The Dracaena, more commonly known as the corn plant, the dragon tree or the ribbon plant, is a genus of houseplants. Dracaena species generally thrive with little light, making them ideal for relatively dim interiors. The plants are also adaptable to many spaces; they can reach anywhere from 2 to 10 feet high, and are just about 2 feet wide. However, given the slight toxicity of the Dracaena's leaves, you may prefer not to plant them if you have pets or small children.
If you have dogs or cats at home, it's advisable to avoid planting any Dracaena, which can be toxic if ingested, especially by smaller animals. The saponins in the plant's leaves and bark can induce vomiting or vomiting blood, anorexia, excessive salivation and depression. Cats may also have dilated pupils. If your pet has ingested Dracaena, immediately contact your veterinarian or the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Animal Poison Control Center.
In general, Dracaena are safe plants for humans to be around. Touching the plant's leaves and even accidental ingestion are unlikely to provoke any illness. However, regardless of toxin content, many plants, including Dracaena, can cause negative reactions in people with allergies or heightened sensitivities. Therefore, never eat plants that are unfamiliar to you and teach children to do the same.
Saponins, the toxic compounds found in Dracaena plants, are a type of sugar derivative called glycoside with a characteristically foamy appearance. In fact, the compounds take their name from their presence in the soapwort plant, which was once used as soap. The bitter flavor of saponins discourages animals from eating the plants that contain them. In some cases, saponins are present in nontoxic quantities, even to animals, in foods such as oats and spinach. The saponins in these foods are even beneficial, improving calcium and silicon absorption and aiding digestion.
Plants of the Dracaena genus generally are easy to grow and, at least indoors, the diseases to which they are susceptible are rarely an issue. Though the plants are tolerant of low light conditions, they do even better in direct sunlight. Avoid planting Dracaena in soil with high levels of fluoride or irrigating it with heavily fluoridated water, as it is sensitive to fluoride. Also avoid fertilizers with superphosphates, which typically contain high fluorine levels. A slightly humid environment also benefits dracaena growth; if you must plant them in drier conditions, occasionally mist the foliage with water.
Danielle Hill has been writing, editing and translating since 2005. She has contributed to "Globe Pequot" Barcelona travel guide, "Gulfshore Business Magazine," "Connecting Lines: New Poetry from Mexico" and "The Barcelona Review." She has trained in neuro-linguistic programming and holds a Bachelor of Arts in comparative literature and literary translation from Brown University.