Corn Plant (Dracaena fragrans)

Corn Plant, Cornstalk Plant, Dracaena, Dragon Tree, Janet Craig Plant, Ribbon Plant, Striped Dracaena, Striped Dragon Palm, Warneckei Dracaena, Warneckii

The corn plant (Dracaena fragrans) is a tropical African evergreen tree popular in Europe as an indoor plant since the mid-1800s—and in the U.S. since the early 20th century. They grow fairly slowly, from thick canes or stems that produce long, narrow leaves like stalks of corn, growing upward. This growth habit also makes them look a lot like palm trees, which is why they’re sometimes called “false palms.” They make good houseplants because they are tall and narrow, typically only reaching around 4- to 6-feet tall in containers.

I. Appearance and Characteristics 

Dracaena fragrans (cornstalk dracaena), is a flowering plant species that is native throughout tropical Africa, from Sudan south to Mozambique, west to Côte d’Ivoire and southwest to Angola, growing in upland regions at 600–2,250 m (1,970–7,380 ft) altitude. It is also known as striped dracaena, compact dracaena, and corn plant.

Dracaena fragrans is a slow growing shrub, usually multistemmed at the base, mature specimens reaching 15 m (49 ft) or more tall with a narrow crown of usually slender erect branches. Stems may reach up to 30 cm (12 in) diameter on old plants; in forest habitats they may become horizontal with erect side branches. Young plants have a single unbranched stem with a rosette of leaves until the growing tip flowers or is damaged, after which it branches, producing two or more new stems; thereafter, branching increases with subsequent flowering episodes.

The leaves are glossy green, lanceolate, 20–150 cm (7.9–59.1 in) long and 2–12 cm (0.79–4.72 in) wide; small leaves are erect to spreading, and larger leaves usually drooping under their weight. The flowers are produced in panicles 15–160 cm (5.9–63.0 in) long, the individual flowers are 2.5 cm (0.98 in) diameter, with a six-lobed corolla, pink at first, opening white with a fine red or purple central line on each of the 7–12 mm (0.28–0.47 in) lobes; they are highly fragrant, and popular with pollinating insects. The fruit is an orange-red berry 1–2 cm (0.39–0.79 in) diameter, containing several seeds.

II. How to Grow and Care

Sunlight

The ideal indoor location for this plant is near a window with filtered sunlight. Too little light will result in the leaves losing their color variegation and might stunt the plant’s growth. Exposure to direct sun can burn the plant’s leaves and cause them to wilt. Outdoors, the plant does best in a shadier spot.

Temperature and Humidity

Corn plants do best in temperatures from 60-75 F. Avoid exposing them to temperatures in the 50s F. If you temporarily move your corn plants outdoors for the summer, make sure to bring them indoors before temperatures reach this point.

Maintain humidity levels between 40 to 50 percent, which mimics the plant’s native environment. To raise the plant’s humidity, use a humidifier or place the pot on a tray of water and pebbles. Do not let the bottom of the pot touch the water. You can also mist the leaves regularly.

Watering

These plants benefit from a little “drying time” between waterings. So water well and then wait for the top inch of the soil to dry out before watering again. If your Corn Plant is placed in a good spot with reasonable light and warm temperatures, (excluding Winter) you can keep the soil moist at all times.

Regardless of your placement, in Winter reduce the watering like you would for almost all houseplants, but the soil shouldn’t be allowed to dry out completely.

Soil

A loose, loamy potting soil mix is the best option for growing corn plants. Make sure the soil has good drainage because its roots don’t do well in standing water.

Fertilizing

Corn plants prefer organically rich soil. Use a balanced liquid fertilizer every other month throughout the growing season and feed sparingly, if at all, over the winter.

Pruning

The lower leaves on the corn plant will begin to yellow in approximately two to three years, a leaf’s natural lifespan. Once the yellowing leaves become unsightly, remove them. If the plant grows too tall for your space, cut the tops of the canes; new leaf buds will appear near the cut.

Propagation

It’s best to propagate corn plants in spring or summer, but if you keep your plants indoors in a climate-controlled room, you can propagate these plants any time of year. A great time to propagate this plant is when it starts to grow taller than your room. You can make another plant by cutting the top off the original parent plant. Also, top cutting is a nice way to rejuvenate the leaf growth of the plant. Top cutting or stem cutting is the best method of propagation. Here’s how to do it:

  • Both propagation methods involve using clean hand pruning shears, a jar of water, a pot, and moist peat moss.
  • If top cutting, snip the top off the plant just below the leaf line and include one node (round white bumps on the stem). If stem cutting, snip an 8-inch stem segment.
  • In a clear jar of fresh, preferably filtered water, submerge the cut end in the jar of water, allowing the other half of the stem to remain uncovered. Place it in a warm, partially sunny spot. Watch for root growth at the leaf nodes underwater and some leaf growth at leaf nodes at the top end.
  • Top off the water every few days as it evaporates. Every other week, change the water entirely to discourage algae or bacterial growth.
  • Once the stem produces roots over 1-inch long, pot the rooted end in moist, peat moss. Place it in a warm, partially sunny spot.
  • Optionally, you can plant a fresh-cut stem cutting in moist peat moss and watch and wait for new leaf growth. It will likely root, but you can’t see the root growth, unlike the clear jar of water. Propagation is more successful when rooting the stem in water. To increase your likelihood of soil rooting, you can put a rooting hormone on the cutting end.

Potting and Repotting Corn Plant

Repot your corn plant every year or two into a slightly larger container (2-3 inches larger and deeper) with fresh potting soil. When you are ready to repot the plant, remove the loose soil around it and carefully lift the plant from its base. Put a couple of inches of fresh soil at the bottom of the new container and center the plant in its new container, making sure not to damage its roots in the process. Fill the space around it with fresh potting soil, but do not pack it too tightly, ensuring the container maintains good drainage.

Overwintering

Bring your dracaena indoors when temperatures start to dip below 60 F. Or, if you have the plant in the ground, you can dig out the root ball (if you have a planter large enough for it) and pot it. If you live in an area cooler than zone 10 and leave the plant in the ground, the plant will die. However, before the first frost, you can take a stem cutting or cut off the plant top, propagate it indoors during winter, and plant it again in spring once the threat of frost is over.

Pests and Diseases

Common Pests

Monitor the plants for spider mites, thrips, and scale, which are a common problem with many houseplants. These plants can cause leaves to look damaged and unhealthy, and you might even notice small insects moving around on the plant. Dust the leaves of the plant regularly with a damp cloth to keep it looking its best and to disrupt pests from colonizing.\

Common Diseases

No Flowers

In most cases if you end up with flowers you are very lucky. You’ll need a mature, well cared for plant that is basically happy. Even then, the flowering is unpredictable and does not occur every year or with any sort of pattern.

Yellow lower leaves / leaf drop

All Dracaena’s including the Corn Plant are False Palms, with a crown of leaves sitting at the top of their stems, new growth forms at the very tips of these stems and the older leaves at the bottom of the crown will gradually yellow and fall. This happens quite often, but providing new leaves are forming as well it’s normal.

Leaves with brown spots

Normally this is a sign of underwatering. You must try to keep the soil moist at all times where possible because although the plant will cope with periods of occasional dryness, if it’s prolonged then damage will result.

If the brown spots are are more “blotches” than dots, it’s caused by overwatering. The plant in the photo shows brown spots as well as the next problem:

Bleached dry leaves

Scorched leaves caused by too much sun. Move to a more shadier area.

Leaves have brown tips and yellow edges

This is often caused by dry air or cold draughts. You need to increase humidity, keep it in a warmer spot (or both).

Most people see the brown tips early on before they get too far into the leaf. But if you don’t resolve the problems or you’ve exposed your plant to extreme amounts of low humidity or cold temperatures, the brown will spread further into the leaf. 

Soggy Cane / Stem

Too much water over a long period, usually when it’s also cold. If this happens then your Dracaena is probably already on its way out and can’t be saved in its present form. Although if any parts of the stem feel firm, or the leaf crown is intact you could try and propagate.

III. How to Get Corn Plant to Bloom

Dracaena fragrans are not reliable bloomers, but when growing conditions are right, and the plant is mature (more than 5 years old), it can bloom one to three times per year. Chances of blooming are reduced when kept as an indoor plant. The flower stalks emerge out of the center of the leaf whorl and can grow up to 3 feet long. The flowers look like white spike balls, and as its botanical name suggests, it has a sweet fragrance when it blooms. The scent can smell like a combination of jasmine, lilac, honey, and freshly cut grass. It blooms as the sun sets, each night for about a month. Each bloom drops at daylight, spurring another bloom to open the following evening.

IV. Uses and Benefits 

It has been clinically proven that being around nature can calm the mind. In Japan, forest therapy is undertaken by enthusiasts as they practice breathing and relaxation techniques to improve their overall health, both mentally and physically.

Growing Dracaena fragrans indoors is a form of forest therapy, called Shinrin-Yoku in Japanese, and here are 6 benefits of having a Corn Plant in your home.

  • Humidity is increased in the home
  • They purify the air and clean out airborne pollutants like carbon dioxide
  • Increases levels of concentration and cognitive function according to a UK study conducted by The Royal College of Agriculture in Cirencester
  • Very low-maintenance compared to other indoor plants
  • Absorbs harmful lead particles carried through the air from outside
  • Can help to alleviate allergic respiratory problems for asthma sufferers

Apart from being excellent indoor ornamental houseplants,4 Dracaena fragrans can help to soothe your mind, body, and soul.

Corn Plant (Dracaena fragrans) Details

Common name Corn Plant, Cornstalk Plant, Dracaena, Dragon Tree, Janet Craig Plant, Ribbon Plant, Striped Dracaena, Striped Dragon Palm, Warneckei Dracaena, Warneckii
Botanical name Dracaena fragrans
Plant type Houseplant
Hardiness zone 10a, 10b, 11a, 11b
Growth rate Slow
Height 3 ft. 0 in. - 14 ft. 6 in.
Width 3 ft. 0 in. - 14 ft. 6 in.
Sunlight Dappled Sunlight (Shade through upper canopy all day)
Soil condition Loam (Silt)
Flower color Pink
Leaf color Gold/Yellow