Dragon Tree Planting and story telling at Palheiro Estate
Dragon trees reborn from the ashes!
After the bush-fires that affected parts of Palheiro Estate in July of this year, certain surrounding areas were damaged and some beautiful pine-trees were burnt beyond recovery. Luckily the extent of the damage was much less severe than initially thought and most of the areas have now recovered back to their previous state, that being, however, one area that truly needed a new breath of life was a hillside area between the Palheiro Golf clubhouse and the Village resort. As such, some of the directors and a good friend of Palheiro Estate, Sofia Maul, came up with the idea of establishing a small dragon tree forest on this plot. The idea met with all-around approval, because the dragon tree is one of the oldest and most beautiful trees on earth, with a wealth of stories and mythology associated to it and is also one of the most iconic species of Madeiran flora.
So, with the help of the neighboring “Núcleo dos Dragoeiros” and “Sapataria Porto” who generously donated quite a few specimens as well as a few brought by the participants, spirits were high and the planting went very well.
The planting of the dragon trees was followed with a fun, charming and hilarious story-telling session, beautifully delivered by Sofia Maul. Everyone got involved in the stories and the good-spirits and joy were quite palpable in all participants, ranging from young children to their grandparents and all ages in between.
Of course, the forest as a whole will take a century or two to achieve its full glory, but the juvenile plants will surely provide a lot of pleasure meanwhile and serve as a symbol for the preservation of one of Madeira’s most beloved plant species.
About the Dragon Tree
Dragon tree (Dracaena draco) is a plant endemic to the Macaronesia region. It used to be common in the Azores, Madeira, Canary Islands, Cape Verde and Morocco. However, since the 15th century its sap was very sought after for its medicinal and decorative uses. In fact, the unique colour and resonance of the Stradivarius violin comes from the dragon’s blood added to the varnish. Today only one specimen remains in the wild in Madeira on a rock-face in the Serra de Água Valley but there are hundreds growing in gardens all over the island.
It is a very slow growing plant and begins its life with a single stem and then starts to branch out when it flowers between the age of ten and fifteen depending on the soil and climate conditions.
Its sprays of little flowers are white and very sweet smelling. The fruit are orange and round with sweet waxy flesh and a single pea-sized seed inside. When the soil is good and there is lots of water, the seeds need no help from man or bird to germinate seedlings.
Legend tells of a wicked she-Dragon who sat at the Pillars of Hercules and defended the strait (of Gibraltar) with blasts of her hot fiery breath. Eventually she was mortally wounded and flew hopelessly off to sea to die. On the shores where her blood washed up on a few remote islands and around the edge of the Mediterranean there now grow these formidable plants called Dragon Trees.
The oldest living specimen is the El Drago Milenario on the Island of Tenerife in the Canaries, estimated to be at least six hundred years old by the number of times it branches out, for dragon trees are not real trees and do not have the rings that a tree’s age is usually based on. There is another legend related to the dragon tree in the Canary Islands that tells of a merchant who moored in Tenerife one day in search of the very precious “Blood of the Dragon” which came from the mythical dragon tree.
When he got to land, his eyes were captured by the site of three beautiful young native women bathing in the sea. He decided he wanted one of these guanches for himself so he started to chase them. He managed to catch one of them, quite easily he thought, and she offered him some huge fruits as a sign of friendship. He sat down to enjoy them and the beautiful smart woman took the opportunity and fled, jumping to the other side of a gully nearby.
He began to chase her between the trees and suddenly it seemed as if a huge and terrifying tree sprang up in front of him to protect the frightened woman. The merchant in a panic threw a sharp weapon in her direction but it stabbed the tree instead. A thick bloody fluid began to ooze out of the trunk, which so startled the greedy man that he ran through the forest like a soul seized by the devil and got on his ship and was lost at sea.