Tenerife Dragon Tree: A Woody Plant of Ancient Lineage Becomes the Canary Islands' Icon

by DerdriuMarriner

Tenerife, an idyllic Atlantic Ocean island, is home to a world-famous woody plant known as the Tenerife Dragon Tree.

Tenerife, in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Morocco, is part of the Canary Islands archipelago. Despite its proximity to northwestern Africa, the archipelago comprises an autonomous community within Spain.

Nicknamed Isla de la Eterna Primavera ("Island of Eternal Spring"), Tenerife is a paradise of microclimates resplendent with biodiversity. The most number of sites preserved by Canaria de Espacios Naturales Protegidos (Canary Islands Network for Protected Natural Areas) occurs in Tenerife, which is honored as the most protected island in the archipelago.

Tenerife Dragon Trees number among the idyllic archipelago's most cherished icons.

Tenerife dragon tree in its native Canary Islands' landscape
Puntagorda, La Palma, northwestern Canary Islands
Puntagorda, La Palma, northwestern Canary Islands



Tenerife comprises one of seven main islands in the archipelago called the Canary Islands. It is

located off the Atlantic Ocean coastlines of Morocco in northwestern Africa. But it

actually represents an autonomous community within Spain in southwestern Europe.


Canary Island dog (Presa Canario)
Canary Island dog (Presa Canario)


The Canary Islands are not so called because of populations of canary birds. The name instead derives from the derogatory (and untrue) Latin word canaria for the islands' reputedly aggressive (but actually lovably well-behaved) dogs. The reputation stems from the report of an expedition sent by Juba II (52/50 B.C.-A.D. 23), who ruled as:

  • King of Numidia (in modern Algeria and western Turnisia);
  • Husband of Cleopatra Selene II (December 25, 40 B.C.-5 or 6 B.C.);
  • Son-in-law of Roman General Mark Antony (January 14, 83 B.C.-August 1, 30 B.C.) and Egyptian Pharaoh Cleopatra VII Philopator (69 B.C.-August 12, 30 B.C.).

The name Tenerife honors the island's snow-covered volcano, Mount Tiede (Pico del Teide). The native word tene means "mountain." The native word ife means "white."


Tenerife dragon trees, Santa Cruz de Tenerife harbor
Tenerife dragon trees, Santa Cruz de Tenerife harbor

Tenerife Dragon Tree: Native Habitat and Range


The Tenerife Dragon Tree also answers to the names of:

  • Canary Islands Dragon Tree;
  • Cape Verde Dragon Tree;
  • Madeira Dragon Tree;
  • Morocco Dragon Tree;
  • Porto Santo Dragon Tree.

The name indeed clarifies the tree’s native range. The tree is native to certain Atlantic Ocean coastlines and islands. Specifically, its homelands occur in the dry, rocky, sunlit slopes of the Atlas Mountains in Morocco ( المغرب , al-Maghrib) and of Macaronesia:

  • Canary Islands (Las Islas Canarias), Spain;
  • Cape Verde Islands (As Ilhas de Cabo Verde);
  • Madeira Island (A Ilha da Madeira), Portugal;
  • Porto Santo Island (A Ilha do Porto Santo), Portugal.

The Tenerife Dragon Tree also can be called the Azores Dragon Tree. It is not native to the Azores Islands (As Ilhas dos Açores). It instead represents a woody plant successfully introduced and naturalized into Portugal’s islands in the mid-North Atlantic Ocean.


Tenerife symbols: Pico del Tiede (background) and Roque Cinchado (foreground)
Parque Nacional del Teide, Tenerife
Parque Nacional del Teide, Tenerife


Despite occurrence elsewhere, the tree can be considered one of three beloved icons of Tenerife's natural beauty. Along with the tree, the Teide volcano is deemed a hallmark, natural symbol which draws tourists to Tenerife. Along with Gran Canaria Island, Tenerife also provides shelter to another Tenerife icon, Blue Chaffinches (Fringilla teydea).


Blue Chaffinches (Fringilla teydea), passerine finches, are endemic to outer Canary Islands of Gran Canaria and Tenerife.
male blue chaffinch
male blue chaffinch


Bird and tree are linked only by their occurrence on Tenerife. Neither one depends upon the other for survival. Specifically, Blue Chaffinches look to Canary Island Pines (Pinus canariensis) for food and shelter. They prefer to build nests in Canary Island Pine tree forks and to feed upon the tree's seeds.


Canary Island pine (Pinus canariensis): pine species endemic to outer Canary Islands (Gran Canaria, Tenerife, Hierro and La Palma)
Canary Island pine (Pinus canariensis) forest, Caldera de Taburiente, La Palma, Canary Islands
Canary Island pine (Pinus canariensis) forest, Caldera de Taburiente, La Palma, Canary Islands


Tenerife Dragon Trees likewise do not look to Blue Chaffinches for natural propagation. According to  author Lance Chilton, tradition maintains that germination requires jump-starting by passing the tree’s seeds through the digestive tracts of now-extinct, large, “flightless, dodolike” pigeons (Chilton, “Dragon trees on La Palma, Canary Islands”). But Lance reports no record of such birds anywhere in Macaronesia. He further reveals that seeds germinate successfully independent of avian or human interventions.


A sparse, stark, rocket-style profile may characterize a Dracaena draco which is young or one which simply grows straight up, without flowering or forking.
dragon tree in courtyard of traditional 17th century house, now cultural center Casa Museo León y Castillo, Arucas, nort
dragon tree in courtyard of traditional 17th century house, now cultural center Casa Museo León y Castillo, Arucas, nort

Tenerife Dragon Tree: Externals


The shape of the Tenerife Dragon Tree calls to mind an opened umbrella. Its trunk climbs slowly but surely 4 feet (1.22 meters) upwards for about ten years. The tree then flowers and forks. The flowering and forking process is repeated every 15 years thereafter.


forking trunk of Tenerife dragon tree
forking trunk of Tenerife dragon tree

"This tree is said to have been revered by the Guanches as the ash of Ephesus was by the Greeks" (A. von Humboldt in W. Macgillivray, p. 41)

Described In June 1799 by Prussian explorer Alexander von Humboldt as 60 feet high with a circumference of 48 feet, lost 1/3 of its crown in 1819 tempest, and finally felled by c.1867 storm. (Élie Metchnikoff, 1908, p. 96-98)
La Orotava dragon tree in Mr Franqui's garden: revered by Guanches, aboriginal inhabitants of Canary Islands
La Orotava dragon tree in Mr Franqui's garden: revered by Guanches, aboriginal inhabitants of Canary Islands



But sometimes the tree never flowers or forks. It just grows straight up. It thereby produces a stark, sparse, rocket-type profile.


With or without flowering and forking, the tree generally attains a mature height of 39.37 to 49.21 feet (12 to 15 meters). The famous Orotava specimen nevertheless matured to a height of 68.89 to 75.46 feet (21 to 23 meters). It finally was felled in a storm in 1867-1868 after possibly surviving 6,000 years.



1852 illustration of young dragon's blood tree
Dracaena draco
Dracaena draco
Dracaena draco Dragon Trees at Different Ages: great Orotava Dragon Tree in 1790 (left, with ladder): great Orotava Dragon Tree in 1830 (55 feet [16.7 mtrs) circumference at ground level) ~ Note plaque to commemorate storm damage of July 21, 1819.
ca. 1835 engraving of dragon trees in gardens of Casa de Franchy, La Orotava, northern Tenerife
ca. 1835 engraving of dragon trees in gardens of Casa de Franchy, La Orotava, northern Tenerife


Age only can be estimated for Tenerife Dragon Trees. It cannot be determined by annual rings since the tree is not a tree, but a woody member of the asparagus family. It instead may be guesstimated by the number of branching points between the trunk and the canopy. Each  branching point represents 10 to 15 years. The 1,000-year-old Drago Milenario ("Millennial Dragon") of Icod de los Vinos therefore would have an actual age of about 700 years.


Millenial Dragon Tree (Drago Milenario)
Icod de los Vinos, Tenerife
Icod de los Vinos, Tenerife

The Tenerife Dragon Tree attains its maximum age by surviving the three stages in its above-ground growth. The first stage begins with growing the trunk. It closes 10 to 15 years later with terminal buds flowering at the trunk's top.

The second stage commences a succession of 10 to 15-year intervals whose beginning involves flowering, fruiting and seeding. The flower is a branching, sweet-smelling green or pink-white cluster. The fruit is a coral, orange-brown or orange-red, sweettasting berry slightly smaller than a cherry. The white seed may germinate within 28 days.

The third stage signals the canopy's formation from green, overlapping, prickly leaves.


infructescence (fruiting stage) of flowering Tenerife dragon tree, Puerto de la Cruz, Tenerife
infructescence (fruiting stage) of flowering Tenerife dragon tree, Puerto de la Cruz, Tenerife

Tenerife Dragon Tree: Care


The Tenerife Dragon Tree naturally belongs in a subtropical climate. In its native environment, it expects the conditions which prevail on islands located between the world's temperate and the tropical climate zones. It therefore is adept at  handling:

  • High levels of heat and light;
  • Low levels of moisture, nutrients and rainfall;
  • Natural dispersion of seeds by wildlife and wind;
  • Regular drainage of alkaline, gravelly, rocky soils which may be as high in calcium as they are low in nitrogen.

But cultivators, gardeners, and plant collectors and enthusiasts do not need to feel discouraged or dispirited if they do not live on islands or within subtropical climate zones. The Tenerife Dragon Tree in fact is an adaptable survivor as a native plant in its natural environment and as an introduced plant outside its native range. Its growing needs indeed will be met with its owner's careful attention to and cautious provision of:

  • Above-freezing temperatures;
  • Complete, time-release, watersoluble fertilizer applications 1 to 2 times yearly, in fall and in spring;
  • 4 to 6 hours of daily sunlight;
  • Non-waterlogging, well-drained soil;
  • Supplemental watering at the rate of about 1 inch (2.54 centimeter) 1 to 2 times monthly.

Whether native or naturalized, wild or cultivated, the Tenerife Dragon Tree can weather many environmental stresses. It especially rises to the challenges of alkaline, arid, bright, and/or nutrient-poor environments. But it will find its survival compromised at home and abroad when confronted with:

  • Competition over intensive land use from agroindustry and construction;
  • Prolonged experiences with the nibbling of its seeds by small mammals and of its seedlings by such grazing mammals as goats and rabbits;
  • Protracted exposure to heavy flooding, rainfall, surface run-off, and/or waterlogging;
  • Proximity to controlled burns and wildfires.

Otherwise, Tenerife Dragon Trees will be expected to outlive their owners by hundreds of years.


Tenerife Dragon Tree: Uses


Ancient and modern uses generally can be characterized as unchanging for the Tenerife Dragon Tree. Since the fifteenth century, the tree contributes to three key societal concerns. Specifically, its role is defined as;

  • Aesthetic;
  • Medicinal;
  • Ritualistic.

In all regards, the tree's role is carried out through its resin. The resin is produced from wounding the bark and/or leaves. It runs a red color which is likened to that of the dragon blood spilled in the Garden of the Hesperides.

According to ancient Greek beliefs, the 100-headed dragon named Ladon guarded the garden's entrance. The heroic Hercules had to retrieve three golden apples from the garden as the eleventh of twelve tasks which he was charged to accomplish. He realized his quest, but was forced to kill Ladon in the process. From Ladon's blood sprouted the world's dragon trees.


Greek myths' fearsome dragon Ladon is depicted on gate of Barcelona's Finca Güell, built 1884-1887, by Catalan architect extraordinaire Antoni Gaudí (June 25, 1852–June 10, 1926).
Ladon, from whose blood sprouted the world's dragon trees
Ladon, from whose blood sprouted the world's dragon trees


The aesthetics of attractive, bright,  garnet red color can be appreciated. Since ancient times, the resin cooperates as a stain and varnish for furniture and objects made of wood. For example, the resin's red colorant 7,4-dihydroxy-5-methoxy-flavylium (dracoflavylium) produces the incomparable look of the Stradivarius violin. For another example, the resin also serves to color:

  • Paste;
  • Plaster;
  • Textiles;
  • Toothpaste. 

The resin's medicinal use arose from its color and its supposed origins. Traditional medical practitioners indeed linked the resin's color to that of the blood which was spilled in the tree's creation. They therefore used the resin to treat such problems with blood flow as:

  • Chest pains;
  • Internal bleeding, irregularity or trauma;
  • Wounds.

The resin came to be used ritualistically for:

  • Embalming;
  • Incense.

It dried into an attractive garnet red powder. The powder's burning was dramatically fragrant.

In modern times, two other uses can be added. The resin is used in photoengraving. The tree also serves as a drought-tolerant ornamental tree in sustainable landscapes.


At bases of dead leaves of Dracaena draco is "dragon's blood," red resin, reputedly used on Stradivarius violins.
dragon's blood
dragon's blood

Conclusion: A Woody Plant of Ancient Lineage Becomes Canary Islands' Icon


Of all its attributes, aesthetic, commercial, and medicinal, Tenerife dragon's tree most cherished would seem to be the inspirational aesthetics of its enduring presence in the oceanic landscape. Prehistorically Tenerife's dragon trees were revered by the resplendent island's aboriginal Berber inhabitants, the Guanches (Guan, "person" + Chinet, native name for Tenerife), whose migration from North Africa is dated to around 1000 B.C.E. or even earlier. Myth, prehistory, history, and future are all represented in this long-lived, ubiquitous woody plant with its ancient lineage. In a paradise thriving with an exciting profusion of diverse, unique fauna and flora, Dracaena draco emerges as a treasured icon, not only of Tenerife, but of the entire archipelago.


formerly a source of admiration and awe, now a hallowed memory

La Orotava dragon tree as it was, flourishing before storm of 1819, persevering for 5 decades afterward, then succumbing c. 1867-1868
illustration after drawing by Sabin Berthelot (April 4, 1794 - November 10, 1880)
illustration after drawing by Sabin Berthelot (April 4, 1794 - November 10, 1880)



My special thanks to talented artists and photographers/concerned organizations who make their fine images available on the internet.


importance and appreciation of Dracaena draco: La Orotava's coat of arms on stained glass window in hall of City of La Orotava

Design of La Orotava's coat of arms recognizes the city as location of mythological Garden of Hesperides, site of Hercules' Eleventh Labor.
window in City Hall (el Ayuntamiento), La Orotava, northern coast of Tenerife
window in City Hall (el Ayuntamiento), La Orotava, northern coast of Tenerife

Sources Consulted


Barker-Webb, Phillip, and Sabine Berthelot. Histoire Naturelle des Iles Canaries. Tomes I - III. Paris: Béthune, éditeur, 1836-1850.

  • Available via HathiTrust at: http://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/009547565

Barker-Webb, Phillip, and Sabine Berthelot. Histoire Naturelle des Ile Canaries. Atlas. Paris: Béthune, éditeur, MDCCCXXXVIII (1838).

  • Available via Fundación Canaria Orotava de Historia de la Ciencia (FUNDORO) at: http://fundacionorotava.es/portal/databases/digitisations/55/

Chilton, Lance. "Dragon trees on La Palma, Canary Islands." Marengo. www.marengowalks.com.

  • Available at: http://www.marengowalks.com/lpdraco.html

Gill, Robin. Tenerife, Canary Islands. London, England: The Geologists'  Association Guide no. 49, 1994.

Kämmer, Franco. Klima und Vegetation auf Tenerife, besonders im Hinblick auf den Nebelniederschlag. Göttingen: E. Goeltze, 1974.

Lemaire, Charles, ed. Le Jardin fleuriste: journal général des progrés et des intérets horticoles et botaniques. Deuxième Volume. Gand: F. et E. Gyselynck, 1852.

  • Available via HathiTrust at: http://hdl.handle.net/2027/hvd.32044106335771
  • Available via Internet Archive at:  http://archive.org/details/lejardinfleuris02lemagoog

MacGillivray, William. The Travels and Researches of Alexander von Humboldt; Being a Condensed Narrative of His Journeys in the Equinoctial Regions of America, and in Asiatic Russia: --- Together with Analyses of His More Important Observations. New York: J. & J. Harper, 1833.

  • Available via Biodiversity Heritage Library at:  http://www.biodiversitylibrary.org/item/63302

Metchnikoff, Élie. The Prolongation of Life: Optimistic Studies. New York & London: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1908.

  • Available via Internet Archive at:  http://archive.org/details/prolongationofli00metciala

Reclus, Élisée Reclus. Africa and its Inhabitants. Vol II. London: Virtue and Company, 1899.

  • Available via Internet Archive at: http://archive.org/details/africaitsinhabit02recl


Three Tenerife natives:

Multiply-forked, leafy crowned Canary Islands dragon tree (Dracaeno draco) thrives to right (right background) of Canary Island date palm (Phoenix canariensis)[middle, foreground], as Canary Island pine (Pinus canariensis) shoots upward (left, background)
Cueva de Belmaco, eastern La Palma, northwestern Canary Islands
Cueva de Belmaco, eastern La Palma, northwestern Canary Islands
the end which is also the beginning
the end which is also the beginning

The Houseplant Encyclopedia by Ingrid Janta and Ursula Kruger

Step by step to success with more than 1,000 indoor plant varieties. This highly regarded encyclopedia contains all the expert advice the indoor gardener needs.
Tenerife dragon tree in books

flat-topped aeonium (Aeonium tabuliforme), also known as saucer plant: photo by John Mason ~ Aeonium tabuliforme, endemic to Canary Islands, joins Tenerife Dragon Tree as unusual flora of Spanish archipelago

0x14 Photo Puzzle with 252 pieces. Packed in black cardboard box 5 5/8 x 7 5/8 x 1 1/5. Puzzle image 5x7 affixed to box top.
Photo Jigsaw Puzzle - Ardea Wildlife Pets

Dragonfly Dreamcatcher: Purple t-shirt

If a dragon tree grows near a lake, will it attract dragonflies?
Dragonfly Dreamcatcher
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Me and my purrfectly purrfect Maine coon kittycat, Augusta "Gusty" Sunshine

Gusty and I thank you for reading this article and hope that our product selection interests you; Gusty Gus receives favorite treats from my commissions.
DerdriuMarriner, All Rights Reserved
DerdriuMarriner, All Rights Reserved
Updated: 10/19/2021, DerdriuMarriner
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DerdriuMarriner on 04/10/2017

Luz, Congratulations on being from such a beautiful archipelago! I've altered the sentence to make sure that nobody thinks so uncharitably about the noble Dogo Canario since that never was my intention.
I take it with a grain of salt when one culture comes up with an insulting observation about another, and definitely in regard to wildlife since I ask myself, if the behavior is true how were the animals being disdained and mistreated by these non-native peoples? For example, in a different direction, on the other side of the pond, Quechua actually is Runa Simi (language of the people), but enemies of the Inca (who were not native speakers of Quechua) and Spanish-speaking settlers gave the language that name -- and unfortunately, it stuck -- since it comes from the word for "to steal." So unkind!

Luz on 04/05/2017

"The name instead derives from the Latin word canaria for the islands' reputedly aggressive dogs", isn't true at all, because the Dogo Canario dog is very quiet and noble because he's a sheep guardian dog and if he was aggressive he would attack the sheep. He looks like very strong but has an excellent character. I'm from Canarias. Thanks and regards!!

DerdriuMarriner on 10/22/2013

WriterArtist, You probably can grow the Tenerife dragon tree in one of your greenhouses. Cuttings and seeds are easily available through Internet-based ordering processes.
Thank you for visiting and commenting.

WriterArtist on 10/22/2013

Terrific article - loved the facts and the details on the dragon tree. The pictures are very entertaining.

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