Cordyline spp.

Cordyline fruiticosa
Cordyline fruiticosa

Exotic Cordyline Species.

 Looking great going into the winter are some of the Cabbage Tree (Cordyline) species from Australia and Papua New Guinea. I have always wondered about the names of some of the varieties available and I have finally had it cleared up by a book available called “Dancing Leaves” by Philip Simpson. The main text is devoted to our native species but there is an interesting chapter on other species. Of the Cordylines there are 19 species which come from New Caledonia (1), South America (1), Mascarene Islands (3), New Zealand (5), Norfolk Island (1), Australia (7), and Papua New Guinea (1). I have always thought that the large leafed, often highly coloured ones were called C. terminalis but it seems this nomenclature no longer applies and it is now called C. fruticosa.

The other species commonly found up here are C. rubra which has white and lilac flowers and red berries and C. stricta which has deep mauve flowers and black berries. Both plants come from warm, temperate eastern Australia and look fairly similar. Both have an upright clumping habit with persistent leaves over much of the trunks and grow to three or four metres high, though generally C. stricta has a narrower leaf. I think that the dark leafed form sold as C. nigra is a dark form of C. stricta though I had been led to believe that it was C. angustifolia which I find doesn’t exist!!! Thank goodness someone has sorted them out.

In New Zealand berries are not regularly set so it is not easy to confirm the species. They also can cross with each other as I have seen at Exotic Nursery in Kaitaia where I was shown some with blackish-red fruit (probably with a little help from David Austin and a paint brush!!)

  1. fruticosa, which comes from Papua New Guinea, is the one which is used in the Islands as skirts etc and is the one which has many colourful cultivars. The one pictured is what I have called “Fiji” as I got a cutting from outside the Suva Girls High School many years ago. I find it is the most cold tolerant of the coloured “fruiticosa” cultivars. In the spring/ early summer the leaves are soft green and yellow but as the cooler weather comes the reds and yellows get stronger. Free draining soils are best as it is a tropical species. If it gets too high prune back so the leaves are in view. They take from 10cm cuttings quite readily.