Dracaena reflexa


Dracaena reflexa likes sunshine and humidity, but suffers if you overwater it. A bit like Bert, really.


Perfect for a drunken numpty

Sobriety is over-rated. I like beer, and I’m not ashamed to admit it. I’m rather partial to the odd glass or two and I have, on occasion, been known to somewhat over-indulge in this particular pleasure. Booze is rather clever here – it punishes you the next day when you imbibe a bit too much.

Thai beer is even more calculated. This country produces some particularly powerful brews – Beer Chang being one of the most notorious. Spend a night on this stuff and it will bite back in the worst possible way, when you suffer the inevitable “Changover” the following morning. Not a pleasant experience, but one that we seem repeat with worrying regularity.

There are people in the world who will argue that the alcohol in any form is an evil scourge in society, and that its consumption will inevitably lead to moral decay. I do admit that I frequently lean towards this view the morning after a close encounter with the alcoholic ambrosia. How many times have I said “never again”?

We’ve all heard of the Temperance Society. You may, like me, have thought they were a bunch of do-gooder, early twentieth century buffoons who just wanted to spoil everyone’s fun. You may well be right, but the strange thing is that they’re still around today.

The moral crusaders of the twenty-first century, who say that they’ve been established for over 150 years, now call themselves the Sons of Temperance. They proudly proclaim themselves to be “a friendly society for total abstainers of all ages”.

They state on their website (www.sonsoftemperance.co.uk): “Because Total Abstainers are generally thrifty and are able to take advantage of their principles, extra benefits are to be derived from their way of living. In addition, social fellowship can be obtained in this member-managed society.

“The Order of the Sons of Temperance has an outstanding record of service for providing financial benefits for those men and women who prefer a healthier modern life style by abstaining from all use of alcohol as a drink.”

They also sell insurance on the website as part of their “financial benefits”.

Don’t they sound like fun? I rather suspect that Bloomin’ Bert, along with many other Phuket residents, may not be very high on their list of prospective membership candidates. Ah well, never mind – I’m sure that this is one membership card we can all get along just fine without.

Alcohol can even be blamed for some of my more lucid thoughts here in this column. I was sitting in one of my favorite watering holes recently when I glanced over and saw a plant which I’d seen a thousand times before and had largely ignored. Strange how that happens.

I reached for the camera that had earlier been recording some of the more immature antics that alcohol seems to encourage, and snapped a picture of this dracaena reflexa with the Andaman Sea in the background. My apologies for the quality of the picture, but I do have a very obvious excuse.

The dracaena reflexa is commonly known as the Song of India, or the pleomele. It’s part of the huge dracaena family – better-known members of the family are those rubber plants and yuccas that appear in so many Western living rooms, as does the pleomole, as houseplants.

It’s not from around here originally, but native to Madagascar, Mauritius, and other nearby islands of the Indian Ocean.

The dracaena reflexa is no ordinary plant. It has richly-colored, mottled evergreen leaves, and thick, irregular stems. While it may reach a height of four or five meters in ideal, protected locations outdoors, the song of India is usually much smaller when it’s grown as a houseplant. Having a five-meter monster in the corner of your country cottage probably wouldn’t be ideal.

The lanceolate (in other words, tapering to a point like the head of a lance) leaves are spirally arranged on the stem, from 5-20 cm long and 1.5-5 cm broad at the base, with a parallel venation and entire margin; they grow in tight whorls and have uniform dark green and cream stripes.

The plant doesn’t have particularly strong stems; in fact they’re a bit on the wimpy side, so it will sometimes need some kind of rigid support to keep it from collapsing. All it basically needs is high temperatures and moist, humid air – neither of which is a problem in Phuket.

The only damage you can really do is over-water it. If this happens, it will express its displeasure by turning its leaves yellow and eventually dropping them. It’s also a bit of a sun worshiper – happiest in one of the brighter parts of the garden. Although it will survive in a relatively shady spot, the plant may grow a bit spindly as a result.

Traditional medicine practitioners in the plant’s ancestral home of Madagascar have long believed dracaena reflexa will cure malarial symptoms, poisoning, dysentery, diarrhea, and various tropical ailments. The leaves and bark are mixed with parts of a number of other native plants and brewed into a herbal tea. Its effectiveness in any of these treatments remains unproven; I’m not quite brave enough to give it a go the next time I have a touch of Delhi Belly.

If it gets too tall it can be pruned back harshly with absolutely no ill effects, and will sit there quietly with the botanical equivalent of a Cheshire cat grin. This pruning can actually be combined with a completely different aspect of its care – propagation, which, like so many plants around here, is ludicrously easy for dracaena reflexa.

Chop off a 30 cm length, remove the leaves from the bottom half, and push in into some of that compost soil you can buy for 30 baht from any garden center. Keep watering it and wait a few weeks. Some of the original leaves may drop off, but after a while it should bounce back to life. This is gardening for a drunken numpty.

Speaking of drunken numpties, I think it’s important that I go off now to do a little more gardening research. Perhaps the consumption of the odd Heineken or two will aid the process considerably. Unlike the Sons of Temperance, my “social fellowship” will be obtained in a completely different “member-managed society” – the pub. See you there, cheers.



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