Dracunculus vulgaris is native to the Balkans, the Aegean Islands and SW Turkey. Collections from Italy are possibly introduced and those from further west and from North Africa certainly represent introductions or escapes (the seed is bird-dispersed) and not indigenous plants. In the wild D. vulgaris grows in a wide range of habitats including maquis and garrigue and undisturbed olive groves as well as occurring spontaneously in waste land. It is a typical Mediterranean cryptophyte (a plant spending some of each year as a dormant underground storage organ such as a bulb or corm) and requires a warm, wet winter and spring (the growing period) and a hot dry summer (the dormant period).
In habitat the plant is almost always associated with lime-rich soils, often somewhat clayey and nutrient rich and does best in cultivation when grown in the open ground in full sun or very light shade. In places that are too cold over the winter (minimum temperature less than -10C) it will require a very sheltered position or cultivation in a large terracotta pot in a mineral-rich soil and given ample water and weekly feeding with a tomato-type fertilizer. Pot-grown plants will need annual repotting or potting on with fresh compost. Whether open ground or in a pot the top of the tuber needs to be about 10 cm below the soil surface. Plants grown strongly can easily attain 1.5 meters or more in height and produce a spathe to 1 meter or slightly more in length.
Dracunculus vulgaris displays a lot of variation in overall size, degree of leaf division and leaf marking. One form popular in cultivation has strong white chevron markings on the leaf and a pronounced snakeskin patterning on the stem and has been called var. cretensis, however neither this nor any of the plants described based on similar makings variations are upheld as taxonomically distinct from D. vulgaris. The status of the 'white' Dracunculus plants originally reported from the Kamares region of central Crete, but now also known from Rhodes, is not clear. These have a pale greenish white to pale yellowish spathe limb and deep purple spadix appendix. Since the first reports in the early 1970s a number of other forms have been found in the same area with variously marbled purple and white spathes and pale lilac to deep purple spadix appendices. Apart from the colours, such plants are morphologically indistinguishable from the typical plants and it appears they are sports of D. vulgaris. There are report
s from ?anakkale in northwestern Turkey of an interesting form of D. vulgaris with a white-haired spathe and spadix appendix. Nothing further is known about this plant.