. Oh, the shame of it all. And the heartache at losing such a gorgeous specimen.

Since then I’ve bought two or three more of these lovely plants and obviously been much more careful with them. And for the past few years I’ve been growing my plants in hydroculture, so over-watering is a thing of the past for my whole plant clan. But because I’ve experienced it for a few years, have failed and succeeded with it, and have grown it in soil and hydroculture, I’d like to share some care information about the Dracaena reflexa that may be beneficial to a few of my readers.

Here goes...

Caring For The Beautiful Dracaena Reflexa

If you’re fairly new to houseplant care, you may be too intimidated by the Dracaena reflexa’s exotic looks to pick one up. After all, a plant this beautiful must be just as difficult to grow. Not really. Although this is generally considered one of the more demanding family members in the Dracaena clan, it hardly registers on the ‘migraine-inducing plants’ scale. It’s still a Dracaena, after all. So how hard can it be?

Also known as Pleomele reflexa, and commonly-referred to as ‘the song of India’, Dracaena reflexa is indeed less forgiving of slapdash care, but its list of demands is very short and its essential requirements are simple enough to fulfill. Two things it won’t compromise as easily as the rest of its cousins are: plenty of light and sufficient humidity. If you can provide the right amounts for both, you’re one step closer to succeeding with this beauty.

So with that being said, let’s move on.

Native to Madagascar and other nearby islands, D. reflexa is one of the most dazzling members of the Dracaena group. With its shiny, lemon and lime striped leaves, and its interesting form, it deserves a prominent position in your home where its exotic looks can be truly appreciated and enjoyed.

Unlike some of its cousins that tolerate (with many preferring) low to medium light, Dracaena reflexa grows better in higher levels of light. Place it near a window where it can receive bright, indirect light or some early morning or late afternoon sun. Protection against summer’s midday sun is recommended to avoid damaging the leaves, but direct light in the winter months shouldn’t be of much concern; D. reflexa can handle some direct sun quite well, better than most of its family members.

While it may handle more light, it can’t handle over-watering any more than any other Dracaena. This lovely plant is equally prone to rot from chronic over-watering as the rest of its cousins and should be grown in an airy, fast-draining medium. During the active growing season, keep the plant slightly moist; water thoroughly at each session and do not water again until the soil is fairly dry. Reduce watering in winter, but do not let the soil dry out completely. Like the rest of the family, this Dracaena is a prime candidate for the hydroculture system; consider switching to eliminate water problems and help prevent root rot.

Place this plant in a warm location and protect it from chilly drafts. Dracaenas are very cold-sensitive; any situation that has the potential to cause cold damage should be corrected immediately or the plant will deteriorate rapidly. Dry air is tolerated to a certain extent, and for an impressive amount of time, but this Dracaena prefers a little extra moisture in the air. Very low humidity may cause browning of leaf tips and margins. Improve conditions if the plant is showing signs of discontentment.

All Dracaenas are not heavy feeders, and this one is no exception. Give your plant a dose of liquid fertilizer no more than once a month during the spring and summer months if it’s growing in an ideal location that offers ample light. In less favourable conditions, dilute to half recommended strength or feed only two or three times throughout the entire growing season. Do not fertilize at all during the late fall and throughout the winter.

It’s a well-known fact that Dracaenas shed their lower leaves as they age. But what most people don’t know is that D. reflexa holds onto its foliage much longer than most of its cousins. So, if you’re properly caring for your plant, don’t expect a bare lower stem any time soon. If a lot of leaves are turning yellow and being discarded prematurely, it may be caused by too much or too little water. Other triggers for sudden leaf loss include temperature fluctuations, cold drafts and pest infestations. Correct all detrimental situations accordingly. Eventually the stem will become long and bare of lower leaves. When this happens, you can cut it back to a desired height; new leaves will appear shortly. In addition, you can plant the top part to start a new plant.

That’s all there is to it. Don’t hesitate to try your hand at growing one of these beautiful Dracaenas. With very few needs to be met, you have an excellent chance of succeeding with one. And now that you can find these lovely plants in 4” pots for a couple of dollars, it’s that much more reason to pick one up.


  1. I've had this plant numerous times - they are quite attractive. I like your migraine-inducing plant scale!

  2. This is one of my favourite Dracaenas. When it's healthy, it's stunning.

  3. Hi there, I've had a beautiful pot of D.R for just about a year and for the past week or so it started developing brown spots. I live in Toronto, Canada, and I place it by a large West-facing window, which gets quite a bit of summer midday sun. I've also started keeping my fan on in my room because with my West-facing window my room gets REALLY hot in the summer. I just read your bit about the DR not liking cold drafts and am wondering if my fan might be considered a "cold draft" and, perhaps along with too much sun, it's causing the plant some stress. It was doing very well up until now; I had just re-potted it after not looking so good at the beginning of spring - again, some brown spots - and when I took it out of the pot I realized the plant had outgrown the pot and the roots had nowhere else to go. Since repotting, it had a bit of a growth spurt and looked pretty happy, but the brown spots came back about a week or so ago. Any advice would be appreciated!

    1. Hi Heidi. Sorry to hear about your plant. There are so many things that can be causing this. I'm including a link to a post I put up quite awhile back that may be helpful:

      In this post, you'll find a list of symptoms and causes

      And here is another link that may prove helpful.

      In it you'll find a list of reasons for the brown spots.

      Hope the above helps!

  4. Is it possible to revive it after its roots became rotten??

  5. Is it possible to revive it after its roots became rotten??

    1. If all the roots are rotten, the plant will probably not survive. If you can, start a new plant from it by air layering, or by cutting off the bottom and starting a new plant from the top.