Green dragons and fiery seeds

Arisaema dracontium, a native plant that's known as green dragon, perks up the fall garden with its fiery red seedpods.

Courtesy of Gene Bush
Green dragon, Arisaema dracontium, is a native plant that produces fiery red seedpods in the fall to liven up the shady or partly shady areas of the landscape. Here it's planted with Christmas fern, a good companion plant.

Arisaema dracontium, or green dragon, is what I call a "twofer." It blooms in April, then the second half of the twofer begins in September as its seeds ripen, turning waxy, fiery-red.

Arisaema dracontium (which is native to most of eastern North America and the US Midwest) is a late riser. It does not emerge until well after jack-in-the-pulpit (A. triphyllum). In my Indiana garden, that is around the very last of April with warmer winters and the springs we've been having recently. Sometimes it's the first part of May.

Unusual growth habit

When emerging the green dragon resembles an umbrella. Completely formed in all parts, the bloom or inflorescence pushes up first with the foliage unfolding along each side. The “bloom” matures, with foliage forming over it.

The size of the plant can vary greatly, due to genetics, environment, and cultural practices in the garden. Generally the height is from about 15 inches up to 30 inches.

The tall, stout stalk coming up from a shallow tuber has no foliage except at the top. Then there are 5 to 15 leaflets formed around the outside edge of a half circle that some liken to a horseshoe. The half circle sits centered upon the stalk.

When mature, green dragon will "bloom" about one-third to one-half of the way up the stalk from the tuber. On a slender stem, a fleshy tubular-shaped inflorescence forms with a long pointed “tongue” reaching upward alongside the stalk.

This modified leaf can be up to two inches or more in length with the tongue reaching up to six inches or more. I have seen the various colorations of the tongue ranging from the same green as the rest of the plant to orangey-yellow.

The green dragon contributes not only great architecture to gardens, it also lends a sense of uniqueness. The most colorful part of having a mature green dragon is the seedheads, which are popular with birds and small wildlife.

After the plant has bloomed and set seed -- come late August and September, in my area -- the shiny green clusters of seeds will change color. Tall stalks will break and fall over so the seeds will be sown away from the parent plant.

The seeds will age to become scarlet-red, waxy berries in a tight head. The stalk withers, leaving the fiery seedhead lying across the green of nearby plants. I find the show of seeds to be as colorful as any perennial bloom.

Companions for a dragon

My favorite garden companions for the green dragon are ferns. Two favorite ferns are Japanese painted ferns of your favorite named selections, and Christmas fern for a native plant. Green dragon grows well in USDA hardiness Zones 4 to 9, from Quebec to Florida..


Gene Bush, a nationally known garden writer, photographer, lecturer, and nursery owner, gardens on a shaded hillside in southern Indiana. His website is He also writes the Garden Clippin's Newsletter. To read more by Gene here at Diggin' It, click here.

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