Plant Profile: Dracaena Warneckii

As a continuation of our previous series on the Dracaena, we’re digging further into D. deremensis ‘warneckii.’

Origins

The deremensis group is thought to have originated in Madagascar, although the word ‘deremensis’ refers to the Derema Forest in Tanzania. The mother-species deremensis has almost disappeared from cultivation, replaced by the warneckii, Janet Craig, and their own variants.

D. deremensis ‘warneckii’ goes by a variety of names. Some taxonomists place deremensis as a separate species, and others name it as a group within the fragrans species. Another commonly accepted name is D. fragrans deremensis ‘bausei’ but there are at least a half dozen more names that are generally applied to it.

In the wild, warneckii grows up to 12’ and is typically a sparse bush. Flowers are rare, but are said to be greenish-white. 

In any case, the common household name is ‘striped dracaena,’ or just ‘white stripes’ and it’s been a popular houseplant since the ’50’s.

The warneckii is incredibly adaptable. In addition to rooting easily from cuttings, and adapting to a wide range of light, soil moisture, and humidity—which it shares with its other dracaena cousins—its special talent is throwing off color. It uses a palette that ranges from deep green to pale chartreuse, yellow-gold to cream, gray-green to white; it paints on three leaf areas of edge, center, and the area between those two; and it can vary the length, width, shape and attachment of the leaf – truly the Henri Matisse of the plant world. 

It’s not unusual to find plants with leaf markings on one side that are completely different from those on the other. It’s also not out of place to see a new stem coming up that is nothing at all like the original plant. 

While there are hundreds and hundreds of colors sported by roses and orchids etc., those have mostly been created by breeders. The warneckii changes colors all by itself! All the growers do is cut off the new section and start it growing. If it proves viable and energetic, they can often patent it, and have themselves a new cultivar.

One of the more popular cultivars is the Janet Craig variety.

D. Deremensis ‘Janet Craig’

The Janet Craig goes back to the 1930’s. It’s actually a sport of the D. deremensis ‘warneckei’, and was named after the daughter of nurseryman Robert Craig, from the Philadelphia area, when it appeared in his nursery in Puerto Rico. Robert Craig Nurseries was responsible for developing and marketing many basic varieties of indoor foliage plants. By the 1950’s the Janet Craig was widespread in the foliage industry.  

Janet Craig plants flower even less than mass canes, but they will flower. Some reports have them flowering every 5-7 years, but others have noticed that they can flower simply when stressed.

Sometimes called an “iron plant,” having one that blooms is supposed to bring good luck and fortune, as they rarely flower.

D. Janet Craig ‘compacta’

Otherwise known as a “pineapple dracena,” the D. Janet Craig ‘compacta’ has been around for 25 years or so.  There isn’t a real consensus on whether the compacta is a cultivar of the Janet Craig, a sport of the original D. deremensis, or a completely separate species. 

It might well be more than one species or sport, since there seems to be more than one growth pattern among plants that are marketed as D. compacta. Some places list the ‘compacta’ as a separate group—most recently, the D. tornado, from De Platt growers in the Netherlands.

Then again, the US Patent Office lists ‘white jewel,’ which certainly looks like a warneckii, as a member of the compacta group, although it’s reported as a mutation of D. ‘fragrans’ (deremensis group) ‘white stripe,’ which we also know as warneckei. Perhaps “compacta” isn’t a genealogical sort of name at all, only a growth-habit description?

I wouldn’t be surprised to find that it’s a separate species, or at least a cultivar of something else, as many sources leave off the “Janet Craig” part of the name and just call it Dracaena compacta.  

There is also a reference to D. Janet Craig compacta as an “incorrect post-1959 name,” so maybe early marketers used the Janet Craig name to leverage the popularity of the Janet Craig. 

Marlie Graves, known as The Ficus Wrangler, has been keeping plants beautiful, training techs and relating to clients at half a dozen companies for 30 years. She studied creative writing and psychology in college and went on to start an independent film company with her first husband. She decided to focus on plants full time after completing the NYBG Horticulture School interior landscaping course. Marlie is retired, operates "The Ficus Wrangler" YouTube channel, contributes regularly to several houseplant forums, and is working on a plantcare book based on professional methods.

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