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24 Jul 2018

A beloved Dragon Tree finds a new purpose

The legendary Dragon Tree is fondly associated with mythological writers and has an incredible history stemming from ancient times. There are a number of Dragon Trees growing at the Royal Botanic Garden Sydney, but our oldest specimen, planted in the 1860s, is in the Palm Grove.

Over 150 years later, the moist, semi-shaded microclimate of the Palm Grove isn’t the ideal location for this individual, that would naturally occur in desert like areas of the Canary Islands. The progressive shading and competition by palms, subtropical rainforest trees and Clivea around its base has unfortunately resulted in declining health of our oldest Dragon Tree.  

A Dragon Tree in the Garden, circa 1900

Our horticultural team had been monitoring the tree for some time and initially installed supports to stabilise the tree in the early 2010s. The tree was showing signs of a sparse crown and begun to lean, which indicated that the roots were comprised and the tree wasn’t thriving.

Initially, a relocation plan was set in place with the help of a professional tree transplanting company, who have successfully relocated many Dragon Trees around Sydney and Australia.

In the past few years, horticultural staff have moved several Dragon Trees to other parts of the Garden and most recently transplanted a large Dragon Tree to the new Ian Potter Children’s Wild Play Garden at Centennial Park.

At the start of the relocation process the tree was provided with special root stimulants and fertilisers which would normally help increase its vigour. In an effort to provide easy transportation, the horticultural team also reduced the crown and systematically prepared its root system in preparation for the big move.

But a century of overshading and moist conditions was too much for the tree and we identified that relocation isn’t a viable option. To passers-by, the tree may seem healthy, however our highly skilled and experienced arborists, horticulturists and third-party reports concluded that if the tree isn’t removed it may be a threat to public safety due to the lack of structural integrity. The informative video with Dr. Dale Dixon below was published last year, when our hopeful plans to transport the tree were still high.

A large amount of careful planning and decision making is made before we remove a tree and in the case of this Dragon Tree, over eight years and every effort has been made to bring the tree back to life. 
Dr Dale Dixon, Garden Curator

For the safety of our visitors the tree will be removed from the Garden. Luckily, this tree is not gone forever due to the fast thinking of our horticulture team who quickly took the necessary steps to facilitate propagation.
 
Visitors can now enjoy the legacy of the old Dragon Tree by viewing a trunk cutting that is established and growing strong in the Dragon Tree Lawn. And there are also several sturdy cuttings being well looked after in the Nursery. These cuttings aren’t just for our viewing pleasure but also to ensure the genetic material of this tree remains in the Garden.

The Palm Grove Dragon Tree

More about Dragon Trees

Dragon Trees, Dracaena draco, are one of the most spectacular trees to see in a landscape. They are known for their architectural and symmetrical umbrella-like canopy. The umbrella-like habit is a result of its unique flowering, whereby the apex of the plant terminates after flowering and side shoots are initiated in a ring just below the apex creating a new whorl of branches.

The flowering and branching process is repeated over the life of the tree, approximately every ten to fifteen years, and this results in a dense rounded umbrella-like crown.

See our Dragon Trees

We have many examples of well grown Dragon Trees here at the Garden. Most notably, the trees on the Dragon Tree Lawn and the large tree in the Succulent Beds of the Middle Garden.

The Dragon Tree Lawn is a special project and brain child of the Garden’s Curator Dr Dale Dixon. It involved transplanting established Dragon Trees from within the Garden, the establishment of some small 5-year old trees cultivated in the nursery and the planting of a few young trees, purchased from professional trees transplanter David Dooley.

In addition to the trees - a series of large dragon claw shaped garden beds have been designed to sit at the base of the trees.

When all trees are mature a total of 16 beautiful umbrella-shaped trees will cover the lawn which is located close to the Government House gates and the Vista Pavilion.

The new lawn features baby cutting grown trees from this great grandfather Dracaena so that its magnificent genetic material can be preserved in perpetuity.

Did you know? Although reputedly used as a love potion, the resin of the Dragon Tree, produced from wounds or fungal infections, was traded from the 15th century for use as a polish especially for violins.
Category: Arboriculture
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