If anyone is visiting the Canaries for some winter sun, then look out for the outlandish plant Dracaena draco, a.k.a Dragon tree or just Drago. A native of Macronesia and Morocco, it’s very exciting to see a mature specimen in the wild, rather than how we might usually see it here, growing as a house plant. Even though it’s commonly referred to as a tree, it’s more tree-like on the outside than it is on the inside. Zero growth rings mean its age is determined by the number of branching points it has. These start from a central stem, branching outwards at the top, and then out again, to create the umbrella like form found on a fully grown specimen. They can last a long time too. One of the oldest plants, it is said, can be found on Tenerife, coming in at around 250 years.
In art, one of it’s most well known renderings is in The Garden of Earthly Delights triptych painted by Heironymous Bosch, (c. 1450 – 1516), where the plant in question stands tall, in the left hand panel, over God blessing Eve before she is presented to Adam. The rest of the painting (see below) is equally dramatic, crazy, and wonderfully nature inspired.
The genus Dracaena has about 40 species in total, most of which are found in Africa, not just the one found in the Canaries. A number of which are commonly referred to as Dragon trees, as the name Dracaena is the romanized form of the Greek δράκαινα – drakaina, meaning “female dragon”. Looking at its form in the picture, you would be hard-pressed to pin down an individual species, yet art historian scholars have identified it as this Canaries variety, Dracaena draco, as it was found on other religious artworks around the same time. Did Netherlands born Bosch copy this then from these other sources, or have access to the plant itself that at some point spread across Europe and later the world? No-one really knows, but it was painted at a time of overseas exploration and discovery, so either is possible. More about this and the Dragon trees appearance and symbolism in other significant artworks can be found on the informative website Cathedral Grove and Peter Mason’s publication “A dragon tree in the Garden of Eden”. To download a huge digital file for closer inspection, head to Wikipedia. To see it in the flesh, visit Spain’s national art museum Museo del Prado located in central Madrid.
This is what you’re on the look out for in the Canaries…
The full bonanza.. now we just have to identify the remaining plants. Can anyone spot the oversized Arbutus unedo (Strawberry tree) fruits?