Cordyline australis

Today’s entry was authored by Alexis:

Thank you to Tony Foster (Tonyfoster@Flickr) from the Botany Photo of the Day Flickr Pool (image) and Kahuroa at Wikimedia Commons (image) for their photographs of today’s species. Cordyline australis produces sweet-scented white flowers that bloom in October to December in the southern hemisphere. The flowers attract flies, which carry out pollination.

This species, also known as cabbage tree, is endemic to New Zealand. It is a common tree in New Zealand, found in a variety of habitats like “swamps, sand dunes, coastal scrub and forest margins, river banks and dry hillsides” (Newhook’s Our Trees: A New Zealand Guide (1982)). It grows up to about 20m tall. Parts of the tree can be eaten and are rich in carbohydrates. Historically, Maoris made a porridge-type food out of the sun-dried pith and roots of young trees, and also used the trees as sources of fibre and medicine. Early European settlers found uses for Cordyline australis as well; they fashioned chimneys from the hollowed out trunks, which are fire-resistant, and made beer from the roots.

In 1987, Cordyline australis individuals of the North Island of New Zealand fell victim to a mysterious disease that caused sudden wilting, the falling off of leaves, and death within 3 to 12 months. This condition, simply known as “sudden decline“, was later discovered to be caused by a phytoplasma parasite transmitted via an introduced sap-sucking insect.

Cordyline australis
Cordyline australis

8 responses to “Cordyline australis”

  1. Eric in SF

    It’s a very common street and landscaping tree in the San Francisco Bay Area. Here’s a mature individual growing in San Francisco:

  2. Mirdza

    The flower photography is so vivid that I can almost smell the fragrance. I wonder if if would be jasmine like?
    I so enjoy this blog for the fascinating information and the crystal clear photography.

  3. Meg Gaddum

    Yes it is very sweet smelling and we have lost many beautiful century’s old trees here in NZ as well as young ones due to “sudden decline”. But we keep planting and many do survive.

  4. iris lefleur

    The photos always amaze me and now I wonder if they can put camera information on the sight! How I would love to photograph my backyard with such clarity! I save the best photos to admire during our very long, cold, dark winters, it reminds me that there is a world out there that is not frozen and barren whilst we are under the spell.

  5. Tony Foster

    You can check out the camera setting specifications on the Flickr site by going to actions on the LHS above the photo and pulling down the menu to the EXIF data. All the information/specifications are there but the photographer sometimes doesn’t allow you to see this.

  6. Anne

    I used to work with a Kiwi who pointed to a dracaena marginata one day and called it a cabbage tree. Close, I guess. I never did get an answer from her for why it’s called cabbage tree. Anyone know? Doesn’t seem to be anything overtly cabbage-y about it.

  7. elizabeth a airhart

    if you do a google search you may come up an answer about the tree
    interesting reading thank you alexis and ericsf

  8. Tony Foster

    The tree was given its common name by James Banks on James Cooks first voyage to New Zealand in 1769. He saw Maori cook the vegetative tops of the pithy trunks in an earth oven-umu or hangi. Apparently they looked and tasted like cabbage.
    I took the photo of the Cordyline inflorescence to illustrate the terms
    Trifid: Divided to about half way into three parts. Note the tip of the style is divided into three
    and
    Recurved: Curved inwards, downward or backwards. Each flower has 5 narrow white- pink tepals (sepals or petals that are identical) that curve downwards when the flower is fully open.

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