I saw one of these Dragon Trees the other week and it struck me immediately as something beautiful. They are native to the north African regions of Macaronesia, the Canary Islands, the Madeira Islands, and Morocco. They are cultivated in the Canary Islands and Macaronesia; propagated by cuttings.
This species is in the Dracaenaceae (or Asparagaceae) family and is a monocot (see Narcissus page for further info on monocots). Dragon Trees are heavily branched with thick, stout trunks and spreading crowns which can be twice as wide as the full height of the tree.
The trees are used for ornamental purposes, which I can certainly understand. Furthermore, the resin has been exploited for medicinal purposes and for processing into lac (for varnish, dying). It is the deep red resin which gives the tree its name, alluding to ‘dragon’s blood’, and this has been used in ritual due to its blood like consistency. The resin has also been used as a fumigant, likely due to insecticidal secondary compounds found in it. Plants often contain secondary compounds, which are usually harmful to insects and herbivores, as a defensive strategy. In low doses these may be beneficial to humans precisely because they inhibit insects and other organisms that may harm us. But, taken in large quantities, they are likely to cause us considerable harm as well.
[Note: This plant is a member of the Dracaenaceae OR Asparagaceae family. This seems confusing, and it is. An interesting thing about the way Western science classifies plants is that there are constant disputes about which plant belongs in which family or genus, and what the properties of each one are. The classifications are by no means complete nor exhaustive, indeed, they are always being altered and are the focus of considerable debate. Science, as much as we like to think otherwise, is an ever changing discipline which often struggles to pin down and fully describe any given natural phenomena.]
Virginia Tech Forest Resources and Environmental Conservation: http://dendro.cnre.vt.edu/dendrology/syllabus2/factsheet.cfm?ID=755
GRIN (Germplasm Resources Information Network): http://www.ars-grin.gov/cgi-bin/npgs/html/taxon.pl?14634#link
Mansfeld’s Database: http://mansfeld.ipk-gatersleben.de/pls/htmldb_pgrc/f?p=185:3:943855741259901:::::