Sunday, November 30, 2014
'Song of India' (Dracaena reflexa 'variegata')
The name of this plant, 'Song of India', always intrigued me. Whispers from exotic movies watched as a kid I expect. It was interesting to find out, when doing an internet search on the name, that there is actually an old Big Band performance on You Tube of a composition called 'Song of India'. Was the plant given its English name from that piece of music? Further research also told me that this plant is not actually native to India. It is native to islands like Madagascar and Mauritius in the the Indian Ocean though.
'Song of India' is another one of my loved tough plants. It is not fussy about soil as long as it has good drainage. It thrives in my coral sand soil. It is high drought tolerant and will grow in partial or full sun. It grows slowly and is upright in growth although it widens out in the middle as it gets older. It will grow 4-5 meters high if allowed to grow naturally. Mine is above the height of our house and is part of the boundary hedge planting. Actually, it is one of the few 'Song of India' plants that I have seen that has been allowed to grow to full height. Most are kept cut down to lower than five feet. The mature tree has small white flowers early winter and then a few yellow/orange berries. I have never seen disease or insect problems with it. Strong salt winds may mean some dry leaf drop with lots of dry leaves to rake up on the lawn but the tree does not look bare from it. I like these dry, long lasting dropped leaves to use as mulch in my container plants. I notice that the thick foliage growth of the tree makes it a popular place for birds nests.
The wild native Dracaena relexa is plain green in color so the 'Song of India' is a variegated variety grown by nurseries. There is another variety grown by nurseries called 'Song of Jamaica' which has leaves with stripes of two shades of green. I also have that growing in our boundary hedge and it grows the same way as the 'Song of India'.
'Song of India' is very popular here in Hawaii for tropical flower arrangements. Strong, upright branches are needed for this so the naturally shorter curled branches of my old tree do not work well. Instead, a shrub must be kept topped at easy reach height and then the vigorous new growth harvested when it gets to the required size for selling to floral shops.
We gathered huge amounts of 'Song of India' several years ago to decorate the big white tent for my daughter's wedding reception. We tied clumps of floral oasis on the tent poles and filled them with 'Song of India' branches, big Laua'e fern leaves and long hanging strands of Asparagus Fern.
The leaves of the 'Song of India' are also used in lei making here in Hawaii. The attractive leaf colors contrast well with other foliage and flowers. Although the leaf is a little stiff and pokey it works well in certain styles of lei such as the haku lei and lasts well.
To propagate 'Song of India' I have always used cuttings. I will usually put several cuttings cuddled up together in a large pot of potting media and then leave it in a shady place for several months to grow strong roots. They seem to do better this way than in individual pots. One thing to remember with this plant is to just remove the leaves from the bottom of the cutting but do not trim the upper leaves back as usually done with cuttings. Those leaves will not grow back and the resulting plant will not look so good or you will have to wait for the plant to grow taller for new nicer leaves and then remove the lower cut leaves. I also dip these cuttings in rooting powder to help them get going.