Tricolor Dragon Plant (Dracaena Marginata var ‘Tricolor’)
If history—okay, maybe not actual history, but movies and comic books, for sure—has taught us anything, it’s that dragons are usually something you want to avoid. But not Tricolor Dragon Plant (Dracaena Marginata var ‘Tricolor’). This dragon is the kind you want to seek out, befriend, and bring home to meet your loved ones.
Talk about a specimen plant! The Tricolor Dragon’s slender, sinewy, silver-gray canes, which often wind like hypnotized snakes, are one thing. But then you get to the spiky tufts of leaves at the end of each cane and things get downright wild. Tricolor Dragon Plant’s leaves aren’t just impossibly pointy—less than 1” wide, but often more than 16” long—they also seem to be every color except plain old green. Their centers are ivory. Then come stripes of dark, blackish green. And the edges? Bright magenta. It’s stunning. It’s bold. It’s actually pretty gaudy … and it’s fantastic. We bet you’ll love it as much as we do.
Best of all, Tricolor Dragon Plant is nearly as tough as a real dragon and pairs its outrageous looks with surprisingly modest needs. It tolerates a wide range of lighting conditions, from bright indirect—maybe even a touch of direct sun—to medium, even medium-low light. It does appreciate being spoiled with fluoride-free water (easily done—see Plant Care, below), and regular misting, but it isn’t fussy about soil or fertilizer, and has few pest problems. Finally, unlike a real dragon, Tricolor is incredibly easy to manage, train, and propagate.
Characteristics and traits of a Tricolor Dragon Plant (Dracaena Marginata var ‘Tricolor’)
Scientific Name: Dracaena Marginata var ‘Tricolor’ or Dracaena Reflexa var. Angustifolia ‘Tricolor’
Family: Asparagaceae ( subfamily Agavoideae [formerly Agavaceae])
Common Name: Three-Color Dragon Tree, Dragon Blood Tree, Tricolor Ribbon Plant, Money Tree (one of multiple plants with this name), Madagascar Dragon Tree
Indoor: All year in temperatures 60°F and above
Outdoor Zones: 10-12
Type: Perennial; Easily propagated via stem cuttings
Mature Height: 6’-8’ indoors (15’-20’ outdoors)
Mature Width: 3’-10’
Plant Height when Shipped: XXXXXX
Growth Rate: Slow
Flower: Yes, but rare in indoor specimens. Small, non-ornamental white clusters.
Foliage: Long, thin leaves less than an inch wide but often over 16” long (longer if outdoors), colored deep green with a red magenta outside edge (both bicolor and tricolor) and ivory-gold center stripe (tricolor only).
Plant Care and Advice for Tricolor Dragon Plant (Dracaena Marginata var ‘Tricolor’)
Grown In: Inside: all zones year round, Outside: zones 10-12
Light Requirements: Bright indirect to medium/part shade. Can sometimes handle direct sun, but watch for leaf scorch.
Water Requirements: Water moderately when the top 30% of soil is dry, allow it to drain fully to avoid root rot.
Drought Tolerance: Excellent
Temperature: Likes indoor room temp. 65°F-80°F. Can handle cooler winter temperatures, but will suffer below 55°F. Bring outdoor plants in when temps fall below 50°F.
Air Purification: Excellent - removes airborne pollutants including benzene, formaldehyde, trichloroethylene, xylene, and toluene.
Toxicity: Toxic to pets. When ingested, can cause symptoms including vomiting, depression, loss of appetite, incoordination, weakness, and hypersalivation.
Fertilizer: Monthly during growing season (March-August) with general fertilizer at 50% strength
Container Friendly: Yes - So long as it drains well
Tricolor Dragon Plant actually does quite well when it’s root bound, so unless the plant’s roots are sticking through the drainage holes, it needn’t be repotted. Speaking of drainage holes, they are a must. Placing this plant in a pot that lacks holes is not recommended.
On the other hand, Tricolor Dragon Plant is tolerant of a wide range of soil types, as long as they drain well. It does appreciate a bit of organic matter, so consider a soil that’s at least 30% compost. Also, in years when you don’t yet need to repot, replacing just the top inch or two of soil (“topdressing” is the horticultural term) is a great idea.
Because Tricolor Dragon Plant actually has less chlorophyll than other cultivars of Dracaena Marginata (on account of its leaves being less green), it likes a bit more light than the standard Dragon Tree.
Bright indirect light or partial shade are still ideal. Tricolor Dragon Plant can still take medium or possibly even low light, but it may grow slower and its leaves may be smaller and have less intense coloration (this is a sign to give it a bit more light, if possible).
Alternatively, Tricolor Dragon Plant is also a bit more comfortable in bright, even direct sun than its siblings. Full sun is still a gamble—you’ll likely get fantastic color right up until the point when the leaves start to scorch—so keep an eye on it if you decide to take the chance.
When watering, the most important thing is to avoid letting Tricolor Dragon Plant sit in soggy, waterlogged soil (which can lead to root rot). So keep it simple. Give the plant a good drink, let it drain well, then wait until the top ⅓ of the soil is dry before watering again.
Tricolor Dragon Plant is native to the tropics, and as such isn’t too fond of cold. It’s most comfortable at the same indoor temperatures humans enjoy, 65°F to 80°F. While specimens kept outside can handle brief dips down into the 50s, it’s best to bring it inside once temperatures start regularly dropping below 50°F. This plant is not remotely frost tolerant.
One thing Tricolor Dragon Plant not only tolerates, but greatly appreciates is a bit of extra humidity. Regular light misting will help keep the plant from drying out and also staves off certain pests (spider mites especially), so it’s a definite plus. Another great way to increase humidity is to fill the plant’s drainage tray with pebbles, set the plant on the pebbles, and then fill the tray half full with water, so the pot sits above the water, but is still dry.
Tricolor Dragon Plant doesn’t need much fertilizer, but it does benefit from standard houseplant fertilizer applied as 50% strength during the spring and summer months. No fertilizer is needed in fall and winter, though.
Like all Dragon Trees, Dracaena Marginata var ‘Tricolor’ will shed its lower leaves as it grows, so a few shriveled and dropped leaves are natural. However, if the leaf loss is excessive, especially if the falling leaves have brown spots or dry, “crispy” edges, the plant may be telling you it needs more water or is too cold.
Brown leaf tips? Your dragon probably wants things a little more humid (see plant care section, above). However, this could also be a reaction to too much fluoride added to the water, especially if you also see brown areas in the middles of the leaves. Try letting your tap water sit uncovered for 24 hours before giving it to the plant, which will enable additives such as fluoride and chlorine to dissipate out. You could also switch to rain water or distilled water.
If the leaves become yellow starting at the tips or the stalks become mushy, the plant probably has root rot. If the soil is soggy, repot immediately into dry soil, trimming off any rotting roots as part of the process. If the soil isn’t soggy or overwatering seems unlikely, the plant may be getting a bit more fertilizer than it needs. Flush with lots of fresh, clean water, then let drain fully to avoid root rot.
If neither fertilizer nor overwatering seem like possible causes for yellow leaves, check the undersides of the leaves for webbing or tiny spots that could be spider mites. These pests are best treated by wiping the leaves with a damp cloth or by applying neem oil or insecticidal soap. So are scale, mealybugs, and thrips, though Dracaena Marginata var ‘Tricolor’ is largely (and fortunately) resistant to them.
Dracaena Marginata var ‘Tricolor’ is almost stunningly easy to prune, train, and propagate.
When the plant gets too tall, simply lop it off at whatever height you want the new leaves to begin (this is best done in spring). Within weeks, you should see a new branch (if not two or three) begin to grow just below the cut.
While you’re waiting for the new stems to grow out, consider whether you want to let them grow naturally or if you’d like to train them into a curve, or braid, or other shape. When you’ve decided, use strips of cloth or plant ties to attach them to stakes, forms, or one another to coax them to grow into a certain shape.
Meanwhile, take that stem section you chopped off, strip off the bottom few sets of leaves, and place it in a glass of water or (even better) moist soil. It will begin to grow roots of its own within a couple weeks. In fact, if you cut off a large-ish portion of stem, you can chop it into 4” sections and lay them horizontally in moist soil. They’ll likely sprout into full plants as well.