Materia Medica, Pharmacology & Bio-Prospecting

The Wild Dragon Tree (Dracontomelon sylvestre)

The Wild Dragon Tree is also known as Dracontomelon lax, Dracontomelon Sylvestre, Dracontomelon edule, Dracontomelon puberulum, Dracontomelon lamiyo, Dracontomelon brachyphyllum, Dracontomelon mangiferum, Comeurya cumingiana, and Paliurus edulis. In Latin, it is classified as Ponum draconum silvestre. Typically, the leaves and fruit are collected. The fruit can be eaten right off the tree. The young leaves can be collected, put over a fire, and wilted. This prevents the leaves' spikes from irritating the skin. The main characteristics of the tree include prickly leaves, without a hairy surface. In addition, the leaves are longer and narrower than the domesticated version of the plant. In The Ambonese Herbal, Rumphius describes the plant having benefits including treating syphilis, urinary tract infections, and dysuria. Its properties are antibiotic, anti-infective, anti-treponema antibiotic, analgesic antibiotic, and diuretic.

The Wild Dragon Tree is not the same plant as the domestic version. On the wild type, the leaves are long, narrow, and limp, and they come off of twigs. They are light green in color, and they have hairy stems and undersides. At the tip of the twigs, there is a flower cluster. Flower clusters appear at the tips of twigs. Additionally, some twigs have a few fruit on them, which turn a grayish-yellow when ripe. Only 2 or 3 fruit ripen at a given time.

On the domesticated dragon tree, the leaves are less long and narrow than the wild tree, and they grow directly across from each other on the twigs. The leaves are more rough and hairy than the wild version. The flower clusters that appear at the end of branches are large, with the flowers resembling Lilies of the Valley. Like the wild variety, only a few fruit remain and ripen. The fruit on the domestic tree are more smooth, whereas the wild type has pleats and folds in the fruit.

There are many different names for the Wild Dragon Tree. Here shows three other depictions of the plant. First, it is a watercolor piece done by an unknown artist, titled "cf. Dracontomelon." The piece was placed in the William Kerr collection of Chinese Plants. The second illustration, called Pomum draconum sylvestre, painted in the 18th century by Nicolaes Witsen and Hermann Jager. The last illustration, titled Dracontolemlum magniferum blume, was painted by a French botanist, Jean Baptiste Louis Pierre. All of the illustrations depict the Wild Dragon Tree, showing the leaves and the fruit. The flowers, on the other hand, are only depicted in only two of the paintings. These illustrations look different due to the different painting styles utilized. In comparison with Rumphius' illustration, the illustration, titled "cf. Dracontomelon," is colored, and has a lot of detail. The illustration by Witsen and Jager is colored and seems cartoon-like. It does not look as realistic as the others. The last illustration by Jean Baptiste Louis Pierre is not in color and very detailed. It also looks very packed, with not much empty space seen on the page.

The depictions accompanying these illustrations of the plant all seem similar. The edges of the leaves are smooth, with a tapered shape. The leaves have many veins. The fruit from the tree look similar to one another, with a very round shape. Some of the illustrations have more detailing on the fruit. When flowers are included. they all look like little buds.

The images and depictions of the Wild Dragon Tree have some notable differences. The first difference is the location where the painters originated from. Rumphius did not paint the illustrations in his book, due to his blindness. However, his dutch origin likely affected his commissioning of the art. The origin of "cf. Dracontomelon," is unknown. WItsen and Jager were from The Netherlands. Pierre was from France. Historically, different art styles originated from different areas, which would explain the different stylistic choices that the painters made. In addition, the time periods in which each of these pieces were produced could have resulted in significantly different looking work. This can also be due to the fact that the painters were not the same. Therefore, they could have put different twists on the illustrations, based off of preference. For instance, Jager and Witsen's painting looked cartoon-like, which was significantly different than those of the other botanists.


Pierre, J. B. L. 1880. Flore forestière de la Cochinchine, Vol. 4. In Missouri Botanical Garden, St. Louis, USA.
Rumphius, Georgius Everhardus. [1743] 2011. The Ambonese Herbal. Translated by Eric Montague Beekman. New Haven: Yale University Press & National Tropical Botanical Garden.
Wltsen, N, and H. de Jager. 1700. Plantae Javanicae pictae, ex Java transmissae anno MDCC (1700). In Teyler Museum, Haarlem, Netherlands.
Unknown Author. "cf. Dracontomelon." William Kerr Collection, Kew Gardens.

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