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Cordyline fruticosa (L.) A.Chev. 1919
pronounced: kor-dih-LY-nee froo-tih-KOH-suh
(Asparagaceae — the asparagus family)
pronounced: kor-dih-LY-nee term-in-AR-liss, dra-KEE-nuh term-in-AR-liss
common names: Cordyline, Ti Plant, Good Luck Plant
This species is an evergreen flowering plant, woody, and can grow up to 4 m tall, with leaves 30–60 cm (rarely 75 cm) long and 5–10 cm wide at the top of a woody stem. It produces 40–60 cm long panicles of small scented yellowish to red flowers, that mature into red berries. It is native to tropical southeastern Asia, Papua New Guinea, Melanesia, north-eastern Australia, the Indian Ocean, and parts of Polynesia. It is not native to Hawaii or New Zealand, but exists there as a feral weed introduced by Polynesian settlers. It is thought to reached Hawaii some 1000 years ago. Its starchy rhizomes, which are very sweet when the plant is mature, were used as food or medicine by the Polynesians, and its leaves were used to thatch the roofs of houses, and to wrap and store food. The leaves were also used to make items of clothing, including dance skirts. The Hawaiian hula skirt is an opaque layer of at least 50 green leaves with the bottom (i.e., the top of the leaves) shaved flat. The Tongan dance dress, the sisi, is an apron of about 20 leaves, worn over a lava-lava, and decorated with some yellow or red leaves.
In ancient Hawaii, the plant was thought to have great spiritual power. Only chiefs and high priests were allowed to wear its leaves round their necks during some rituals. Ti leaves were also used to make leis, and to outline borders between properties (hence the alternative name Cordyline terminalis). Even now, some Hawaiians plant Ti near their houses to bring good luck. The leaves are also used for lava sledding: a great number of leaves are lashed together, and the people slide down hills on them. The rhizomes are fermented and distilled to make a liquor called okolehao.
New Guinea was the first country known to cultivate cordylines naturally, and they formed a large part of the culture. The chiefs used the leaves in their ceremonial costumes. It is possible that the plants growing in Far North Queensland came to Australia via islanders from the north.
In recent years a great number of hybrids have been developed, coming in a wide range of wonderful leaf colours, including bronze, purple and pink. There are also many cultivars, some with a low, clumping growth habit suitable for pots and accent planting (i.e., where plants are used to help draw the eye to some significant feature of the landscape).
Cordyline are used very extensively in both Hawaii and Queensland as a landscaping plant. It is a particular favourite of the Townsville City Council parks and gardening department.
Most gardeners propagate this plant when they cut it back after considering it too leggy, planting tip cuttings with about 10 cm of cane. Propagation can also be done from seed – the easiest way is to plant the whole berry. Don’t rely, however, on the resulting plant being true to type – there are so many cultivars and hybrids of the species.
The caterpillars of several Lepidoptera feed on this plant, including:
Photographs taken in Picnic Bay 2008-2014
Page last updated 1st November 2016