Home of the Practically Perfect Pink Phlox and other native plants for pollinators

Wednesday, May 24, 2023

Wildflower Wednesday: There Be Dragons in the Garden

The Dragons in my garden are the best kind to have. They're dramatic and elegant looking, growing over three foot tall with a two foot 'wingspan'. 

 They mingle well with the denizens of Clay and Limestone, preferring the dappled sunlight and a moist, rich woodland soil that I have worked to create. 
Green Dragon, aka, Arisaema dracontium is marvelous to behold. The woodland wildflower emerges as one stalk and slowly unfurls its mighty wings. Or, if you prefer leaf! What looks like two leaves is one leaf that forks into leaflets of unequal size and uneven numbers. Go ahead and count them...it's always uneven.


The leaflets are arranged palmately (having a shape similar to that of a hand with the fingers extended) on the tip of the forked stem. I've measured them and the largest in my garden was over three foot tall with a 15 inch leaf spread. The parted leaflets curve around to give Green Dragon a rather large horseshoe shape. 

As it unfurls, the rather fantastic looking dragon's tail is revealed. 

The tiny yellow male and female flowers are hidden in the hooded spathe at the base of the long and twisting spadix.

 It blooms for a month and releases a scent that is undetectable to us but, is attractive to fungus gnats!

Behold the dragon's future progeny...The green fruit appears shortly after the bloom fades in late May to early June. They're an oval cluster of oblong to pear-shaped berries. I love the exotic look of Green Dragon, but the crimson berries that appear at the cusp of summer and fall might be the most spectacular part of this perennial's life.

 I love spreading the seeds around the garden and have had great success in transplanting the plant (make sure to get the corm and roots). But, honestly, most of the credit goes to ants. Ants are responsible for dispersing the seeds of as much as a third of the plants at the understory of Eastern deciduous forests. Green Dragon and other early blooming plants have evolved to provide food attached to their seeds to entice ants to disperse those seeds. This food, called an elaiosome, is a specialized fat body whose chemical composition more closely matches that of the insects that ants prefer than it does that of a seed. They carry the seeds to their nest, eat the protective protein cover and deposit the seeds in their midden! Middens are the ant's equivalent of a compost pile! This mutualism is referred to by ecologists as myrmecochory. (source)

Mixes well with woodland native wildflowers

I really appreciate seeing the emerging plants each spring and love seeing where the seeds have landed. Sometimes Ma Nature with the help of ants, does a better job of planting them among great companion plants than I can do. 

If you get a chance, do plant some dragons in your garden.


The Particulars:

Botanical name: Arisaema dracontium

Common Name: Green dragon

 Type: Herbaceous perennial 

Family: Araceae (Arum family)

Native Range: Eastern North America


 Zone: 4 to 9 

Height: 1.00 to 3.00 feet 

Spread: 1.00 to 1.50 feet 

Bloom Time: May to June 

Bloom Description: Light green 

Sun: Part shade to full shade 

Water: Medium to wet 

Maintenance: Medium 

Suggested Use: Naturalize, Rain Garden 

Cultivation: 'Green Dragon' grows in fertile, moist, slightly acidic woodland soils in part to full shade. Grow along streams or ponds, in the woodland setting, under trees and shrubs or native shade gardens.

Flower: The tiny yellow male and female flowers are hidden in the hooded spathe at the base of the long and twisting spadix.

Showy Fruit: Showy 

Tolerates: Heavy Shade, Wet Soil. Never eaten by mammals.

Comments: DO NOT EAT: The toxic agent is calcium oxalate, which causes a burning sensation in the mouth, gastrointestinal distress, and possible damage to the kidneys.

Wildlife value: The flowers of Green Dragon attract simple flies (Nematocera), particularly fungus gnats. A thrip species, Ctenothrips bridwelli, has been observed feeding on Green Dragon. The berries are eaten by the Wild Turkey, Wood Thrush, and possibly other woodland birds. Mammalian herbivores, including White-Tailed Deer, rarely feed on the foliage and corms as they are highly toxic. 

Welcome to Wildflower Wednesday. I am so glad you stopped by. WW is about sharing and celebrating our native wildflowers from all over this great big, beautiful world. Join us on the fourth Wednesday of each month. Please share  your wildflower stars on your blog, your Instagram page, Facebook or other social media platform. We want to get the word out about wildflowers. Please leave your url when you comment. I love your comments, so thank you for leaving them. 

Don't forget our Wildflower Wednesday monthly challenge! 

The first part of this challenge is to do something every month during 2023 and beyond that supports native wildflowers, pollinators, and the critters that visit and rely on our gardens. Activities that increase our knowledge of the natural world are equally as valuable. Helping others learn about nature is included. Golly gee whiz, there are so many things you can do. The second part of the challenge is to post about it somewhere: Your blog, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter or even your neighborhood listserve. Wouldn't an article in the local paper be a coup for nature! Why post it? Because positive publicity is needed to educate our friends, neighbors and communities about how important even the smallest changes we make as gardeners can be for pollinators, birds, insects and mammals that live all around us. 

Why now?  My neighborhood is changing. Yours might be, too. Every day an older home along with many (if not all) of the mature oak, hickory, maple, Eastern cedar and hackberry trees that have been there for over 75 years are cut down. In place of the "bee lawns" composed of Claytonia, Salvia lyrata, Ruellia humilis, fleabane, Western Daisy, Violets, self-heal, clovers, and dandelions that grew so well in the shallow soil that sits on top of limestone bedrock are sodded non-native lawns that get daily watering, whether it rains or not. Gone are the lightening bugs. Gone are the ground dwelling/nesting native bees. Gone is the habitat for insects, spiders and other critters. Gone is plant diversity. Gone are trees that provided for hundreds of moths, butterflies and other insects. Gone are the nesting sites for woodpeckers, hummingbirds, Chickadees and other birds. It breaks my heart. We can't stop the multi-million dollar houses from going up, but, maybe we can make a lot of educational noise and help our new neighbors see the value in providing for critters.

A gardener can hope!

Here's an incomplete list of things you might consider doing or changing in your garden, but don't limit yourself to my list, make your own list or check out the internet for ideas.

Shrink your lawn and make your planting beds larger.

Plant your favorite native perennials and shrubs. Leave them standing after they've gone to seed to continue to provide for wildlife. What you plant in your yard makes a difference to wildlife. I garden for wildlife so every tree, shrub and plant is chosen with wildlife in mind.

Plant more natives and then consider planting even more. "A typical suburban landscape contains only 20-30% native plant species. Try reversing that trend in your own landscape by using 70-80% native species." (source)

Commit to never, ever, ever, ever using pesticides in the garden.

Stay away from native plant hybrids and cultivars that are double flowered. They are sterile and have no pollen or nectar for insects and no seeds for the birds. If possible plant “true open-pollinated native wildflowers”

If you want to garden for wildlife and pollinators, don't let lack of space stop you! Plant your favorite wildflowers in large containers. You just might have the prairie or woodland garden you've always wanted...in a pot!
Create a water feature. Provide water year round that is accessible to birds, bees and other critters.

Show some soil! Our native ground nesting bees nest in bare soil, so don't mulch every square inch of your garden. 

Get rid of the plastic weed barriers in your garden, it's not good for anything.

Invite bugs into your garden. Plant annuals that attract beneficial bugs.

Learn to tolerate damaged plants. Imperfection is the new perfect.

Don't be in a rush to clean up the fall garden. Leave plant stalks and seed heads standing all winter. Leave those fallen leaves or as many as you can tolerate! Insects over winter in the fallen and decaying leaves. Leave a layer of leaves as a soft landing material under trees for moths and butterflies to over winter. Many caterpillars drop to the ground from the trees in the fall.

Make a brush pile. Stack fallen brush, cut tree limbs, broken pots for ground beetles. Ground beetles are excellent at eating "bad bugs'. They're also good bird, toad and small critter food. 

Rethink what you consider a pest. Lots of good bugs eat aphids. Spiders are important predators and bird food!

Add nesting boxes for birds. 

Turn off your yard up-lighting, eave lights and porch lights after 11pm. This is important for nocturnal critters including mammals, snakes, insects, bats, birds (especially during migration). (Birdcast suggestions)

Plant shrubs and small trees that provide berries and nuts.

Keep a nature journal: Observe visitors to the water feature, make note of when they visit. Notice which flowers attract the most pollinators and which ones are just pretty faces. 

Join your state native plant society (Tennessee Native Plant Society)

Join WildOnes even if there's no local group. (Middle Tennessee WildOnes)

Support your local native plant sellers. (GroWild in middle Tennessee, Overhill Gardens in east Tennessee,  Resource Guide TN Native Plant Society)

Encourage your local garden clubs to offer native plant talks.

If your garden club has a plant sale encourage them to sell more native plants.

Get trained as a naturalist (Tennessee Naturalist Program, Almost every state has their own Master Naturalist training program)

Take an online course on tree, fungi and wildflower id.

Take a walk in your neighborhood and observe nature. To quote Joanna Brichetto in Sidewalk Nature "Look Around. Nature is here, is us, our driveways, our baseboards, parks, and parking lots."

Buy the best wildflower, butterfly and bird id books for your state.

Read nature books to your children and grandchildren. Buy them nature books.

Give nature books as baby shower gifts (Nature books for infants and toddlers)

Read! There are hundreds of books on gardening for wildlife, the environment, and rewilding our world. There are delightful blogs with wonderful and informative articles.

If you are already gardening with wildlife in mind then add a few signs that help educate your neighbors. (Xerces Society, Pollinator Partnership)

Set up an information station where neighbors can pick up brochures about your garden and other info. 

Get certified (National Wildlife Federation, check to see what your state offers)




Gail Eichelberger is a gardener and therapist in Middle Tennessee. She loves wildflowers and native plants and thoroughly enjoys writing about the ones she grows at Clay and Limestone. She reminds all that the words and images are the property of the author and cannot be used without written permission.


  1. This is an amazing array of plants and they are stunning. Now I am wondering if I could have a Green Giant in my garden.

  2. What an intriguing plant! I’ve never heard of it, or seen one.

  3. Those spiralling leaves would be worth growing for that alone.


"Insects are the little things that run the world." Dr. E O Wilson