Cordyline Australis

The Cordyline Australis – Exotic In Appearance, Easy To Grow

A Palm That Isn’t A Palm


Cordyline australis, as the scientific name implies, is native to the southern Hemisphere. Although at first glance it looks like a tropical plant, it is not, and the plant can thrive in the cooler climates of northern Europe and the cooler areas of the United States, particularly the Pacific Northwest. Since it, in many respects, resembles a palm tree, one of the names given to it is the New Zealand Cabbage palm. Picture a coconut palm that branches out three-quarters of the way to its top, with the crown of each branch resembling a smaller palm tree, and you get an idea of what cordyline australis looks like. The tree has a single crown until it blooms for the first time. After that, it begins to branch out, forming the additional crowns. The plant is believed to have evolved from tropical plants, which by one means or another migrated southward to the cooler climates of New Zealand over the past million years or so. Some believe they were brought to New Zealand by humans, but this has neither been proved nor disproved.


A Taste Of The Tropics In A Cooler Climate


If you live in an area where palm trees and other tropical plants cannot survive outdoors, the cordyline australis can give you a taste of the tropics. Depending upon the cultivar chosen, this plant will vary in height, from that of a rather large bush, to a 20- to 60-foot tree. The foliage is very colorful. The 3-foot leaves are sword-shaped, and purple to plum colored, with burgundy being a more common color in some of the subspecies and cultivars. The leaves tend to be become broader as the tree gets older. Cordyline australis displays panicles of showy white, fragrant blossoms. The nectar in the blossoms makes the plant a favorite of bees and hummingbirds, and the berries are a favorite food of birds. Australis can be grown as an indoor plant, although for some reason, potted plants seldom, if ever, have blossoms. Even without blossoms, it is a showy container plant.


A Tree Of Many Uses


When sold in nurseries, the cordyline australis is usually advertised as an ornamental plant. In its native habitat of New Zealand, however, it has served multiple purposes through the years. The stems of young plants and the tree’s rhizomes are edible, and are rich in sugar and carbohydrates. The leaves can be woven and used as clothing, and the stems of smaller plants and roots make excellent ropes when twisted together. Ropes made from the plants are very durable, even when immersed for long periods in seawater, making the plant a valuable resource for the production of anchor ropes. While it was primarily the native population of New Zealand that used as the plant as a food source, early white visitors to the islands found that potent alcoholic beverages could be produced from the juice of the rhizomes. Parts of the plant, especially the juice in the leaves, were used by the natives for various medicinal purposes.

Although sometimes subject to certain diseases in it native habitats, one thing the cordyline australis has going for it is its ability to recover from forest fires. Although the tree itself may burn, buds in the rhizome soon peek up through the ground and a new cycle of growth begins. The plant is a relatively rapid grower, benefiting both the forested area it grows in and those who are trying to grow their own plant for the first time.


A Great Plant For The Inexperienced, Or Experienced, Gardener


This is a good plant for the inexperienced gardener as it is not at all difficult to grow, and is relatively low-maintenance. It should be planted in a fertile soil that is well drained, but requires minimal maintenance once established. It can be grown from seeds, although it is most often bought from a nursery as a seedling or small plant. The plant can be placed near other plants as it has a reputation of not being a water hog. The tree usually only requires watering during extended hot or dry spells, but does not require the constant watering common to most garden plants. It likes sunshine, and if planted indoors in a container, it should be placed near a window where it will get plenty of bright light. Since the cordyline australis is normally not an expensive plant, especially when grown from seeds, some gardeners grow them in pots and containers, together with other plants, as an annual. This little palm can show off at its best when grown amongst ornamental grasses.


Diseases And Pests


When placed in the garden, one only needs to be aware of the size it may be expected to grow to, although it can always be trimmed back. As far as pests and diseases are concerned, cordyline australis seems mostly affected by pests that commonly infest household plants, such as spider mites, mealybugs, and scale insects. If planted in too moist a location, root rot can become a problem. If watched carefully during the early stags of its growth, remedial steps are usually easily taken.