One of the most striking trees in our neighborhood, one that makes people stop in their tracks and exclaim, “What is that?” is the Dragon Tree (Dracaena draco). Native to the Canary Islands (and the national tree of Tenerife), the Dragon Tree is a curious plant. It is ancient, even having a role in Greek mythology. Legend has it that when Hercules (some stories report that it was Atlas) killed Landon, the 100-headed dragon who was protecting the Garden of Hesperides, the dragon’s blood spilled over the land and from it sprang up Dragon Trees.
Dragon Trees take a very long time to mature. They begin life as a single stalk, staying unbranched until they mature and flower at about 3 feet tall — this may take 10-15 years. After flowering, the top begins to branch. The number of branches can apparently be used to age the tree — one of the oldest specimens is thought to be more than 650 years old.
Dragon Trees are listed by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature as “vulnerable in their native habitat” because populations have been in decline for some time. It is considered endangered in Cape Verde. Although it is now cultivated all over the world in dry climates, in the wild, special measures will have to be taken for its survival in the dry forests and cliffs where it is naturally found.
Dragon Trees have been used extensively in traditional medicines and one of the uses for the bright red sap (dragon’s blood) is for staining violins their signature deep red color. Flowers of the dragon tree are greenish white and the fruit (which is sweet) is orange-brown and sticky. Many of the Dragon Trees in La Jolla must be more than 50-75 years old based on the highly branched canopies.