The Cordyline Collection

Travel around anywhere in Hawaii or Queensland and you will be dazzled by the beauty and colour of Cordylines - the most popular landscaping plant. They can be seen surrounding office buildings, hotel lobbies and their grounds, but most abundantly surrounding residences, which it is believed, brings good luck. Cordyline fruticosa, or Ti plant, as it is commonly known, is the tropical world’s most extraordinary exotic.


It is a genus of about 15 species of trees and clumping shrubs, originating in India and indigenous to South East Asia, Australia, the Pacific Islands and New Zealand. Cordyline is from the Greek ‘kordyle’ a club, in reference to the large fleshy club-like roots produced on  some species.                                                    



Cordylines are an important part of Polynesian culture. They are credited with bringing them to Hawaii some 1000 years ago in their giant canoes, the priests wore green ti leaves as leis around their necks, waists and ankles believing that they would ward off evil spirits, and were sacred to Polynesian kings. Fresh leaves were used to wrap their food for cooking and the famous grass skirts were  made from Ti leaves. C. australis roots were cooked by Maoris as a source of carbohydrate.


C. fruticosa is related to C. australis (Cabbage Tree, NZ native) and Australian natives C. rubra, C. petiolaris, C. manners-suttoniae, C. cannifolia, C. stricta, C. congesta, and C. murchisoniae. 




New Guinea was the first country known to cultivate cordylines naturally and they formed a large part of their  culture. The chiefs would decorate themselves with the leaves which would form part of their ceremonial costume. It is believed that C. fruticosa growing in Far North Queensland, Australia, came to Australia via Islanders from the north, perhaps New Guinea or the Torres Strait Islands.


In Trinidad a horticulturalist named Eugene Andre experimented with cordylines, developing many new genera. He is credited with developing the C. fruticosa ‘Eugene Andre’ or ‘Madam Eugene Andre’. Many new varieties of cordyline were taken to Hawaii by collectors and experiments in cross-pollinating to obtain new varieties took place. 


New hybrids displayed a wide range of colours including purple, crimson, scarlet, rust, pink and green, some having stripes of orange, red or white. The most spectacular of new types was named ‘John Cummins’. Other outstanding hybrids are ‘Johhny Noble’. ‘Sonny Matthews’, ‘Willi’s Gold’ and ‘Kaui Rosebud’. Since the late 1960’s ti fanciers in Thailand started cross-pollinating and, as a result, over 100 new and beautiful varieties originating from the Thai cordylines have emerged, some of the most beautiful in the world.



The Lyon  Arboretum at Manoa, now under the University of Hawaii, is a living monument to Dr Lyon’s horticultural achievements and contains an impressive collection of exotics in a setting that encompasses dense jungled valleys, exposed areas and a variety of elevations. It has the most prolific collection of cordylines in Hawaii, if not the world and the leaves are exported in considerable quantities for use in flower arrangements. Ti's at Lyon  are mostly grown in mass plantings of one type, as an understorey to palms and other tropical trees where the massed colours are most effective. 



Growing Conditions Generally a hardy plant with few problems. While some varieties require some degree of shading in order to attain maximum colour, most will grow well in full sun. Cordylines prefer high light and a warm environment in the garden. They will thrive at temperatures between 18-29c. In winter some can brown off if they receive too much water with cooler temperatures.



 A warm, moist, lightly shaded environment suits them best, but towards autumn plants should be gradually  exposed to full sunshine and drier surroundings. This allows the showing of their best colours. Tints become richer and more intense during drier autumn and winter months. Being tropical they grow well in areas of high summer rainfall, insufficient water  can cause stunting. Leaves become dry and fall off. 


Plants which are grown in dry, hot environments require more frequent watering than those grown in a moist, cool environment. Weather and temperature may determine frequency of water application. In dry seasons, plants should be watered at least weekly. Colour intensity is largely controlled by temperature, but light and fertiliser levels have some influence on colour. The effect of cooler temperature is to sharpen the colour in new growth.


Fertilising should be done in Spring and Autumn using a good general slow release fertiliser  such as Nutricote Fern and Palm Mix. Being tropical plants they tolerate a wide variety of soil conditions with minimum amounts of fertiliser, however, they do need good drainage.

The Australian native cordylines in general will accept more shaded conditions than the exotics. The most essential point with growing the natives is drainage.  They must be in a very well drained site, particularly for C. petiolaris which grows naturally on the sides of mountains.



It will succumb very quickly to too most conditions or over-potting. The New Zealand species and their many hybrids and cultivars are more suited to the cooler climates, though C. australis will grow in SE Queensland. Gardeners in the southern parts of Australia should try to take advantage of the many striking NZ cultivars.



Propagation  When your plant gets too tall or leggy, it is time to cut it back as much as you wish. Take the top and remove all the lower leaves, leaving only the top two or three which should be cut in half (do not touch the new spear, or emergent leaf). A tip cutting with about 100mm of cane, planted in a light, well drained, growing medium, will produce roots within two weeks. Rooting tip cuttings will result in plants within four to five months.



Smaller stems (or cane) can also be rooted but these take about twice the time of tip cuttings. Cane should be placed in rooting medium either horizontally or vertically. If laid horizontally cover cane lightly with soil. When planted vertically two-thirds of the cane should be under the soil leaving one-third exposed. This method will root in about four weeks and produce a mature plant within six months.



Propagation by seed can also be done. Wait until the mature plant produces a berry-like fruit which grows in clusters of as many as fifty or more. You can wait until the fruit is soft and mash the seeds out of the fruit or plant the entire berry in a good potting soil or peat moss containing a general garden fertilizer. Seeds require five to ten weeks to germinate when temperature is above 21 deg. C or 70 deg. F.



  As the parent plant itself is from various parentage anything can happen. Young plants take about two years to produce their best colours (a large percentage will be all green, as their original ancestor was). Be prepared to cull heavily  and keep only the best .
 Leaf Types  Broad leaf forms, in which leaves are short and wide, are referred to as “Juno” types. Narrow leaf varieties with short upright leaves, as well as long, gracefully curving leaves, are called “Kahili's”. 



Plant Stress  When grown outside, cordylines seldom exhibit stress. If they do, it is caused by one of three conditions:
1. Too much hot sun or too cold
2. Insects, mites, grasshoppers, mealy bug
3. over watering.



Pests and diseases In the garden Ti plants are highly resistant to plant disease and insects, although snails, slugs and grass hoppers are probably the main pests. Thrips, aphids and mealy bugs can be controlled with a systemic spray . When grown inside as houseplants, they  are subject to the usual insects which attack indoor plants. These are red spider mites, mealy bugs and occasionally, scale. Remedy is simple. Wiping the leaves with a damp cloth once every two or three weeks will eliminate insects. Both upper and lower leaves should be wiped. Also dabbing any insects with  methylated spirits should eliminate them.


For those wishing to use a natural product instead of chemicals a new garlic based spray has been recently introduced in the United States. This product is classified as a pesticide, insect repellant and feeding depressant. One spraying with this keeps away a whole spectrum of insects found on Cordylines and other ornamentals. This pesticide is a concentrated liquid of garlic and water that is diluted and applied by spraying a fine most over the top surfaces of a plant’s leaves. Alternatively, you could make your own by crushing a clove of garlic and mixing it with a glass of water.



Houseplants Ti plants are a colourful, interesting plant to grow indoors, far superior in hardiness and more beautiful than others usually grown for their foliage. They can literally be started from a tiny piece of cane (called a ti log) or propagated as above and you can watch the daily growth that takes place. They are a great plant to brighten up an office environment - a living work of art, and last longer than flowers. In winter months plants should be placed by a window where they will receive some sunlight, or if no sun, strong light.



 When grown indoors causes of stress can be too low light, over or under watering, insufficient nutrients, infestation by mites, mealy  bugs or scale, and temperature too low. Fertilise with liquid fertilisers, high nitrogen in warm seasons and increased potash in colder times. Very little fertilising needs to be done to plants grown in low light conditions (twice a year). Most Cordylines grown indoors need strong light but some will tolerate less, these include Kiwi, Carmen, Dolly, Compacta and C. glauca. 

Landscaping  Grown in the landscape cordylines give the widest range of colours imaginable. The gardens at Lyon Arboretum, Hawaii, feature mass plantings of one type, as an understorey to palms and other tropical trees. Mass planting is most effective, however  you can grow smaller groups of one type together. Plant several varieties in groups under semi-shade and amongst palms and other greenery for the best effect.

 Cordylines look superb planted with calatheas, crotons, bromeliads, pleomeles, gingers and heliconias. They suit a tropical or sub-tropical garden.  With their huge range of leaf shapes, growing heights and colours no other plant can give you the essence of the tropics as well as the cordyline. Welcome this plant into your garden or indoors to transform it into your own tropical paradise.


All plant photographs were taken in our own gardens, most plants are in full sun and receive only natural rainfall. While we produce Cordylines for sale from cutting our stock plants, not all varieties are available at any given time.