Cordylines

by Helen Curran

Cordyline comes from the Greek work 'kordyle' meaning a club, referring to the club like roots of some species. 
Cordylines are by far, my favourite plant; it was these veautiful plants that took my garden from a tropical look into the world of tropical gardening.  They have their own unique corner of the plant world with their vast array of colours, their ambiguous past and difficulty of classifying them botanically.  They now reside in the Laxmanniaceae family, after brief stints in the following families: Asteliaceae, Agavaceae, Dracaenaceae, Liliaceae and Lomandraceae.  This lastes placemnt has come about through DNA testing.

The native range of cordylines is unknown, although it is thought that they are idigenous to an area from southeast Asia, through Melanesia to Australia and New Zealand.  Australia has the highest number of native species whilst New Zealand has the second highest.  The Australian are cannifolia, congest, manners-suttoniae, petiolaris, rubra and stricta.
Out of all the Cordyline species, Cordyline fruticosa is the most widely known and grown. The origins of this speies, has been lost due to its poplularity with the Polynesians:  the green ti (as it is known in Hawaii) was aboard the giant canoes when the Polynesians came to Hawaii some 1000 years ago.  They believed it to be the symbol of divine power and the priests wore fresh leaves around their necks, waist and ankles.   They also hung the leaves around the house to dispel evil and mass planted them around homes for protection.
The Pacfic Islanders found many uses for cordylines, the leaves wereused to make raincoats, sandals, hula skirts and used as thatch for houses.  Theleaves were also used as plates and fresh leaves were used to wrap ackages in and to wrap food in to cook.  Children even found the cordyline leaves to be great fun, they used them to slide down steep grassy slopes on.   The stalk was also used as a sign of surrender.  The rhizomatuous roots of the cordylines were also versatile, they could be baked and eaten as a confection, boiled and used as a laxative.  They were also fermented and made into beer, or distilled to make a high-grade colourless brandy; this was poplular when kings ruled the islands, as contraband.  Native Hawaiians foster a strong belief that owning ti plants bring good luck and ward off misfortune.
Within the Cordyline fruticosa varieties, there are different growth types; tall, medium, low or miniature groupls.  The grwth rate of teh cordylines gives an indication of which group the variety falls into e.g. the faster growing 'Negra' falls into the Tall group.
Cordyline fruticosa leaves my be linear, lanceolate, ovate or broadly ovate.  The margins or leaf edges are entire and may be undulate, on some varieties a part of the margin may be incurved ro recurved.  The petioles may be coloured or edged in colour.  Miniatures may be linear, ovate, whorled or broad.  Leaf length varies from a few centimetres to a metre.  The leaves come in many colours or comvinations of colours, including many shades of greens, reds, pinks, purples, white, cream, yellow and orange; up to seven different colours may be found on one leaf.

Cordylines add a touch of the tropics to a garden, they take up very little room within  and go beautifully under palms.  The are perfect for adding the layers of foliage in a tropical garden.  They look good from the moment they are planted and give an instant look to the garden.  They add year round colour; with the colour intensefying in the cooler months.  They are easy to grow and need little maintenance.  The majority of cordylines prefer bright ligh with dappled sunlight filtering through palms or other light foliaged trees.
The reds and blacks can take morning sun and the oranges and purples need more shade.  When established they can cope with the cooler winters here, as long as they are grown in sheltered positions where the frost does not settle on them.  They don't seem to mind what type of soil you have as long as it is well drained.  I grow mine in a clay soil.  They prefer regular watering during the warmer months for optimum growth.  In winter I cut the watering back and only water if the soil become too dry; although when they are established I have found that they need little water in winter and don't mind dry soils.  The only problems that I have come across with my cordylines are snails, slugs and the occasional caterpillar.  Cordylines have no speial ferilising requirements, although the application of Potassium Sulphate twice a year will enhnce the leaf colour of Cordyline fruticosa.
Cordylines cn be propagated by stem cuttings, root cuttings seed or aerial layering.  Stem cuttings or tops can be placed in a container of water or placed in a pot.  The canes may also be cut into smaller lengths and placd verically or horizontally in a pot/ can cuttings of some cultivars can produce up to 3 different plants.  Cordyline fruticosa cultivars are one of the exceptions with tissue culture, with some producing a different plant from the parent.  WHen it appears that the cordylines has died; the root or a little piece of the root can still be alive and the following spring, the cordyline pops up again.
Back Home