Dracophyllum lessonianum


Dracophyllum: dragon leaf, from its likeness to the dragon tree of the Canary Islands

Common Name(s)

gumland grass tree

Current Conservation Status

2012 - Not Threatened

Conservation status of New Zealand indigenous vascular plants, 2012
The conservation status of all known New Zealand vascular plant taxa at the rank of species and below were reassessed in 2012 using the New Zealand Threat Classification System (NZTCS). This report includes a statistical summary and brief notes on changes since 2009 and replaces all previous NZTCS lists for vascular plants. Authors: Peter J. de Lange, Jeremy R. Rolfe, Paul D. Champion, Shannel P. Courtney, Peter B. Heenan, John W. Barkla, Ewen K. Cameron, David A. Norton and Rodney A. Hitchmough. File size: 792KB

Previous Conservation Status

2009 - Not Threatened
2004 - Not Threatened


Dracophyllum lessonianum A.Rich.



Brief Description

Erect grassy shrub with light grey bark and many erect twigs bearing long very narrow pointed leaves in habiting the northern North Island. Leaves 3-11cm long by 1mm wide, abruptly widening to a sheath that encloses stem and with a small patch of tiny hairs at the base (lens needed).

Flora Category

Vascular - Native

NVS Species Code


The National Vegetation Survey (NVS) Databank is a physical archive and electronic databank containing records of over 94,000 vegetation survey plots - including data from over 19,000 permanent plots. NVS maintains a standard set of species code abbreviations that correspond to standard scientific plant names from the Ngä Tipu o Aotearoa - New Zealand Plants database.

Structural Class

Dicotyledonous Trees & Shrubs


Dracophyllum robustum Hook. f.; Dracophyllum lessonianum var. robustum (Hook. f.) Hook.f.


Endemic. New Zealand: North Island (from Te Paki south to Kopouatai Peat Dome in the east and the Kawhia Harbour in the west)


Coastal to lowland (up to 100 m a.s.l.). Usually in gumland scrub or on peat, sometimes in the upper areas of salt marsh. Often in open sparsely vegetated sites, or in shrubland. Sometimes locally dominant. Often found growing with Leptospermum scoparium and Epacris pauciflora.


Erect to spreading single–stemmed shrub or tree 0.5–5 m tall. Branches: bark on old branches grey to dark brown, finely fissured or occasionally deeply fissured on very old stems, young stems reddish brown. Leaves dimorphic. juvenile leaves spirally arranged along branches, erect to spreading; lamina sheath 8.0–17.0 × 3.7–5.0 mm, yellowish green; shoulders truncate to auricled and margin ciliate or ciliate in upper half; lamina coriaceous, 60.0–120.0 × 1.6–1.8 mm, linear to linear–subulate; surfaces glabrous; margin serrulate with 50–78 teeth per 10 mm; adult leaves spreading; lamina sheath light green, 6.0–14 × 2–4 mm, membranous, shoulders truncate to auricled and margin with the top half ciliate; lamina light to olive green, 20.0–108.0 × 0.5–1.2 mm, linear to linear–subulate, surfaces glabrous with a tuft of scabrid hairs at the base of adaxial surface; margins serrulate with 53–70 teeth per 10 mm; apex triquetrous. Inflorescence a terminal spike on lateral branchlets, shorter than the leaves, erect, lax, 20–50 mm long, linear–oblong; inflorescence bract over-topping flowers, coriaceous to rigid and hard, 6.0–17.5 × 0.6–3.3 mm, light to dark green, subulate; adaxial surface scabrid at base; abaxial surface glabrous to pubescent at the apex; margins entire. Flowers 3–9, sessile; flower bract over-topping flowers, foliose, coriaceous to rigid and hard, 8.0–12.5 × 0.5–0.7 mm, ovate–lanceolate, surfaces glabrous with a tuft of scabrid hair at base of adaxial surface, margins serrulate and white, apices acute and dark coloured. Sepals 6–8 × 1.5–2.0 mm, lanceolate to ovate–lanceolate, longer than corolla tube; surfaces glabrous with top half of adaxial surface pubescent; margins ciliate; apices acuminate and hard. Corolla white to pinkish; corolla tube 4.0–6.0 × 2.0–2.5 mm, cylindrical, widened at mouth; corolla lobes spreading horizontally, reflexed in old flowers, 2.5–3.0 × 1.0–1.5 mm, ovate triangular, shorter than corolla tube, inflexed at apex, apices acute; surfaces glabrous. Stamens inserted on corolla tube in upper third, filaments 0.3–0.5 mm long; anthers included, oblong, light yellow and 0.9–1.0 mm long. Ovary 1.3–1.5 × 1.2–1.3 mm, oblong, apex truncate; nectary scales 1.0–1.3 × 0.5–0.6 mm, rectangular, apices subacute; style included, 1.5–2.0 mm long, glabrous; stigma capitate. Fruit sessile, 4.0–4.5 × 1.7–2.0 mm, light brown, oblong, apex truncate, glabrous. Seeds 1.0–1.2 mm long, yellowish brown, ovoid, testa slightly reticulate.

Similar Taxa

Dracophyllum lessonianum is a northern North Island species which is easily recognised by the distinctive, up swept, erect–spreading branches with dark grey, smooth bark; dimorphic foliage (i.e. with distinct juvenile and adult leaves); adult leaves which have auricled lamina sheaths with pale margins; and by the base of the lamina which is covered in short hairs and has a triquetrous apex. The inflorescences are in racemes that terminate the lateral branches, while the persistent flower bracts are long, narrow and sheathing. The sepals of D. lessonianum are slightly longer (6–8 mm) than the corolla tube, with hardened apices are are internally covered in white hairs. From other superficially similar species (D. filifolium, D. longifolium var. longifolium, D. urvilleanum) D. lessonianum is best distinguished by the long racemose inflorescences, long acuminate sepals (with hard apices) and long narrow, flowers. It is most similar to D. filifolium (with which it never grows) and from which it differs by its dimorphic foliage (i.e. with distinct juvenile and adult leaves), sepals which are longer than the corolla tube, by the inflorescence bracts and flower bracts which have broad white margins and by the apex of the ovary which is truncate not round.



Flower Colours



Throughout the year

Propagation Technique

Difficult - should not be removed from the wild


Not Threatened. However, very uncommon south of about Whangarei

Chromosome No.

2n = 26

Endemic Taxon


Endemic Genus


Endemic Family


Life Cycle and Dispersal

Minute seeds are wind dispersed (Thorsen et al., 2009).

Where To Buy

Not commercially available.


Fact sheet prepared for NZPCN by P.J. de Lange (20 April 2012). Description adapted from Venter (2009)

References and further reading

Venter, S. 2009: A taxonomic revision of the genus Dracophyllum Labill. (Ericaceae). Unpublished Phd Thesis, Victoria University of Wellington, Wellington.

This page last updated on 14 Aug 2014