Dracaena fragrans is a slow growing shrub, usually multistemmed at the base, mature specimens reaching 15 m (49 ft) or more tall with a narrow crown of usually slender erect branches. Stems may reach up to 30 cm (12 in) diameter on old plants; in forest habitats they may become horizontal with erect side branches. Young plants have a single unbranched stem with a rosette of leaves until the growing tip flowers or is damaged, after which it branches, producing two or more new stems; thereafter, branching increases with subsequent flowering episodes.
The leaves are glossy green, lanceolate, 20–150 cm (7.9–59.1 in) long and 2–12 cm (0.79–4.72 in) wide; small leaves are erect to spreading, and larger leaves usually drooping under their weight. The flowers are produced in panicles 15–160 cm (5.9–63.0 in) long, the individual flowers are 2.5 cm (0.98 in) diameter, with a six-lobed corolla, pink at first, opening white with a fine red or purple central line on each of the 7–12 mm (0.28–0.47 in) lobes; they are highly fragrant, and popular with pollinating insects. The fruit is an orange-red berry 1–2 cm (0.39–0.79 in) diameter, containing several seeds.