The Genus Dracaena

First, Happy Veterans’s Day, and a heartfelt thank you to all those who have served and are serving our country so that the rest of us can continue to live here and enjoy our freedoms.

As we continue this dark and dreary month with some easy-care house plants, I wanted to talk about another plant that everyone’s seen and knows about but perhaps hasn’t grown.  This is another varied genus (and when I talk genus, I mean plant family) and then within that plant family there are many varieties of individual species to choose from.

I know you’ve all seen this plant–my own hair salon has several stunning examples of it, trained as topiary, in the lobby.  If it’s not in your hair salon, it’s in your doctor’s office, or your office building lobby, or, the mall common area.  It’s so common we just overlook it because it is one of those low-light, easy to grow, can withstand temperature extremes (think drafts in your own home) and pests and low humidity–so what’s not to like?

Are you thinking “boring” yet?  Maybe it’s time to re-adjust your thinking.  In the NASA study on air cleaning plants, 4 of the top 10 plants were dracaenas.  Most of the rest–with the exception of a florist mum and Gerber daisy–were foliage plants as well.  And while some, like English ivy and the bamboo palm can be notoriously finicky in dry, heated homes in the winter, many of the rest can be what I call “bullet-proof” plants.  In fact, two more of them you will probably see here because they can, as I am fond of saying, grow in a closet.

But back to dracaena.  The variety ‘Janet Craig’ has done very well for me for years.  I’ve probably had it for 7 years and only transplanted it once.  What I am particularly fond of is the variegation down the center of the leaf.  That’s an unusual color pattern in a plant–most variegation occurs along the edge.

The other is what is commonly sold as “lucky bamboo.”  Yes, this too is a dracaena–dracaena sanderiana if you must get technical about it.  Normally these are short-lived because they would prefer to live in soil and not water.  They are, after all, more traditional house plants and the little slips that are sold as cuttings, technically, can only live so long in water without developing some sort of nutritional problem.

But this fine little specimen has perked along quite nicely for me again for almost 2 years without developing any of those issues yet so I’m quite pleased.  And when it begins to show signs of flagging I’ll pot it up.  If that doesn’t solve it–that’s why there’s compost.  Meanwhile, like its brethren, it’s cleaning the air.

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