In garden nomenclature the names dracaena and cordyline are interchangeable, but I prefer to call them dracaenas, by which name they are commonly known, although botanical authorities class some of our dracaenas as cordy-lines.
The dracaenas are noble, erect growing foliage plants, grown entirely for the beauty of their leaves and stately habit, for the flower is small and inconspicuous compared to the plant. They do not usually flower till they attain considerable size, although occasionally they flower when quite young, possibly through some check to the vigor of the plant.
Though not of equal commercial value to the palms as greenhouse and hothouse decorative plants, they certainly rank very high. Some of them are excellent plants for the house. I have in mind a plant of D. fragrans Lindenii some three feet high in a 9-inch pot, furnished to the pot with its beautiful leaves, that has stood several feet from a window in a sitting-room for the past six months, and is to all appearances in perfect health.
Pandanus utilis, the ideal house plant, could not beat this.
Some of the species may grow six feet or thirty feet tall in their native habitat, and with age have bare stems crowned with a tuft of leaves, but our object in growing them as small or medium sized decorative plants is to preserve the leaves to the very bottom of the stem, and with the best cultivation they will carry their bottom leaves for some years.
It is noticeable that the fragrans type (tropical Africa) will bear and require 10 degrees more heat in the winter time than the terminalis and the high colored varieties. The terminalis type will do very well in a minimum winter temperature of 55 to 60 degrees, while fragrans and its varieties and Goldieana require 10 degrees higher. Fragrans also wants a good shade in the summer months, while the varieties of terminalis need shade only from the brightest rays of the sun.
Except in the darkest days of winter dracaenas should have a thorough daily syringing. By thorough is meant that every particle of the underside of the leaf should receive a good force from the syringe or hose. This necessitates a good condition of the soil that the water will pass freely through. The moisture arising from the syringing is conducive to growth, but a necessity as well to keep down thrips and red spider, which are very fond of dracaenas, especially the terminalis type, and will soon ruin the appearance of the leaf if allowed to commence their work.
Propagation in nearly all species is by cuttings, which grow from the ripened stems. The leading shoot will root freely, but this would be a very slow process, so stems are imported, or the ripened stems of old plants are used. They can be cut up into pieces one to two inches long, or the whole length of the stem can be laid in the propagating bed. A good mixture for the propagating bed is coarse sand and chopped sphagnum in equal parts, and the heat of the bed should be 80 degrees. Let the stem be even with the surface of bed. From the eyes or joints will spring young shoots which when two or three inches long can be cut from the stem, and they quickly root in warm sand and are soon on the road to make young plants.
The soil for dracaenas should be a good loam, not too finely broken up, and a fourth of leaf-mold, and the plants potted moderately firm. The pots, which should never be larger than necessary, should have an inch of broken crocks covered with a layer of green moss; this is as near good drainage as you can get.
Some of the species are very beautiful, but more suitable for the private collection than for the commercial man.
Draco, very suitable for subtropical gardening or for vases.
Goldieana, beautifully marked with dark green and silvery grey.
Fragrans, this is one of the finest species, requiring a good heat in winter and shade in summer.
Fragrans Lindenii, same habit as fragrans, but the leaf has a series of stripes of creamy white or yellow on each side of the green center.
Massangeana, another variegated form of D. fragrans, the chief distinction from Lindenii being that the variegation appears in a broad band of yellow or cream color throughout the center of the leaf.
Australis, a fine plant for outside decoration.
Novo-Caledonica, a fine bold species with large bronze leaves.
Terminalis, green or bronze, when young, with age the leaves assume fine shades of scarlet or crimson; most generally cultivated of all dracaenas and the parent of scores of the finest varieties. The following will be found to be beautiful and distinct sorts: Metallica, dark purplish bronze; amabilis, fine habit, glossy green suffused with pink and white; Baptistii, green margined with yellow and pink; imperialis, broad deep green leaves, the younger leaves crimson and pink; terminalis stricta grandis, the most highly colored and best of the terminalis form; Youngii, bright green streaked with deep red; and Lord Wolsley, Gladstoneii, Rebecca, Bella, Scottii, and Annerleyense, are all beautiful varieties.
Indivisa, a distinct species from New Zealand. It will thrive in a much lower temperature than any of the others except Draco. There are several varieties of indivisa, the best of which are Veitchii and lineata. Unlike the other dracaenas this one is easily and quickly raised from seed. If it were propagated only by cuttings how highly prized it would be, for no dracaena has more grace. What makes it most valuable to the commercial florist is its ability to withstand the sun and drought to which it is exposed throughout the summer in our cemetery vases. It not only lives under these unfavorable conditions, but flourishes. When three or four feet high if in good order it makes a splendid decorative plant that will endure any amount of hard usage, in fact anything but freezing, and we know that it even comes out of a slight frost unhurt. The seed, which is very cheap, should be sown in flats in winter or spring. We prefer to grow them the first year under glass, and the second spring plant them out in some good light, rich soil. The following fall they are lifted and potted in 4-inch or 5-inch pots and used largely the following spring for our vases and veranda-boxes. I know of no plant of its value that is so easy to grow and of so great a use to the florist. If short of room we have stood the small plants under a light bench in a cool house and kept them rather dry, where they have done well, but if you want them to grow during winter they should have 50 degrees at night, plenty of syringing with the hose, and they are troubled with nothing. In a few hundred seedlings you will see quite a variation of character; some with leaves almost a bronze red. They should be put aside and grown on with care; they may turn out to be of great beauty and value.