Saturday, February 2, 2008

Damsel in Distress (Dracaena fragrans 'Massangeana')

I don't seem to be able to go to Lowe's without encountering a gigantic Dracaena fragrans 'Massangeana' for $5 and having to take it home. The first time it happened was last June, and the plant was badly sunburned from being outside in the summer heat. A few days ago, I ran into another one, and this time I'm not quite sure what the problem was: it doesn't seem to have anything obviously wrong with it.

The sunburned plant has more or less recovered, though it did lose a growing tip (which is okay: more are beginning to break). The original plan, to try to sell it for a profit by taking it to a consignment store, is still theoretically operative, though I've become a little bit attached to it by now and would kind of rather hold on to it. I mean, after all, I saved it from being destroyed by the heartless Lowe's bastards, so how mean would I have to be to send it back out into the cold, cruel world to be bought by someone who doesn't know how to take care of plants?

The sunburned plant.

The newer plant is in a more ambiguous place: I couldn't find any pests on it, and the stems felt solid. The only real problems it had as far as I could tell were that some of the lowest leaves had gone black and crispy, which doesn't necessarily mean anything, and the stems were a little wobbly in the pot, which isn't especially easy to fix but isn't unusual for Dracaena fragrans either. It might also have gotten a little chilled on the way out to the car (Lowe's offered no protective plastic bags), though so far all that's happened is that one of the sprouts has died. Even if it did get cold, though, this isn't likely to be fatal to the plant as a whole, and there are plenty of growing tips to work with.

The recent plant, cleaned-up.

These aren't usually in bad shape, of course. In fact, Dracaena fragrans is one of the easier houseplants out there. Lowe's just isn't all that interested in taking care of its plants.1 Am I complaining? Little bit, yeah. I do have a tendency to anthropomorphize plants (Which you may have noticed.), and consequently it pains me to see plants on the discount rack that didn't have to wind up there. Though I'm not above encouraging this kind of behavior by taking said plants home, either.

Dracaena fragrans is native to Africa,2 where it does double duty as an understory plant and as a full-grown tree, though it has long since expanded its range: it's been an indoor plant in Europe since the mid-1700s.3 The wild plant is plain green; the variety with the yellow stripe down the middle is a variety called 'Massangeana,' and is of unknown (to me) provenance. There is also said to be a variety called 'Lindenii,' in which the colors are reversed (yellow margins and a green stripe in the center of the leaf), but I've never seen such a plant in person.4

Plants will not grow corn, and don't even look that much like the real corn plant (Zea mays). There is enough similarity between the leaves that I can see where the common name came from. Once in a while I've allowed myself to think, whoa, look at all the Dracaenas! when traveling through rural areas around here in the summer. Knowing better is no reason not to entertain the occasional illusion.

Historically, most Dracaena fragrans sold in the U.S. are grown two times: the first time is on farms in Central America (or, once the global economy got really pervasive, anywhere else with an appropriately tropical climate), where canes are periodically harvested and cut to specified lengths (usually two, three or four-foot long pieces). The ends of the cane are then given a quick coat of wax,5 to keep the canes from losing too much water during transport, and then they get shipped to growers in Florida, or, to a lesser extent, other states which produce tropical foliage plants (Texas, California), where they are stuck in their final containers, the foliage is allowed to resprout, and then they are shipped to retail stores to be purchased by consumers. The staggered-cane style is used because it gives the impression of base-to-top foliage that would be more or less impossible to achieve with single-cane plants, or multiple canes of the same height, since the plants normally drop lower leaves as they grow.6

Waxed cane top. Obviously points were not being awarded for neatness.

Dracaena fragrans 'Massangeana' is very easy to grow, and isn't particularly picky about most aspects of its care, though there are things that will make it look better or worse than others.

The biggest issues revolve around water: like with most other Dracaena varieties, this one can roll with periods of neglect, but will not put up with overwatering for long. This is especially the case when the plant is kept in a relatively dark spot: it will downshift its metabolism to match the light it's getting, and if you don't reduce the water to match, you'll have some rotted canes on your hands. The other issue is that, as with Chlorophytum comosum, these plants are sensitive about fluoride levels, and will develop burnt tips if they're getting too much. Since most of these plants are watered in place, without any dumping of the water that flows through the soil, and since many people water too little at a time anyway, most plants will eventually build up enough fluoride in the soil to have problems. The solution, or at least one possible solution, is to make a point of periodically flushing the soil well with large amounts of water, say every three months, every six months, something like that. This isn't the ideal solution, but it's one that most people could probably pull off if they really had to. Another way to go would be to water with distilled water only – that might get expensive, but at least you won't be adding any fluoride.

Newly-purchased plants are especially susceptible to being overwatered, since cane-type plants like these (Dracaena, Yucca guatemalensis, etc.) are often not very well-rooted when they're shipped out. A cane two inches in diameter might only have one tiny little root, which could easily be overwhelmed by too much water. After you've grown one for a while, especially if it's in good conditions (warm, bright, humid), a root system will get going and you can water more like for any other plant, but until you've seen the roots for yourself, it's good to assume that there really aren't any.

Propagation isn't easy either, though the difficult part is mostly getting the opportunity: the plants grow slowly, especially indoors, meaning that a typical indoor gardener in a temperate zone isn't terribly likely to have a lot of spare canes laying around to experiment with. So it's not like you're going to be able to propagate at will, like you would for Pilea cadierei or Philodendron hederaceum or something.

Propagation is almost always from pieces of woody cane: green cane, like from a side sprout, is theoretically possible, but the growers' guide advises against it, and my one (failed) attempt at propagation of Dracaena fragrans thus far was with green cane, which succumbed pretty quickly to rot, so I tend to agree with him.

Woody cuttings are supposed to be relatively easy, though I haven't tried any myself. The usual procedure is to cut the cane into three- or four-inch segments, plant them upright in soil, and wait for them to root and break buds. The growers' guide says that rooting hormone should speed up the process, and even goes so far as to say that cutting the base of the canes around the edges with a circular saw every couple inches will induce more rooting. This probably isn't practical for people in home situations, but I suppose one never knows.

Thinner canes are said to root better, but thicker ones are more likely to form more growing tips. It seems not to be an issue particularly if you have to plant a cane deeply, or compact the soil around it (the commercially-produced variety, obviously, needs this in order to stay upright, whether it's good for the plant or not, to cover up the fact that it probably has no roots to speak of). Tenting the cutting in a plastic bag, or placing it in a warm, bright (no sun), humid space should also improve your odds of success, though rot is always a potential issue. If you're really worried about rot, cuttings can be rooted in sand, which may or may not be a more sterile medium. Misting isn't a good idea, according to the growers' guide. It's pretty much always going to be a slow process: figure about eight weeks.

It may go without saying, but: the plant won't root upside down, so if you're cutting up a long cane, be sure to have some kind of system in place so you can keep track of which end to plant. If the cane rolls off the table and spins around on the kitchen linoleum and you have no guess which end is up, you might be able to get it to sprout sideways, if you lay it half-buried in whatever soil you're planning to use, though I have no suggestions for how to deal with the resulting sprouts, which will not necessarily line up well with any roots that form.

Rooted canes can sprout in a variable number of spots. If a cane sprouts only once, the growers' guide recommends removing that bud, the idea being that usually the plant will respond by growing multiple heads. If, on the other hand, the problem is too many heads (too many will result in reduced development and / or greater incidence of tip burn, as well as just looking a little weird), removing all but the biggest few is said to help.7 My June rescue plant had a couple of sprouts when I bought it that it later dropped, and is presently starting another set of them: I'm unsure about whether to encourage this or not.

Other cultural conditions are not going to be that big of a deal for most indoor growers. Dracaena fragrans tolerates low humidity, though very low humidity levels may lead to tip scorch, especially if it's also dealing with high fluoride levels: the growers' guide recommends humidity of at least 40% at all times, which most people, most of the time, should be able to get. Winters, obviously, are tough, but that's true for a lot of plants. Temperature can be a touchy subject, especially during transport: cold injury begins to happen around 50ºF (10ºC), and wind makes the resulting injury much more severe. Typically, cold will lead to brown margins on the most exposed leaves, plus the possibility of dead bands across the leaves that emerge from the growing tip for a while thereafter. Heat injury is less common, both because the plant tolerates heat reasonably well and because it's somewhat self-regulating: the growers' guide says that in hot weather, the leaves twist themselves so as to be less directly exposed to the sun (they then go back to normal when they're cooler). I haven't seen that myself, but I'm going to be watching as we head toward summer, because that kind of adaptation always impresses the hell out of me. If heat does cause damage, it's usually expressed as burned tips and margins. Excessive sun exposure will bleach leaves out permanently, as well, though these photos don’t show it well:8

The paler parts, that sort of look like they might just be the light reflecting off the leaf, really are bleaching from the sun. Except, obviously, for the parts that actually are the result of light reflecting off the leaf.

(Which, now that I put this up, I'm realizing that there's an older Dracaena fragrans at work that got badly burned last year in the greenhouse, which would have been a much better case study to photograph, and I forgot to take pictures and now it's too late to do anything about it. Oh well.)

Finally, pests are not often a problem, though Dracaena fragrans 'Massangeana' is subject to all the same slings and arrows as other plants: mealybugs, mites, scale, etc. None seem to be especially fond of this plant in particular.

The "fragrans" part of the botanical name refers to the flowers, which are, I'm told, quite impressively fragrant, and can permeate a whole two-story house with their scent, which is said to be pleasant. I've never smelled them myself. (The description I ran into most often was "honeysuckle," which does exactly nothing for me because I'm not familiar with what honeysuckle smells like.) Whether you want that much scent is questionable: it's not unheard of for people to move a D. fragrans elsewhere during flowering, especially if it's in a room they have to be in a lot, for example a bedroom, just so that the smell isn't completely overpowering. Flowers also drip with nectar, which can drip on anything underneath them and, in the worst-case scenario, ruin things. Realistically, it's more likely just to make stuff sticky, but either way, it may be worth your time to grab a dropcloth, if you notice blooming in progress on your plant (and you will notice, if it happens). The flowers can be cut off, if you really can't stand the smell and the dripping, though I think they must not be that terrible, because I don't read about people having to cut them off all that often.

The only real serious down side with a flowering plant is that the growing tip which produced the flower will die when the show is over. It's serious, but not tragic, because the plant will generally have other growing tips on it (they have to be pretty old and large in order to flower), and if it doesn't, new ones will sprout before all the leaves on the old one drop. You just need to be aware that the old tip will die, lest you panic and start messing with the plant after it flowers, thinking that it needs you to do something, when it was already perfectly happy. That's just how they roll.

I'm aware that this post has made them sound troublesome and difficult, so let me just say again that really they're not. The reason you're always seeing them in offices is because they like that sort of thing. Just don't overwater. That Lowe's seems not to be able to understand concepts like overwatering and underwatering isn't the plant's fault, and need not be your problem, either. So go mount your steed and rescue some damsels, if you're so inclined.


Photo credit: flowers - Josh Krup, at the Wikipedia entry for Dracaena fragrans. All others: author's own.

1 Which is not to say that there aren't perfectly nice people working there, and that said people don't care about or like plants. I'm sure some of them do, just by the law of averages if nothing else. But whatever corporate logic dictates the running of the plant departments in Lowe's clearly is not all that interested in the well-being of the plants, which suggests that it's not cost-effective for the employees to care for the plants, which suggests that either the employees are paid remarkably little (not that I'm raking in the bucks myself, but . . . well, actually, I guess there's not much up side to that, really. I'm not raking in the bucks. *Sigh.* Great. Now I'm going to be depressed.), the wholesale prices are so obscenely cheap that they're making huge profits on the plants regardless of what they do, or (most likely) both.
2 Precisely where in Africa is something I'm not really capable of answering: the growers' guide says Upper Guinea; Wikipedia says West Africa, Tanzania, and Zambia. Not only are these not the same place, but they're not even particularly close to one another. If we add in the inevitable confusion from people expanding its range artificially, the original location of D. fragrans gets hazier still. But at least we can nail down a continent.
3 (Says the growers' guide, anyway.)
4 There is a cultivar of D. deremensis called 'Lemon-Lime,' or (less frequently) 'Goldstar,' which has more or less this coloration. I like 'Lemon-Lime' a great deal, but it's kind of obviously not a cultivar of D. fragrans. 'Lindenii' is something else. This site explains away the rarity of 'Lindenii' as a side effect of its sensitivity to fluoride: dead spots appear in the margins and work inward in plants affected by fluoride toxicity, which is marketing death for a plant where the brightly-colored margins are the main selling point. (UPDATE: I actually found and purchased a 'Lindenii' around here, if you want to see what it looks like.) (SECOND UPDATE: It was probably actually D. fragrans 'Sol,' which looks enough like the way 'Lindenii' is always described that it is likely either an improved variety of 'Lindenii' or a renaming.)
5 Or, according to the growers' guide, a wax-concrete mixture, which raises some questions for me that Mr. Griffith leaves unanswered.
6 This is the same reason why Yucca guatemalensis is usually sold as staggered-height canes. People want floor-to-ceiling leaves, so they get floor-to-ceiling leaves, even if the leaves have to be provided by multiple plants. Yucca guatemalensis is also produced on cane farms, in a manner very similar to what's described in the text for Dracaena fragrans.
7 This is the case with Yucca guatemalensis too.
8 The most sunburnt leaves eventually got cut off, either because they were going brown anyway or because the bleaching was too severe for the plant to be presentable.


Sheila said...

This is one of my very favorite plants to place in office buildings, because it can tolerate a wide range of light and doesn't need a lot of water. A well-grown one is really, really stunning. And they are fairly affordable, as large plants go.

Regarding the flowers, I cut them off when I first find the bud. People complain about the overwhelming smell, they drip sap on the floor which stains (much like a Ficus elastica, only not as copious), and the leaves on that crown start to get brown on the edges once the flower begins to open.

I think the big box stores vary widely depending on management and employees. Our local Lowe's is pretty good, our local Home Depot is so nasty I wouldn't take a plant if they gave me one for free. But the quality of the plants is nothing like a decent nursery. Big box and Walmart plants tend to crap out on me within a year about 30 to 50% of the time. That doesn't happen if I shop at a quality supplier. Of course, the price is a lot more, so it probably comes out even in the long run. But the frustration is much higher when you have to nurse crappy plants.

Regarding plant rescues, I personally do not do them. I don't have the time or the space to care for crappy plants, unless of course I was the cause of them looking crappy! A dog from the pound is worth rescuing, a plant that has been neglected is not, IMHO. Not that I don't admire those of you who take on this challenge.

I also don't do rescues because I think it encourages the big box stores to sell crap. If no one bought crap, they would stop selling it. Of course, that would probably mean they would stop selling plants altogether, because most of them don't have the expertise to do it right.

I guess what really bothers me is that the average person buys substandard plants from the big box stores, has trouble with them, and then thinks they can't grow plants and they give up. Whereas if they had good quality plants to start with, their results would be so much better.

I'll get off my soapbox now.

mr_subjunctive said...

Well, I'm not saying that everybody should do rescues. And I'm pretty discriminating about which things I'll attempt and which I won't. Sunburned Dracaenas? Sure; I have two. Water-logged Dieffenbachias? Well, maybe, if the price is right. Scale-covered cacti? Not on your life, buddy.

I also take into account whether or not the plant in question is propagatable. I have a Cordyline from Lowe's that I plan on making into many small plants as soon as spring really gets going: it's already recovered from the (pretty mild) case of rot it had when I bought it.

I agree that the box stores do themselves, and everybody else, a disservice by not selling well-cared for plants, though I think they could help themselves more if they identified the plants correctly and gave customers accurate information about the conditions they require. Substandard plants can get prettier if they get the care they need, but the best plant in the world isn't going to do well if it's given bad treatment. Also, one assumes, the employees might learn a thing or two by osmosis, if the information is right there for the taking, and that couldn't hurt anything either.

waterroots said...

This is definitely one of my favourite plants. They’re so…I don’t know…compliant, I guess. And Sheila is right; when they’re taken care of properly, they’re really stunning. These plants are available in many different sizes, so everyone gets a chance to grow one, no matter how much space there is to spare.

Natasha said...

Over here, in Mexico, THIS is the one we call "Lucky Bamboo"... I guess the luck changes depending on the country? It's a lovely plant, though, and a great present for those who are not sure if they can keep one alive. It boosts confidence!

OEM said...

Dear Sir,

I bought a potted plant Dracaena Fragrans about 3 months ago, perhaps due to over watering the root starts to rot and the stem becoming soft when press on it. Leaves also started browning. What can I do to salvage the plant?

mr_subjunctive said...

Ideally, you would want to cut the cane to separate the part with rot from the part that's still good. If it's been rotting long enough, though, there may not be anything salvageable in the main stem, especially not if this has been going on for three months.

If there's still a section of firm cane up high on the plant, you could try going a few inches above the point where you think the rot ends, cut the top off, and try to plant it in soil that drains quickly, and keep it in a warm bright spot without direct sun. I don't necessarily recommend this, because I've never done it myself, but that's how it's supposed to work in theory.

If the stem is mushy all the way to the top, such that you don't think there's any part of the stem unaffected by the rot, you still might be able to take off the side shoots and get them to root. It should be relatively obvious, when you cut off the side shoot, whether or not there's rot in the stem: look for brown or black color in the stem, awful odors, mushiness, etc.

Once you have a solid, green cutting, my best results have been the result of cutting the stem (recut, if you have to: serrated knives seem to work the best for getting the shoot off the trunk, but they tear everything up, too. Use a razor blade or very sharp, clean knife and cut square across the stem.) and sticking it in water. Again, a bright (no direct sun), warm location will encourage rooting.

Rooting in water won't always work out, either, though in my experience it's easier than trying to root in soil, at least for green-stemmed cuttings. (Soil-based cuttings tend to rot, because soil is not sterile. Water's not either, but it's cleaner.) Rooting may take a month or two. During that time, you'll need to watch everything carefully. Remove any leaves that go yellow (and some of them inevitably will); if left on, they'll rot in the water, which is bad for your cutting. Also change the water at least once a week, ideally every three days or so: this will keep bacteria from accumulating to harmful levels.

Once the cutting has roots about two or three inches long, you can transfer it to soil. Use a gritty mix that will drain quickly and won't hold water for a long time (bad: peat moss, vermiculite, fine sand, perlite; good: coarse sand or gravel, composted bark, fired clay "aquatic mixes".). Some root damage is probably inevitable, but be as gentle as you can.

The transplanted cutting will probably drop some leaves again as it gets used to growing in soil, though it might not. Again, you'll want a warm, bright spot with no, or very little, direct sun. Let the soil dry out pretty much completely in between waterings: you shouldn't water if you can still feel moisture in the soil with your finger.

It won't always work, and even if it does work, these are slow-growing plants, so they're likely to look pretty sad for several months after being cut off. It can be done, though, if the rot is not too far gone. The plants I mentioned in the profile, that I'd rescued, actually both developed rot in the main stems and had to be discarded; I took cuttings of the green side shoots before throwing them out, and wound up salvaging six plants. (Though one of the six died later, for unrelated reasons, so I only actually have five at the moment.)

Rosco said...

Hey there, many thanks for having a wee look at my comment. I'm glad there are others out there like me who see poor sick plants and, far from ignoring them, want to buy them and nurse them back to health.

Anyhoo, I have a dracaena fragrans massangeana which I rescued as a very small and very sick plant from a dark corner in a chain garden shop a few years ago. After a bit of TLC, it has grown into a strong, healthy and happy plant with bright green and yellow leaves.

I'm thinking that it is several years old by now and about a foot tall. The plant is growing straight out of the top of the main cane at the moment, however I would like to have several growing tips in the future once the plant's about doubled or tripled in size. I understand you can do this by cutting the growing tip of the main plant off and it will sprout tips off the side of the cane, is this correct? If so, at what point do you make the cut? I've been told that you do this where you feel the growing tip turn hard at the top of the cane?

Many thanks in advance

mr_subjunctive said...

Well, where you feel the tip become hard, or maybe a little below that, just to be safe. The problem is that you're not necessarily guaranteed to get multiple new tips, especially if the plant is in a dark, cool, or dry spot. Even in greenhouse conditions at work, we occasionally had to cut off Dracaena tips for one reason or another, and the plants didn't necessarily grow more than one tip to replace the tip we removed.

I'm also a little confused about the arrangement here: you're saying there's an old, thick cane on your plant that comes out of the soil, and the old, thick cane has one shoot with leaves coming out of the side? Because if that's the case, neither part is terribly likely to resprout multiple heads: as far as I can tell, your chances are best if the cane you're trying to resprout from is woody, but not too woody. If your existing side shoot is a foot tall, then maybe it's gotten somewhat woody by now, but maybe not.

If that's not the situation and I've misunderstood you, say so. I'll come back.

Anonymous said...

My Dracaena is fairly new but I have noticed and increasing number of browning on the tips and up the sides of the leaved. I am suspecting I am either over watering, there is two much fluoride in our tap water....or a combination of both.What do I do to salvage the situation. It is such a beautiful plant. Should I pull of the browning leaves completely or trim them back? Should I re-pot the plant in a bigger more well drained pot? How do I know what size pot to get?

Forgive me, I am new at the house plant thing.

mr_subjunctive said...

If your plant is very new (as in, you just brought it home within the last two or three months), the browning tips might not mean anything. It's possible that it's just reacting to the lower humidity in your home as compared to the tropical environment (either a greenhouse or Florida, most likely) it came from. If this is the case, it will get over it sooner or later; I bought a large Dracaena fragrans 'Sol' some time ago that got brown tips for a couple months and scared me but then got over it.

It goes without saying (but I will say it) that your plant should be in a pot with adequate drainage, that you should not be fertilizing (it's okay to feed some, but it's so easy to overdo it that I think it's usually better not to feed at all, unless the plant has been in the same soil for a very long time -- and even then, you probably don't want to feed as much as the directions on the fertilizer say), and that you are running a lot of water through the pot on the rare occasions when you do water.

And I do mean rare occasions. My 'Sol' is about four feet tall, in a 10-inch pot, and gets watered about once a month. Generally if I say "overwatering" and "underwatering," I mean watering too often, or not often enough: the actual quantity of water involved at each watering cycle should be more or less the same. Drench the hell out of it, let the water run out of the pot, and then let it get dry enough in between waterings that you can't feel any moisture in the soil with your finger, however far down into the soil your finger can go.

For a lot of people, it's not going to be practical to move the plant once a month to flush it out well, but you should still do so occasionally, whether it's easy or not, say every third watering, or every fifth watering.

Christie said...

hi! I am happy to stumble across youb blog. I bought one of these beautiful plants quite a few years ago. It only has 2 stalks. the leaves continue to get bigger and bigger, there is new growth happening but it just seems to be getting wider and fuller. the stalks themselves have not grown at all. is this normal? How can I encourage stalk grown? Thank you for your assistance.

mr_subjunctive said...


I'm not sure I know anything to suggest. They aren't ordinarily very fast-growing plants to begin with (it can take 15-20 years for them to reach an average indoor ceiling), and I don't think it's possible that your plant could be getting fuller without also getting taller. So maybe it is growing, and it's just happening so slowly that you're not noticing it?

If you have a picture of the plant up on the web somewhere, I'd be happy to check it out and see if I can see anything obviously wrong, but that's probably the best I can do.

Stephen said...

I've had one of these for ages and it just flowered for the first time. Like honeysuckle but stronger. Absolutely gorgeous. Best thing any of my houseplants have ever done! Can't imagine why everyone else doesn't adore it! Just smells in the evenings.
ps I'm in the UK and we don't have Lowe's.

Herman said...

I just got one of these beautiful plants and it is BIG. There are three stems of 40, 80 and 100 cms long and each of them has three sprouts. One of the sprouts already reaches the ceiling while another one will do so in the next future.
It looks great but this can't go on forever.
What should I do? Can I cut the tip if the sprouts in order to stop them getting taller or would this do serious damage?

mr_subjunctive said...

Well, if it's hitting the ceiling, you don't really have a choice but to do something. You can cut the stem of the shoot back -- it may or may not resprout (and if it does resprout, it may look a little strange), but you can root the part you cut off and start a new plant from it.

kelly said...

I have this plant and I have a question . There are two plants in the pot one is taller than the other , the shorter one has lost all of it's leaves, can I cut the top of the trunk off ? Will it grow new leaves ? Any help would be greatly appreciated !

mr_subjunctive said...


If it's lost all of its leaves, it could be dead -- is the stem still firm all the way down? 'Cause if it's mushy or "loose" feeling at any point, then it's probably rotted out, and is past saving.

If it's firm all the way down, I would be more inclined to try moving it to a warmer, brighter spot and see if it will resprout on its own, instead of cutting it back. There's more risk involved with cutting, and usually you'd only do it if the stem in question was too tall (like about to hit the ceiling) or if part of the stem had rotted and you were trying to save a piece of the good part.

Cutting the stem back doesn't make a plant want to grow more than it did already, it just makes it start from a lower spot. If the cane you're talking about isn't already trying to grow, then you need to figure out why that is before you do any cutting.

Nicolette said...

My Dracaena frangrans just finished blooming and the flowering tip growth and the small leaves attached to it appear to be browning. Where and how can I cut this portion off without damaging the main growth whorl? If I cut off the flowering portion, will it split into two at the top?

mr_subjunctive said...


I think as long as you're only cutting the flower stalk, and not the main stem that the leaves grow off of, you should be more or less okay to cut it anywhere. And actually even if you cut the main trunk of the plant, it would just re-bud and form new growing tips, so that'd be okay too, just slower.

I haven't personally ever had a D. fragrans bloom, but I've had more than one Dracaena where the growing tip died, or stalled, or something -- new leaves stopped appearing for a while, the older leaves at the top went black and fell out, and then eventually the plant got itself back together and produced tiny new leaves slightly off-center of the original center, becoming normal-sized leaves shortly thereafter. The big leaves -> little leaves -> big leaves thing looks kind of strange for a while, but once there are enough new big leaves, it stops looking as weird.

I would be surprised if your plant built two growing tips from that one spot, but I suppose that's how they'd branch in nature, so maybe.

For the time being, though, just get a sharp small knife and cut the flower stalk a comfortable (for you) distance above its base -- if you leave a stump of a couple inches (5 cm), or even more, it's not going to matter to the plant much; anything you leave will eventually die and be easy to pull out. Some of the topmost leaves may go brown and die for a few months, but that doesn't necessarily mean anything is wrong.

Did that answer the question okay? I'm worried I haven't been entirely clear.

Nicolette said...

Thank you so much for the advice! There seems to be little information out there regarding what to do after a Dracaena blooms. I will follow your directions and let you know how it develops. "Drake" seems to be a tough plant and apparently happy enough to (unexpectedly) bloom for me!

Tina said...

I had to laugh when I found your post... I was online looking up the care instructions for my Massangeana that I just purchased in the "clearance" section at Lowes! The poor thing was shoved at the end of an isle and I couldn't resist it. It is beautiful except for several of the leave tips are burnt & torn. What is the appropriate manner to remove these damaged leaves? Should the entire leave be taken off or just trim it around the damaged areas? Any recommendations would be greatly appreciated!

mr_subjunctive said...


I just cut off the dead (gray/brown) parts of the leaves with scissors. It usually doesn't matter that much, though: if you don't like the look of the truncated leaves or something, you can remove the whole leaf. Unless you're talking about removing a large majority of the leaf area, it really doesn't matter that much to the plant.

Anonymous said...

Howdy! I have a 18 yr old and a 4 yr old blooming at once! What are the chances of that? I wish we had some bats or creepy crawlies to pollinate them. Alas, we are humble DC apartment dwellers. Neither plant has bloomed before. The fragrance is heavy, like honeysuckle, and has me dosed up on antihistamine.

Thanks for your informative blog!

Anonymous said...

I just got one of these as an office gift, but my office has no direct light (possibly some very indirect sunlight from a nearby frosted glass door). Should I take it home now and then so that it doesn't get light starved?

Also I have heard that it's good to spritz the leaves with water in the winter to humidify and help clean off dust build-ups--do you agree?

Thanks so much for your wonderful post--I know it will make me a much better first time plant caretaker!

mr_subjunctive said...


If you can put the plant close to the frosted glass door, and have lights on during the day in the office, that may be enough. The variegation will fade in lower light, but the plant should still survive. (Remember to rotate the plant a quarter-turn or so occasionally, so all sides of it get light.)

I don't necessarily object to you taking the plant home occasionally, but if you do, be sure to take care to only move it on warmish days, as the leaves can easily be damaged by cold, or else wrap the plant in plastic (something like a long dry-cleaning bag might work) before moving it.

As for misting with water, it's not the worst thing in the world, but I don't think it does much to raise humidity or remove dust. It does raise humidity while the water is still evaporating, but it's not very much water, and it evaporates and dissipates very quickly. You might raise the humidity for five to ten minutes, but that's not enough to be particularly useful to the plant. This is probably not going to be that big of an issue for the plant, but if you live somewhere that's very cold and dry, putting a humidifier in the office is probably the best solution.

As for dusting, the best solution is to go over the plant by hand with a wet paper towel. You may occasionally break some leaves, but otherwise it's fairly safe and effective, if slow.

Second-best is to stick the plant in a warm (not hot -- roughly 80F/27C) shower and let the dust wash off. The primary danger there is that if water is allowed to stand in the growing tips for a while, especially if it's mineral-heavy water, it will sometimes kill the growing tips. (They'll come back, but usually the new growth is smaller and weaker and out of proportion to the rest of the plant.) So if you're going to do that, remember to get the water out of the tips with a paper towel. (It need not be perfectly dry, just dry enough that it'll evaporate pretty quickly.)

Misting usually doesn't involve enough water to do much dusting, and misting in a dust-heavy environment can actually just make it worse, because the water on the leaves just makes it easier for dust to settle and stick. Where I live now, the water is so hard that misting actually just deposits a new layer of minerals on the leaves and makes everything worse.

Alexandra said...

I had a good laugh with this post, as I am like that too! In fact, this is what brought me here, as I went to a hardware store today and "rescued" a Massangeana that was whispering to me to get it out of there (it seemed to me)It has some badly sunburned leaves, and some dead buds (the very new inside leaf, sigh). Generally though, it seems ok. My question to you is this: What if I want to plant it outside? I live in Portugal, where we have warm to hot summers but pretty wet winters. Does it like some morning sun or afternoon ditto? I gather it likes "bright shade" which I can provide most of the day but, depending on the side of the house I plant it, it will get some early or late sun...or no direct sun under the bamboo pergola...Do you think it can handle daily rain if the soil drains well? Tks

mr_subjunctive said...


This is really out of my area of expertise, so I don't know how to answer. My suspicion is that the combination of wet and cold would probably rot the plant; if you get a lot of wind during the winter as well, the combination of cold and windy will probably burn leaves, so it wouldn't look very good during half the year. (As far as it goes, if it's too hot in the summer, that can be a problem too.)

If the plant's easily replaced, then there's not much to lose by trying it outside, but I wouldn't plant it outside if it would be difficult to get a replacement.

Alexandra said...

Thanks for your response! I think you are probably right about the water and cold combo effects. Its not that its hard to replace, but now that I´ve "saved" the poor bugger it`d be really sad if I then went on to torture and kill it, right? So on second thought, I will now repot and put it it in a bright spot inside. I really hope it blooms, because I love honeysuckle fragrance!
Take care

aimless and irritated said...

Stumbled upon your blog while searching for 'Dracaena Fragrans' and I can't stop laughing. I'll be catching up on other posts as time permits. And strangly enough, I'm also in Iowa City.

So here's my issue... it's moving season and I found this plant out by the dumpster about two weeks ago when we got the golfball sized hail. It gave me sad puppy eyes and now it resides on the shaded porch of my new house. I dug out the rotted cane and left the one that was still leafed... seems to be getting better as the green has darkened and lighter shoots of green are starting to appear down the centers. I hadn't the foggiest what it was but today the nice people at Earl May were able to translate my poor description into a latin name I can't pronounce... and here I am, one bag of peat-soil-compost mix and decorative pot later. Should I be leaving it on the porch? When might it flower? What the hell am I doing taking in a potentially rabid dumpster plant?

mr_subjunctive said...

aimless and irritated:

You got golf ball-sized hail? We didn't get golf ball-sized hail. Now I'm jealous.

A shaded porch should be good, actually, as long as it doesn't get much/any direct sun and you keep up with the watering (it'll dry out faster outside than it would in). Bring it in before it gets cold out, though. (Maybe about early or mid-September.)

It probably won't flower anytime soon, unless it's already very tall. (They can flower while still short, but it's even less common than blooming when tall.)

It's also unlikely to be rabid, but I'm going to assume that was poetic license on your part.

Jennifer said...

Thank you for this informative post! But I still have a question. I bought one of these on clearance at Lowe's 3 weeks ago. Nothing visibly wrong, looked fine, lucky price for me. It is a small one, one cane about 6-7 in tall with 2 sprouts near the top. The top has that look in your picture, the one you said showed the wax. However, after 2 weeks at home, it is rotting. But the rot is from the TOP down. Turning dark brown, not mushy exactly, just wrinkly. Little tiny white spots up at the very top. Every website I read talks about rot going up the cane. Mine is going down. And very fast. It is basically to the bottom now. But the 2 sprouts look good. Can I break them off and root them? Any chance of survival? Or is this a loss of $1.50?

mr_subjunctive said...


Yes, you can break the side sprouts off and root them. I don't know that it's necessarily the best way, but I've rooted mine in water first and then transferred them to soil. (In fact, I've grown a piece of D. fragrans in water for over a year before, though that was mostly accidental.

I also recommend cutting them off with a sharp, clean knife, instead of breaking them -- a clean cut would be less traumatic and would decrease the possibility of introducing fungus or bacteria.

This won't work if the sprouts are too small, but it sounds like you probably don't have anything to lose by trying.

Anonymous said...

My dracaena was thriving and growing quite nicely until it was so tall it literally fell over. Since it fell sideways it stopped growing and starting dying, leaves browned and died at the bottom and continued up the stalk. So I think it's dying. It is like 6 feet tall and now only has a handful of leaves at the very top. I think I should cut the top off and transplant whatever green is left right? And maybe take a few cuttings from the top to save what I can? Help? I loved this plant.

mr_subjunctive said...


It fell over? 'Cause that suggests that it was rotting.

If there's anything to be salvaged (there might not be), then yes, cutting off the parts that are still green and trying to re-root them is pretty much all you can do. It probably makes more sense to try to cut off and root the side-shoots only, without including any of the original thick, woody cane: they'll probably root more easily.

Anonymous said...

I've been enjoying the wonderful smell coming from my sunroom for about 3 days and discovered it is my "corn plant". Thank you so much for your wonderful blog and the real name of my plant. I just had to learn more about a plant that could emit such a fragrance. It was a gift from good friends when our 12 year old dog passed away. I feel very lucky that mine has flowered because it is only about 4 feet tall. The smell is amazing and after your warning of sap dripping, I think I'll go put a towel under it! Great blog and thank you again.

Anonymous said...


I stumbled across your page, just like most of the other commenters - looking for care instructions. And I'm so glad I did!

I'm pretty sure I know what needs to happen, but my boyfriend (who's taken 2 spider plants and has furnished our apartment with over 30 of them in a few years, plants seem to like him) has another opinion. I'd like to get your thoughts, I really love this plant.

Slightly long story, I'll keep it brief. We bought this plant towards the end of summer in Maine,(I call him Planty, he didn't have much of a personality at the time) from Home depot, saved it really, and he was doing well. 2 stalks with 3 sprouts each, one stalk taller than the other. Well, the baby sprout on the tall stalk died (or withered or went to sleep), but he was still doing alright. We were so excited about him!

Then I noticed his big leaves were doing the burnt tips thing. I put him in a better place for lighting and kept up with spritzing him everyday instead of watering him. He absolutely loved it, was getting HUGE, our kitchen table was being covered by his leaves.

Then I noticed the bugs. They're like centipedes only really small. And in mass. I live in Maine, so right now it's incredibly chilly. I'd hate to replant him while it's so cold in our place. But the bugs....there's so many of them and now they're all dead. They're piled on each other, and even though I scoop some out every day to try to clear out the dirt....when I dig a little, I just find more.

Well, he has had all these bugs since we got him apparently. This past November, we had to go out to California for a family emergency. We stayed until middle of January. During those 2.5 months, no one watered any of our plants. Our spider plants look great, so do our 3 small bonsai trees, and our avacado tree looks AMAZING. Planty does NOT.

In fact, he looks dead. The stalks are still pretty solid, but the leaves just turned brown and frail and he's all wilted. Some still have a hint of green, but it's the dried out green. When we first got home from our trip, the biggest leaf on the tallest stalk had a tiny amount of live green left, so that's why I say he Looks dead. I spritz him once and a while, but he doesn't accept any water. It's all pooling at the bottom of the container (he's in a pot in a pot if that makes sense).

OK, enough back story. My question: will he make it, do you think, til it's warmer and I can redo the soil? Or should I repot now? I think the bugs in the dirt are what killed him (if he is dead or dying), it's like the entire population of this type of bug is in the pot. Should I just leave him be and keep up the spritzing or what?

My man says to just spritz him (we've had spider plants get killed off by cold or something and we just take the leaves off, keep spritzing and eventually it comes back) and he'll be fine, but I think maybe repotting eventually?

I want Planty to live. He's our biggest plant, and was my showcase baby - if that makes sense. Any thoughts would be so helpful! Sorry for all the details, but this guy deserves having his story told. :-) Thank you in advance for your thoughts, time and energy!

I hope all is well and that your plants are doing great!

mr_subjunctive said...


Well, I'm having trouble imagining a scenario in which a spider plant or avocado could be left for 2.5 months without watering and still be all right, so I'm thinking I don't have a good handle on where and how you're growing the plants in the first place.

Do you have a digital camera? I'd like to see a decent close-up of the bugs, a picture of the whole plant, and a shot showing the remaining green on the one leaf. (You could send them by e-mail --, without the three H's -- or give me a link to a Flickr image or something like that.)

My knee-jerk reaction would be to say that it's probably the 2.5-month drought, not the bugs: if they're millipedes (which is my suspicion), they're primarily there for the decaying bark and peat in the soil, not for the fresh living plant roots. And Dracaenas are drought-tolerant, but that's asking a lot. (Avocadoes aren't drought-tolerant, like, at all, so I don't know how that could possibly have worked.)

It's also possible, if you were gone November to January, that the problem was the cold. Do you have any idea what the temperature in the house would have been like while you were away? 'Cause if it was at or below about 50-55F / 10-13C for any significant length of time, that could have killed (or at least seriously damaged) the Dracaena while leaving the avocado alone. (Couldn't explain the spider plants, though: they're not supposed to be okay with temperatures that cold either.) And this doesn't seem like an unlikely thermostat setting for an unoccupied home in winter in Maine.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your quick reply! I'll send pictures of all of them asap so you can see what all I'm talking about. :-) Thank you.

priya said...

Hi, I got a pot that has 2 draceanas from home depot. I bumped in to your blog last evening and read about the water flushing method. This morning I took the plant out to water and I noticed small white worms coming out of the soil in the pot as I watered. It was scary. I am guessing I failed to notice them because the plant was inside. Now, I can't bring it back inside. What should I do to get rid of these worms. Please guide me.

mr_subjunctive said...


Most tropical plants sold in the U.S. are produced outdoors, often in southern Florida. The pots sit out on the ground, and sometimes things (mostly earthworms or millipedes, occasionally beetle larvae and centipedes) crawl up through the drainage holes and wind up in the pot.

From your description, and from the fact that I've recently fielded a similar question via e-mail from a reader who had millipedes in her Home-Depot-purchased corn plant, I'm guessing what you have is probably millipedes. They're really not that big of a deal -- they aren't likely to hurt the plant, and have little incentive to leave the pot (they prefer cool, moist places with lots of soft, decaying organic matter to eat, like for example the potting mix in a houseplant), so there's really no danger in bringing the plant back inside.

As for how to get rid of them, well, your best bet would be to completely replace the soil.

There is more information which may be relevant to your question here and here.

priya said...

Thank you very much for giving me the insight. I feel good now. I will probably change the soil. I totally appreciate the kind work you are doing. I am a plant lover and meeting your blog is one of the best things that happened. Keep your blogs coming in. They re so informative.

Matthew said...

Hello. I bought a corn plant just yesterday. I noticed that corn plants have yellow-green/yellow stripes but mine doesn't have. I was wondering how to get those stripes.

mr_subjunctive said...


Did it have the stripes when you got it? If it's gone solid green over time, it may just not be getting enough light. If it's never had stripes, it might not be the variety 'Massangeana:' the species is solid green.

The species is also not sold very often, so if you don't know the plant's history (if someone gave it to you after they'd had it for a while, or something like that), you're probably safe to assume that it is 'Massangeana,' and should try giving it more light (and east or west window is fine) and see what happens.

Neema said...

Mr. Subjunctive,
I wanted to THANK YOU! for the in-depth info you provide on the greens!!
The D.fragrans is one of my fav. plant too, I have one that is about 6 ft high in my living room. I water it once a week and it has been very happy adorning the corner next to the window :)

The only thing that got me scratching my head a bit was - I've had it for about 10 months now, but no flowers whatsoever! Is that alright? (I bought it full grown from the local nursery).

mr_subjunctive said...


Plants have to be a lot older than that to flower. Most of the time when I've heard stories about people's plants flowering indoors, they've been plants that had been around a good 15-20 years, that were scraping the ceiling. (Occasionally one hears about younger plants flowering, too, but generally it's the sort of thing you have to wait at least a decade for.)

Nichole77 said...

I love your blog!! I have had my Dracaena for about 7-8 years now (although it was very large already when I purchased from Home Depot, so who knows how old it really is?) and it just started flowering this month! I had no idea it even flowered so when they started growing I wondered what was going on with it. After a couple of weeks of the flower stem growing I finally looked it up. The flowers finally started opening a few days ago and the smell is incredible!!! I absolutely love it! To me, it smells like a combination of lilac and honeysuckle. I don't know why anyone would want to cut the flowers off? I guess some people are just sensitive to smells and this DOES permeate the whole house. I live in a split level home and you can smell it everywhere, but only in the evenings. I only wish it would be a constant flowering plant. It looks beautiful and I have yet to have any problem with the sap getting on anything. So far, it has stayed right on the stem of the flower. It has always been such an easy plant to take care of and I just love how it makes me feel like I have a bit of the tropics right in my living room.

Anonymous said...

After reading all of your posts I am absolutely certain that I have no idea what I am doing with the Dracaena I recently purchased. I am embarrassed to admit that I purchased this for my front porch, but I live in AZ. I saw the plant at Lowe's and I loved it and I assumed (based on its size) that it was an outdoor plant. The plant doesn't get direct sunlight, but it is about 105 degrees outside with almost no humidity...too hot I'm guessing? How often should I be watering this plant? Right now I am doing about 1 gallon of water every few weeks. (If this is totally wrong, forgive me...this is my first plant.)

mr_subjunctive said...


Yes, 105F is probably too hot, particularly if it's also windy and/or humidity is low, but if it's in heavy shade it might still be okay -- my growers' guide says optimum temperatures are 65-96F, so you're not that far off, really. (The guide also recommends "if humidity is low, it helps to leave buckets of water out, or else periodically hose down the ground to maintain humidity," but that advice is aimed at greenhouse growers: I'm not sure it would be that helpful to do that outside.

As to how often you should be watering, I don't know -- this is so far removed from the situation I grow them in that I really couldn't say. Every few weeks is almost certainly not often enough. (I'd be surprised if it didn't need water every day or every other day, actually, though watering depends on so many factors -- pot material, proportion of root mass to soil mass in the pot, size of the pot, components of the potting soil, etc. -- that I could be considerably off on that.

My advice would be to bring it in the house. The air might still be dry, but with lower temperatures and no wind, it'd have an easier time of things, and wouldn't need watering as frequently. If that's not possible for some reason, well, Lowe's plants are cheap, so if it dies on you, you're not out a huge amount of money. Don't move it to a spot that gets any direct sun outdoors; a couple hours of direct sun indoors is probably still okay, but it can get by with quite a bit less.

Anonymous said...

Thank you. This was very helpful!

Gem said...

Hello! I came across this post while doing some research on the D Fragrans to find out about propagation, thankyou for your very informative post on this species.
I have the massangaena variety that I received as a present and until about 2 months ago it was still living in its original pot and soil from the store. I repotted into a much larger pot and mixed the soil with 1 part sand to aid drainage. It currently lives on the floor underneath a window and next to frosted glass door which seems to be giving it filtered light.

I received this plant without much knowledge of the species and alot of bravado and subsequently feel that it was in fact 'overcared' for. I have posted a picture which you can access here:

You may also be able to see the stub where I cut the stem (a mistake after a fertiliser burning) but since the repotting the stem growing directly off the cane (left) has stretched out and grown more nodes. however, the sprout of leaves that developed out of the side of the stub have not grown anymore.

This also seems to be the case with the sprout coming out of the right cane - it has not grown since I first received it. You can see a photo here:

I was wondering whether it would be good to remove the right sprout?

This final photo shows the new growth that has spurted up from beneath the soil in the last 2 weeks.

Do you think this stem will eventually turn woody?

Any advice would be appreciated. Thanks :)

mr_subjunctive said...


I'd be inclined to leave the right cane alone. If something happens to the main growing tip, the sprout will take over, and it might even decide to grow on its own, if you're patient. There's nothing to be gained from cutting it off.

The sprout coming from under the soil may eventually turn woody, though that typically doesn't happen to plants grown indoors. It'll still be strong enough to stand up on its own and stuff, though.

Anonymous said...

Hi, I know what you mean about the chain stores not being willing to take care of their plants. Fortunately the Lowe's and Home Depot around here seem to do okay at least with the more typical plants. But, my boyfriend works at Walmart and I absolutely loathe them, more-so now that my boyfriend works there. He works in the garden center and he actually tries to give a crap but nobody else really knows what they're doing so it doesn't really help. Probably the worst thing that they keep doing that really pisses me off is putting perfectly good plants through the grinder just to make room for all this Christmas stuff. I asked him how some of them were fairing out of curiosity because I like them and he said they had gotten rid of them and I asked was there something wrong with them and he said no. And the spot they were freeing up, it turns out they didn't even end up putting anything there. And apparently this is pretty common. And I asked him why they couldn't just put them on sale and try to get rid of them, which they do sometimes, but they don't usually take off much, but they don't because they'll claim them as damaged goods and somehow get their money back on them. I have no idea how all this works and I probably got some of it wrong because I'm pissed off but the point is I can't stand how they pointlessly kill so many plants. Sorry, just needed to get it out of my system. Crap, it's still there!

Anonymous said...

I got a really nice one from Lowe's a few months back. It's so nice and tall and bushy that I'll often look at it in shock because I've just never had a plant that big and nice looking. It comes to my neck at least (not saying much, I'm kind of short) and it takes up a good bit of the corner. I hope I don't kill it. I stay terrified of root rot, esp. during winter. Also, congrats on the plants you got from Lowe's! They look really nice. I can't tell they were damaged. You've done a nice job with them.

Anonymous said...

My Dracena Fragrans' stalk is much thicker than shown in the picture but smaller. Does it make any difference?

mr_subjunctive said...


Not to me it doesn't. :^P

What kind of difference do you mean? Difference to you? Difference to the plant?

Anonymous said...


I just purchased 5 of these mass-canes at my local grocery store (5-6 foot tall each, $39.99 - is that a good price?) Anyway, after taking them home, I put them out under the sun (85 F) for about 3 hours - it does say HI SUN on the label! Was that a mistake and now I can expect sun-burned leaves? I also applied some fertilizer to the soil, because the label also says so specifically (??) Otherwise they are in my living room next to the windows. So, do they like and need direct sun once in a while, or just keep them inside all the time?

mr_subjunctive said...


$40/plant seems expensive to me, though around here they're usually shorter than that, so it might be reasonable. You've already got them, so it doesn't really matter.

I don't know why the label would have said HI SUN. That's weird. Some sun isn't a terrible idea: my plants are currently getting a little bit of sun, filtered through other plants, which works well. But they certainly don't require strong, direct sun all day long, like the tag would seem to imply.

As to whether putting them outside for three hours in sun will cause bleaching/burning, well, by the time you read this, you'll probably know already if they're going to burn. It's hard to say with any confidence, because I don't know where and how your plants were produced. Plants intended for the indoor market are initially grown in as much light as they can handle, because they grow fastest that way, and then when they're close to shippable size, they get moved to a shade house for a while to let them acclimate to the lower light levels they'll encounter in homes. If the producers of your plants skimped on the acclimation stage, your plants probably won't have a problem with three hours of sun here or there.

I wouldn't worry about the fertilizer at all; I was more afraid of fertilizer five years ago when I wrote this post than I am now. I doubt you've hurt anything.

If they didn't burn/bleach from their time outside, you're probably okay to do it again. Whether or not you want to is sort of up to you. They'll have to come inside at some point if/when the weather gets very hot or cold, so you might find it easier to just keep them in the house by the windows all the time, instead of spending a lot of time moving them back and forth, but that's your decision to make. If the plants do spend several weeks inside at some point, you'll need to be prepared for the possibility that they'll burn if you put them out in the sun again, because they'll be accustomed to the lower light in the house. They can be re-acclimated, by leaving them out for an hour a day at first, then a couple hours, and so on.

Not that getting a sunburn is the worst thing in the world for the plants anyway; it's not likely to kill them or anything. It's just that they're slow growers, so you'll have to look at the sunburnt leaves for a long time. This doesn't necessarily have to bother you if you don't want it to.

DQ2.0 said...

Hi. I have had one if these for maybe 5 years. It had 3 stalks but one had rot and I separated it from the others a year ago. I am a pro at benign neglect of house plants so it has fared okay in our house, which is blessed with tons of indirect/filtered light. But most of its life it has sort of been ho-hum in survival mode.

Anyway, over the past week we've noticed something weird sticking out and were shocked to see that it was going to flower. Actually, two of the three sprouts on the taller cane is flowering (a beautiful scent, but it is a little overpowering in fact). The ONLY thing I've done differently in the past 2-3 months is water it from our new rain barrel. Do you think it is suddenly so happy because of the lack of fluoride? My black thumb cannot otherwise explain it. Are two flowering stalks common? Can you explain again what to do once the flowering is finished. (let's hope you say 'nothing' - my expertise)

christine said...

I was looking for some advice: I have a plant with two stalks, have had it about a year, but the taller stalk has lost all its leaves. It also feels and looks drier than the healthy stalk. I'm pretty sure I overwatered it when I first got it. How can I tell if it's dead? If it's dead, what should I do, pull it out? The other stalk is doing really well and has bounced back.

Thanks a lot,

mr_subjunctive said...


I couldn't begin to guess why your plants are flowering; if the main change they've been through is the change in water, I suppose that's the most likely cause. Two flowering stalks at once is unusual, yes.

You can cut off the flower stalks at whatever point you like. (Since you have two blooming at once, and people complain about the overpowering scent from just one stalk, there's a good chance you'll want to get rid of at least one more or less immediately.) The stalks that produced the blooms are likely to die back to the main stem, but the plants should produce new growing tips to replace the growing tips that die. So basically your responsibility after the blooming is finished amounts to cutting off stuff that's dead.


If it's lost all its leaves, and feels different from the healthy stalk, there's a good chance that it's toast. The stem shouldn't give at all when you press on it; if it's mushy, or feels hollow (often they'll partly hollow out, where there's a small hard core at the middle, then a big empty space, then the outer skin), it's dead. A living plant will probably be trying to produce new growing tips, somewhere near the top of the trunk.

If one of the stalks is in fact dead, you should probably take both out of the pot, separate them from one another, and then re-pot the living one into a smaller container, ideally with a soil that doesn't contain a lot of peat. (I'd recommend using a ceramic or clay pot, possibly with some pebbles or gravel in the bottom. You should be able to use a pot that's a couple inches smaller in diameter than the original pot.) If that doesn't work for you, for whatever reason, then it may be possible to just cut the dead one down to the soil line and let the roots rot in place, though that puts the survivor at more risk of rot.

Annie TH said...

My Dracaena has flowered every year for the past three or four years but I've just left the flower spikes to bloom and die off each time. The stem has continued to grow and flower each year but has become thinner. I've recently noticed leaf nodes appearing about half way up the stem. Should I cut the stem above these nodes to allow them to sprout new leaves? Thanks.

mr_subjunctive said...

Annie TH:

Well, I wouldn't necessarily go with "should," but certainly you can.

I'm very surprised that you've gotten repeat blooms from the same growing tip; my understanding was that that didn't happen.

Anonymous said...

Hi! I have had my plant (from IKEA) for a year now. Lately, some of the leaves started going yellow so I cut them off. I thought perhaps it isnt getting enough light (my living room is pretty dark) so I left it out on the covered porch (south facing in Berkeley, CA) for a week while I was gone. The porch is covered and it would have been in the shade most of the day, but I guess we had abnormally high temperatures last week and the plant was completely scorched when I got back. I cut off half its leaves this morning (from the sun-facing sun) and brought it back in, but the rest of the leaves also are paler in color than before and less shiny. Is there anything I can do to get it back to normal? I understand the new growth is only from the top so the missing side will never fill in...


mr_subjunctive said...


Pretty much just time and patience. Bleached leaves don't darken back up over time as far as I've seen.

Anonymous said...

I bought my Dracaena plant from a chain store 3-4 years back. At that time there were two small sprouts from the 6 inch woody part. I was watering it with 20-20-20 fertilizer every week. Last six months I have been watering it additionally with orchid fertilizer left over after soaking my orchid every two weeks.Last week I noticed flower buds on both the stalks that are about 5 feet tall now. The fragrance is great. Glad to read your suggestions about what to do after the flowering is over

marc adams said...

My plant is over 50 years old. In that time it has only bloomed twice and is now on its third time. It is the most wonderful scent on earth and I am thrilled.

my fortune plant said...

My plant is over 8ft tall and is getting too tall for my ceiling. It flowers every other year and I would like to keep it inside. Do you know if they can be cut? I would love to plant them outside as well but I don't think this plant likes direct sunlight. Any suggestions?

mr_subjunctive said...

my fortune plant:

Well, they can be cut back, but I don't know what to expect if you're going to cut it back and then keep it indoors. Ideally, you'd want to give it bright light and warm temperatures to encourage it to sprout new growing tips, and even if that happened, it might take a while. You'd also want to be careful about how often and how much you water, because it'll need a lot less water without the leaves: you'd run the risk of rotting it if you kept watering like normal.