Thursday, March 24, 2011

Poncirus trifoliata, or Flying Dragon

How surprised I was to find out that something so exotic and spiky as this plant is actually completely hardy here in Portland! I have a vague memory of Ricki (Banners by Ricki/sprig to twig) talking about this plant long ago. A quick search revealed my memory is better than I thought! It was back in September of 2009 that she posted about ‘dragon plants’ including an excellent photo of a Poncirus trifoliata.

My first “in-person” experience was when I discovered what had to be a Poncirus trifoliata at Dancing Oaks last June, although now looking at these pictures I wonder if this plant was still alive? It’s a little too ‘golden’ and there are no leaves. Although still a knockout… Then of course there is this amazing specimen at the Portland Chinese Garden. Just look at those wicked spikes! There is a nice one growing in the Kennedy School courtyard. I wonder why you so often see them planted in containers? I hadn’t seen leaves on a Flying Dragon until this little guy from Cistus became mine. Turns out maybe I only had noticed them in the winter when their leaves were gone? That’s also when I learned that it’s a citrus and will indeed get fruit, eventually. I can be incredibly dim sometimes. My next encounter was this surprisingly tall specimen at Pistils Nursery, surprisingly tall and surprisingly cheap too! Now that I knew it was hardy I scooped it up for the front garden. But not before I noticed the similarity between its spiky branches and the finials on the fence surrounding the nursery. Cool eh? Of course right after I bought the tall but not very contorted one that’s when I saw these short very twisted ones at Portland Nursery. Wickedly cool thorns! A definite danger garden plant.


  1. Yep, that fits in the danger garden category! Amazing that it is hardy for you.

  2. very cool - very serious looking. a row of these would be great , it would look like they are protecting your garden fortress

  3. I saw one at the Lan Su sale and considered it...too bad I hadn't had the benefit of your informative post! It is indeed a danger garden "must have"!

  4. they are probably in containers so you can move them out of the way when you need to work in the area! I wouldn't want brush up against that while weeding (like I do with my roses all the time).

  5. Check out the photos of this plant on my Flickr site, if you want to see it in foliage as well as with fall color. I've been using this plant for years, always as a container plant because I want to feature it. More photos of same plant in different gardens under Trejo Garden set, and Fairchild Garden set on my Flickr site.

    It is a fascinating plant, isn't it? It does seem to suffer from some continual dieback of stems each year,(brown equals dead), and is also used as rooting stock for many commercial varities of citrus.

    Here's the link:

  6. A cool plant, indeed! Then again, I've always been partial to plants with curling and twisting stems :-) Definitely at its best during winter...the silhouette is so graphic and striking.

  7. I LOVE THIS PLANT!!!! I've even a place planned for 2 of them and I don't even like thorny plants - this one is KING!!!!

  8. 'flying dragon' is a cultivar. that one from pistils is most likely the straight species, they sell it a bunch (i got mine there too). the straight species grows much larger.

    someday mine will poke my eye out. i planted strawberries underneath it, if that makes any sense at all.

  9. i love this type of citrus... so cool!

  10. I have it: how could I not? Even when I see it at nurseries I gaze at it and poke its thorns. I uploaded some photos of you from when I saw it at the Oregon Garden. It had lots of fruit! So strange and wonderful.
    Oh, and MulchMaid: I saw it at the Lan Su sale as well, and of course, I poked its thorns there too. Ouch! It's like sniffing milk to see if it's bad. Yep, it's bad. And yep, those thorns are sharp!

  11. What a dangerous addition to your gardens...Score!

  12. Spiky O, the lady I bought it from said there is one growing at the zoo in Washington DC...sounds like Portland's climate will be a breeze.

    ellieT, I love it! Like a row of fence post cactus only the hardier version!

    MulchMaid, maybe next time you'll scoop it up?

    Ryan, good point. I did take that into consideration when placing it in the garden...not to close to the sidewalk!

    Anon/David, thank you for the link! What beautiful pictures! I know I've seen some of your work online before but I'm not sure where, maybe the Germinatrix blog? Or Sunset or Garden Porn? Anyway...makes me excited to watch my new plant throughout the seasons.

    scott, do I see one in your future?

    Lauren, your garden? Now this surprises me!

    eeldip, interesting. I have to say no, it really doesn't make sense. But depending on the timing of things seeing strawberries under that orange fruit could be quite gorgeous. Please don't poke your eye out...and thanks for the info. Now I know mine is destined for size! Makes me even happier that it's up near the house not the sidewalk.

    dirty girl, do you grow one?

    LeLo, yay! Great pics, thank you for sharing them. I'm hearing a lot about the Oregon Garden again these days. Might have to make the trip. BTW I do the same thing with agaves. I absolutely have to poke the tips...

    Darla, exactly!

    1. I have it growing and producing fruit in the Maryland Piedmont (zone 6a.) I'm thinking of trying to raise some giant swallowtails on it and my Japanese pepper trees. Both could use some natural controls and I'd love to have giant swallowtails in the area (they exist in isolated areas of the county right now.)

  13. Oh gosh I had wanted that plant since the first time saw a pic of it-pity eh that it would be perfect in my clime and there is none to be got!

  14. Used to be very hard to find...guess spiky is truly catching on.

  15. If you lived nearby, I'd offer you one of my many seedlings, unfortunately mine is the straight species. The very seedy fruits are also very fertile. Seedlings from 'Flying Dragon' don't necessarily contort like the mother plant.

  16. nicole, keep looking, you'll find one eventually!

    ricki, spiky is the new black you know.

    Les, turns out the one I planted in the front garden is not a 'Flying Dragon' after all but the straight species...and I'm beginning to thing mine may not contort at all. Damn! The smaller one from Cistus is 'Flying Dragon' though so maybe it will? One can hope....

  17. I've got those same kind of "thorns" on my Easter (Russian) Olive. I've learned I can strip them off a green sucker just by running a clenched (not to mention gloved) fist backwards (bottom to to) along the length of it. As soon as it's dried, tho', watch out!

  18. Poncirus, as a Citrus, is probably a caterpillar host for Giant Swallowtails. Try a "malevolent security hedge" of trifoliate orange ("Flying Dragon" for "see over size") underplanted with stinging nettles (the dwarf one found in FL, which is the nastiest in the USA, is a good size for Flying Dragon), a vegetable and also caterpillar host for many species (Painted Lady, Milbert's Fire-Rim [sole host], Mourning Cloak, and various comma and question marks). This could be the start of a "danger butterfly garden" (Zanthoxylum, prickly ash or toothache tree, the preferred native host for most Citrus swallowtails, is also well armed, but I don't see it as a hedge.


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