Spotlighting: Dracaena fragrans canes

What plant type tolerates low humidity and 50fc of light, sports designer stripes, comes in a variety of shapes and heights and has few pest problems? None other than our old friend Dracaena fragrans and the popular variety ‘Massangeana,’ commonly called the cornstalk plant!

Originally from Upper Guinea, most of our fragrans and ‘Massangeana’ canes currently come from Central America. Prior to shipping, the canes are precut to specific lengths. The bare cane tips are capped with wax. The basal ends are notched and rooting hormones applied to promote root growth.

The canes are then sent to growers who pot them in staggered heights such as 5’ 4’ 3’ 2′ or 4’ 3’ 2′, depending on the container size. It takes 7-9 months for the bare canes to stabilize and develop a root system strong enough to be shipped to wholesalers and interiorscapers. The newly rooted and planted canes have most of their roots at the bottom of the container and can be easily injured if handled incorrectly. To minimize damage, canes are carefully packaged to prevent any shifting or leaning.

The Basic Requirements

Dracaena fragrans canes can be acclimated to light levels as low as 30fc. Variegated varieties such as ‘Massangeana’ will lose much of their variegation at light levels under 75fc. Low light and old age cause the foliage to elongate and thin out. Direct sun will cause brown blotches and burning of the foliage.

Water all varieties of D. fragrans thoroughly. Water newly rooted canes around base of canes; pour water on entire surface of the container for established canes with extensive root systems. If top watering, add water until it trickles out the grow holes in the bottom of the pot. Remove any standing water.

Since all staggered canes are currently planted at the same depth in the container, allow the media to dry down 1/2 to 3/4 of the container (depending on the light levels) before top watering again. Depending on the health of the plant and the environmental conditions, this could take from 2-4 weeks.

Overwatered canes exhibit yellow tips on older foliage. New growth becomes pale with light brown tips. Canes develop stem and root rot. Underwatered canes develop brown leaf tips, droopy foliage and leaning canes. Individual leaves may turn bright yellow.

Clean the foliage regularly with soap and water. Check for signs of spider mites, mealy bugs or thrips. Treat any infestation with phosphate-free soap and water. Pick off mealy bugs with alcohol on a Q-tip. Feel the stems for loose bark or smelly, mushy stems — a sure sign of stem or root rot.

Given the correct environmental conditions and proper maintenance care, the elegant Dracaena cane varieties will grace any interiorscape for many years.