The dragon lily (Dracunculus vulgaris) is an eye-catching and unique plant known for its striking flowers resembling dragons’ heads. With its exotic appearance and tropical origins, growing dragon lilies may seem intimidating for beginners. However, with proper care, these tropical beauties can thrive indoors or outdoors. This beginner’s guide covers everything you need to know about successfully growing dragon lily plants.
An Introduction to Dragon Lily Plants
Dragon lilies are herbaceous perennials native to the Balkan Peninsula. They grow from tubers or rhizomes. Mature plants can reach up to 3 feet tall, with slender stems and long, narrow green leaves.
The plant gets its name from its showy flowers, which emerge in late spring or early summer. Each flower stalk produces a terminal flower resembling a dragon’s head, complete with a long, curved spur “tongue.” Flower colors range from purple, maroon, yellow, and orange. Some varieties have striking speckled or striped patterns on the flowers.
Beyond their unique floral display, dragon lilies are treasured for their hardiness and exotic fragrance. The flowers emit a pleasant aroma when in bloom. While the plants go dormant in winter, the tubers are cold, hardy, and robust, allowing them to thrive for many years when cared for properly.
Dragon lily deserves consideration if you want to add an unusual, tropical flair to your garden. When grown in the right conditions, these low-maintenance plants will repay you with their unbelievable, almost unreal blooms yearly.
Choosing a Site to Grow Dragon Lily
Dragon lilies thrive best in sites that replicate their natural Mediterranean environment. When selecting an ideal spot for your plants, keep these factors in mind:
Dragon lily grows best in full sun, requiring at least 6 hours of direct sunlight per day. Partial shade is acceptable, but it may result in fewer or paler blooms.
Rich, moist, well-draining soil is ideal. Dragon lily thrives in loamy soil with high organic matter. Soil should retain moisture but not get waterlogged.
Temperature and Humidity
Warm temperatures between 65-80°F are preferred during the growing season. High humidity is beneficial.
Dragon lily can be grown annually in zones 4-9 or brought indoors over winter. In zones 9-11, it can thrive as a perennial.
When planted in optimal conditions mimicking their Mediterranean homeland, dragon lilies will flourish and amply reward growers with their fabulous floral display each summer.
How to Plant Dragon Lily Bulbs and Tubers
Dragon lily plants propagate from bulbs or tubers. To start new plants:
Purchase tubers when plants go dormant in fall or early winter. Select large, healthy tubers showing no signs of rot or damage.
Plant in late winter or early spring once the danger of frost has passed. Dig a 12-18 inches deep hole and set the tuber in with the growth eye facing up. Space tubers 12-18 inches apart.
Backfill the hole with loose, amended soil. Cover with 2-3 inches of soil above the tuber.
Water thoroughly after planting and monitor soil moisture. Keep soil moist but not saturated while plants establish.
Apply a 2-4 inch mulch layer around plants to retain moisture and suppress weeds.
With proper planting and care, sprouts should emerge within several weeks. New plantings may not flower in their first year as the tubers become established. But you can expect exotic blooms the following summer.
Caring for Dragon Lily Plants
Giving your dragon lily plants attentive care will keep them thriving season after season. Follow these tips:
Dragon lily prefers consistently moist soil during growth and blooming. Water plants regularly, especially during hot, dry periods. Avoid overwatering, which can lead to rot. Let the top couple of inches of soil dry out between waterings.
Apply a balanced liquid fertilizer monthly during the growing season. Cease fertilizing once plants enter dormancy.
The tall, slender flower stalks may require staking to prevent toppling, especially in windy areas. Use short stakes and loose ties to support stems gently.
In zones 4-9, dig up tubers after the first frost when stems and leaves die back. Store in a cool, dark place until replanting in spring. In zones 9-11, tubers can remain in the ground. Apply mulch over dormant plants for winter protection.
Remove spent flowers by snipping off the flower stalks back to the stem. Prune away any damaged leaves or stems as needed.
Dragon lily has few serious pest or disease problems. Monitor for aphids, slugs, and snails which may cause damage. Avoid overwatering and provide good air circulation to prevent fungal diseases.
With its low-maintenance nature, dragon lily is easy to care for. Just provide ample sun, regular water, and well-drained soil, and your plants will flourish season after season.
How to Propagate Dragon Lily Plants
In addition to planting tubers, dragon lily can be propagated by division or from seeds. Here’s how:
Mature plants can be divided every 3-5 years in fall when they go dormant. Carefully dig up the tubers and separate them with a clean knife or spade, ensuring each divided section has both roots and growth buds. Replant the divisions at the original depth.
Collect ripe seeds from spent flowers after they fade. Sow seeds indoors 6-8 weeks before the last expected frost. Barely cover with soil and keep warm and moist until germination. Transplant seedlings outdoors after hardening off. Note that plants grown from seeds may take 2-3 years to reach maturity and flower.
Dividing established plants or sowing fresh seed expands your dragon lily collection. Share extras with gardening friends and family!
Tips for Getting Dragon Lilies to Bloom
The exotic blooms of dragon lily are the plant’s most prized feature. Follow these tips to maximize flowers:
- Ensure plants receive at least 6 hours of direct sun daily. The morning sun is ideal.
- Provide consistently moist, fertile soil during the growing season. Avoid extreme dryness.
- Water plants regularly, especially when flower buds appear. Proper watering is critical for abundant blooms.
- Apply compost or balanced fertilizer monthly while plants are actively growing.
- Stake flower stalks to prevent damage from wind and rain.
- Deadhead spent blooms to encourage more flowers.
- Allow plants to die back naturally each winter. Refrain from cutting back stems until spring.
- Divide congested tubers every 3-5 years to promote vigor and flowering.
Give plants adequate sun, water, and nutrients, and care for the most prolific floral display on your dragon lilies each summer.
Common Problems With Dragon Lilies
When provided with suitable growing conditions, dragon lily is relatively trouble-free. But occasionally, you may encounter these issues:
Lack of blooms
Insufficient sunlight, overcrowding, overfertilizing, or improper watering can inhibit flowering. Ensure plants get ample sun and moisture, and divide tubers if needed.
Fungal leaf spot diseases may cause brown spots. Improve airflow and avoid wetting foliage when watering. Remove and destroy affected leaves.
Plants with wilted, drooping leaves often suffer from a lack of water. Check soil moisture and water plants if necessary.
Aphids, slugs, and snails are occasional pests. Remove by hand or use insecticidal soap sprays if infestations persist.
Overwatering can cause tubers to rot. Allow soil to dry out between waterings and ensure drainage is adequate partially. Discard any rotten tubers.
Proper site selection, planting, and care make problems with dragon lilies rare. However, detecting and correcting issues promptly helps keep plants healthy.
Using Dragon Lily Plants in the Landscape
With its exotic, sculptural blooms, dragon lily is a showstopper in beds, borders, and containers. Here are some tips for incorporating it into garden designs:
- Plant in groups or drifts of 3-5 tubers for a bold, visual impact when blooms emerge.
- Surround the fiery blooms with blue or purple companions like iris, allium, and salvias to contrast with and accentuate them.
- Site in partial shade locations near patios, decks, or walkways where the flowers can be admired up close.
- Grow in containers on patios or entryways. The exotic blooms make stunning focal points in pots or planter boxes. To accommodate the tubers, select a container at least 12 inches deep.
- Plant along borders or beds in a perennial, cutting, or cottage garden. Position near the middle or back so taller plants don’t hide the blooms.
- Allow some plants to self-seed. Dragon lily often gently seeds around the garden, creating a naturalized look.
- To maximize display, keep tubers continually moist when in bloom. Plant near water features, ponds, or irrigated garden beds.
- Remove spent flower stalks to prevent self-seeding and encourage reblooming. But leave the foliage intact until it dies back in fall.
- Grow in zones 9-11 as striking evergreen perennials. The arching green leaves persist year-round in mild climates.
With its tropical flair, dragon lily injects drama into gardens of all styles. Site it where the fantastic flowers can steal the show each summer.
Exciting Facts About Dragon Lily
Beyond being an eye-catching garden plant, the unique dragon lily possesses some fascinating traits:
- The dried sap of dragon lily flowers and tubers has historically been used as a varnish to treat skin warts.
- During the Middle Ages, the odd-shaped flowers were thought to resemble dragon’s tongues. People believed they could ward off actual dragons.
- The common name “dragon arum” refers to the plant’s resemblance to Italian arum lilies (Zantedeschia)—both feature unique, showy blooms.
- Dragon lily flowers develop a faint, sweet fragrance at night to attract pollinators like moths and beetles. The smell fades during the day.
- Mature dragon lily tubers can weigh over 10 pounds. The tubers store water and nutrients to help plants survive dry periods.
- All parts of dragon lily contain calcium oxalate crystals, which can cause skin and eye irritation if mishandled. The plant should be handled carefully.
- Plants thrive for decades when tubers are left undisturbed in optimal growing conditions. Some dragon lily specimens are over 50 years old.
The mystical, mythical appearance of dragon lily has spawned fascinating facts and lore over centuries of cultivation. This storied past only adds to its allure as a unique garden plant.
Dragon Lily: A Dragon-Like Beauty for the Garden
With its exotic tubular blooms resembling dragon’s heads, the dragon lily lives up to its fanciful name. Like real dragons, this plant will breathe fire into your garden beds and borders.
While dragon lily has specific needs, including ample sunlight and rich soil, it’s simple to grow this Mediterranean native in temperate and warm climates. Given appropriate care, plants will flourish for many years, providing an ever-increasing display of their fantastical flowers.
If you have a soft spot for unusual plants, make a little room in your garden for dragon lily. Once established, this mythical beauty will repay your efforts with an enchanting floral show every summer.
With its striking flowers and tropical nature, growing dragon lilies will surely be an adventure for novice and experienced gardeners alike. While these plants require some specific care, their striking blooms and vigorous nature make the effort worthwhile. Please give them a sunny spot with rich soil, provide consistent moisture, and get ready to enjoy their fabulous floral show each summer. With dragon lily’s exotic charm and hardiness, you may find it hard to resist collecting more mythical beauties!
Frequently Asked Questions
What are some popular dragon lily plant varieties?
Some popular varieties of dragon lily include:
- Dracunculus ‘Serpentinite’: Maroon and yellow flowers with striped markings
- Dracunculus vulgaris ‘Vittadinii’: Purple and cream flowers
- Dracunculus vulgaris ‘Essedonensis’: Orange and maroon blooms
- Dracunculus vulgaris ‘Draco’: Bold yellow and maroon flowers
What type of soil is best for growing dragon lilies?
Dragon lilies thrive in fertile, well-draining soil with ample organic matter. The ideal soil is loamy and moisture-retentive but not soggy. Amend soil with compost or manure before planting.
Should you cut back dragon lily plants in winter?
Avoid cutting back the stems in the fall and let plants die naturally. Pruning too early can damage the tubers. Wait until new growth emerges in spring, then remove last year’s dead foliage.
How often do you need to divide or transplant dragon lily bulbs?
Divide congested clumps every 3-5 years in the fall after plants go dormant. This encourages vigorous growth and flowering. Transplant them to a new site if the soil has become depleted.
How much sunlight do dragon lily plants need?
Dragon lilies require full sun to partial shade. For best growth and maximum blooms, they need a minimum of 6 hours of direct sun daily. The morning sun is ideal. Too much shade will reduce flowering.