Dracaena is a genus of about 40 species of trees and succulent shrubs. In the APG III classification system, it is placed in the family Asparagaceae, subfamily Nolinoideae (formerly the family Ruscaceae). It has also formerly been separated (sometimes with Cordyline) into the family Dracaenaceae or placed in the Agavaceae (now Agavoideae). The majority of the species are native to Africa, with a few in southern Asia and one in tropical Central America. The segregate genus Pleomele is now generally included in Dracaena. The genus Sanseviera is closely related, and has recently been synonymized under Dracaena in the Kubitzki system.
Species of Dracaena have a secondary thickening meristem in their trunk, which is quite different from the thickening meristem found in dicotyledonous plants and is termed dracaenoid thickening by some authors. This characteristic is shared with members of the Agavoideae and Xanthorrhoeoideae among other members of the Asparagales.
D. americana, D. arborea, D. cinnabari, D. draco, D. ombet, and D. tamaranae are commonly known as dragon trees and grow in arid semi-desert areas. They are tree-sized with stout trunks and stiff, broad-based leaves. The remaining species are known collectively as shrubby dracaenas. They are smaller and shrub-like, with slender stems and flexible strap-shaped leaves, and grow as understorey plants in rainforests.
Some shrubby species, such as D. deremensis, D. fragrans, D. godseffiana, D. marginata, and D. braunii, are popular as houseplants. Many of these are toxic to pets, though not humans, according to the ASPCA among others. Rooted stem cuttings of D. braunii are widely marketed in the U.S.A. and the UK as "lucky bamboo", although only superficially resembling true bamboos.
A bright red resin, dragon's blood, is produced from D. draco and, in ancient times, from D. cinnabari. Modern dragon's blood is however more likely to be from the unrelated Daemonorops rattan palms.
Plants shrubby, rhizomatous, 1--3 m tall. Stems simple or few branched; internodes often longer than wide; bark grayish, smooth. Leaves spaced along distal part of stems, subsessile or indistinctly petiolate; petiole to 1 cm, base not completely covering internode; leaf blade nearly sword-shaped to linear-oblanceolate, 20--45 × 1.5--5.5 cm. Inflorescence terminal, branched, 30--50 cm; rachis glabrous. Flowers in clusters of 2 or 3; pedicel 7--8 mm, articulate distally or near apex. Perianth greenish white, 1.9--2.3 cm; tube 7--8 mm; lobes 1.1--1.6 cm. Filaments filiform; anthers 2--3 mm. Style 5--8 × as long as ovary. Berry orange, globose, 0.8--1.2 cm in diam., 1- or 2-seeded. Fl. Mar--May, fr. Jun--Aug. 2 n = 40.
Forests, thickets. Hainan, S Taiwan (including Lan Yu), S Yunnan [Bhutan, Cambodia, India (including Andaman Islands), Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam; N Australia].
Dracaena menglaensis G. Z. Ye (in G. Z. Ye et al., Acta Bot. Yunnan. 14: 30. 1992) was described from two collections from the same locality in S Yunnan (Mengla Xian). It is said to differ from D. angustifolia in its longer, sword-shaped leaves with bases completely covering internodes, perianth lobes tinged reddish purple distally, and 3-ribbed berry with 4 small, apical projections. However, in all other features, it falls within the range of variation of D. angustifolia and is probably best regarded as a robust plant of that species.