Tag Archives: Cordyline australis

The Cabbage Tree

Cordyline australis is a true New Zealand tree. I saw it everywhere I went in Wellington. It was at the botanical gardens proudly sporting a nameplate and it was in my brothers backyard with a small girl climbing its branches. Up on a hill and down by the sea, this tree grows from the North to the South on both islands. I really like the way the sprouts shoot out of the trunk and branches, like someone glued spikes onto the bark.

That is another name for this plant in our part of the world, Dracaena ‘Spikes‘ is sold as an annual here in the US. As an annual it gets up to 36 inches tall.  I’ve had a few of these that we grew from seed last year and have found them to be very slow growing.  Maybe with more fertilizer and more sun it would become more tree-like.  As a tree in New Zealand it can get up to 66 feet tall. Put the right plant in the right place and magical things can happen!

The young leaves are edible and so it is called Cabbage tree or cabbage palm  It must taste like a cabbage for it certainly doesn’t resemble one. I collected some seeds and they are having trouble germinating.  I soaked them and put them in the fridge for five weeks, but there is no sign of change yet. Besides food, especially for the native birds, Cordyline is also used for fiber in rope, baskets, clothing and sandals. I’m hoping to grow this beautiful New Zealand native here in Washington. Maybe I’ll make a cabbage cape someday.

New Zealand Cabbage Tree

Cabbage Tree

The latest picture from my New Zealand connection is this lovely tree.  It has a smooth and supple trunk topped with a spiky pop of leaves.  If I am correct, it’s Cordyline australis, or the cabbage tree, native to New Zealand.  How cool to see a monocot plant in a tree form.  Most of the monocot plants around here are the diminutive grasses, with leaf veins parallel (as opposed to dicotyledons with reticulated leaf veins).  We sell cordylines at the nursery, but usually for a summer tropical look (most don’t last through our winters).  If they did last, they could grow into an amazing tree like this one.  The Cabbage tree is a familiar part of the New Zealand landscape and can grow up to 60 feet tall.  I’m trying to use my imagination, but I just don’t see a cabbage in this tree, do you?