Cabbage Tree (Cordyline australis)

Botanical Name : Cordyline australis
Family: Laxmanniaceae
Genus: Cordyline
Kingdom: Plantae
Order: Asparagales
Species: C. australis
Synonyms :  Dracaena australis. Forst.f.

Habitat :New Zealand. Forest margins and open places. Abundant near swamps. North, South and Stewart Islands.Woodland Garden Sunny Edge; Dappled Shade;

A quote from Philip Simpson sums up the wide range of habitats the cabbage tree occupied in early New Zealand, and how much its abundance and distinctive form shaped the impression travellers received of the country:

“In primeval New Zealand cabbage trees occupied a range of habitats, anywhere open, moist, fertile and warm enough for them to establish and mature: with forest; around the rocky coast; in lowland swamps, around the lakes and along the lower rivers; and perched on isolated rocks. Approaching the land from the sea would have reminded a Polynesian traveller of home, and for a European traveller, conjured up images of the tropical Pacific”.

Cordyline australis occurs from North Cape to the very south of the South Island, where it becomes less and less common, until it reaches its southernmost natural limits at Sandy Point (46° 30′ S), west of Invercargill near Oreti Beach. It is absent from much of Fiordland, probably because there is no suitable habitat, and is unknown on the subantarctic islands to the south of New Zealand, probably because it is too cold. It occurs on some offshore islands—Poor Knights, Stewart and the Chathams—but was probably introduced by M?ori. In the Stewart Island region, it is rare, growing only on certain islands, headlands and former settlement sites where it may have been introduced by muttonbird collectors, while on the Chatham Islands it is also largely “a notable absentee”.

Generally a lowland species, it grows from sea level to about 1000 metres (3300 ft), reaching its upper limits on the volcanoes of the central North Island, where eruptions have created open spaces for it to exploit, and in the foothills of the Southern Alps in the South Island, where deforestation may have played a part in giving it room to grow. C. australis in the central North Island has evolved a much sturdier form called t? manu “with branches bearing broad, straight upright leaves.” This form resembles that found in the far south of the South Island, suggesting that they are both adapted to cold conditions.

Cordyline australis is a light-demanding pioneer species, and seedlings die when overtopped by other trees. To grow well, young plants require open space so they are not shaded out by other vegetation. Another requirement is water during the seedling stage. Although adult trees can store water and are drought resistant, seedlings need a good supply of water to survive. This stops the species from growing in sand dunes unless there are wet depressions present, and from hillsides unless there is a seepage area. The fertility of the soil is another factor—settlers in Canterbury used the presence of the species to situate their homesteads and gardens. The fallen leaves of the tree also help to raise the fertility of the soil when they break down. Another factor is temperature, especially the degree of frost. Young trees are killed by frost, and even old trees can be cut back. This is why C. australis is absent from upland areas and from very frosty inland areas.

Early European explorers of New Zealand described “jungles of cabbage trees” along the banks of streams and rivers, in huge swamps and lowland valleys. Few examples of this former abundance survive today—such areas were the first to be cleared by farmers looking for flat land and fertile soil. In modern New Zealand, Cabbage trees usually grow as isolated individuals rather than as parts of a healthy ecosystem.

Description:
An evergreen Tree growing   up to 20 metres (66 ft) tall with a stout trunk and sword-like leaves, which are clustered at the tips of the branches and can be up to 1 metre (3 ft) long. With its tall, straight trunk and dense, rounded heads, C. australis is a characteristic feature of the New Zealand landscape. Its fruit is a favourite food source for the New Zealand pigeon and other native birds. It is common over a wide latitudinal range from the far north of the North Island at 34° 25’S to the south of the South Island at 46° 30’S. Absent from much of Fiordland, it was probably introduced by M?ori to the Chatham Islands at 44° 00’S and to Stewart Island at 46° 50’S. It grows in a broad range of habitats, including forest margins, river banks and open places, and is abundant near swamps. The largest known tree with a single trunk is growing at Pakawau, Golden Bay. It is estimated to be 400 or 500 years old, and stands 17 metres (56 ft) tall with a circumference of 9 metres (30 ft) at the base. Known to M?ori as T? k?uka, the tree was used as a source of food, particularly in the South Island, where it was cultivated in areas where other crops would not grow. It provided durable fibre for textiles, anchor ropes, fishing lines, baskets, waterproof rain capes and cloaks, and sandals. It is also grown as an ornamental tree in Northern.

Hemisphere countries with mild maritime climates, including the warmer parts of Britain, where its common names include Torquay palm. Hardy and fast growing, C. australis is widely planted in New Zealand gardens, parks and streets, and numerous cultivars are available. The tree can also be found in large numbers in island restoration projects such as Tiritiri Matangi Island, where it was among the first seedling trees to be planted.

It is hardy to zone 8 and is not frost tender. It is in leaf 12-Jan It is in flower from Aug to September. The flowers are hermaphrodite (have both male and female organs) Before it flowers, it has a slender unbranched stem. After the first flowering, it divides to form a much-branched crown with tufts of leaves at the tips of the branches. Each branch may fork after producing a flowering stem. The pale to dark grey bark is corky, persistent and fissured, and feels spongy to the touch.

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The long narrow leaves are sword-shaped, erect, dark to light green, 40 to 100 cm (15–40 in) long and 3 to 7 cm (12–28 in) wide at the base, with numerous parallel veins. The leaves grow in crowded clusters at the ends of the branches, and may droop slightly at the tips and bend down from the bases when old. They are thick and have an indistinct midrib. The fine nerves are more or less equal and parallel. The upper and lower leaf surfaces are similar.
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In spring and early summer, sweetly perfumed flowers are produced in large, dense panicles (flower spikes) 60 to 100 cm (2–3 ft) long, bearing well-spaced to somewhat crowded, almost sessile to sessile flowers and axes. The flowers are crowded along the ultimate branches of the panicles. The bracts which protect the developing flowers often have a distinct pink tinge before the flowers open. In south Canterbury and North Otago the bracts are green.

The individual flowers are 5 to 6 mm (about 0.2 in) in diameter, the tepals are free almost to the base, and reflexed. The stamens are about the same length as the tepals. The stigmas are short and trifid. The fruit is a white berry 5 to 7 mm (2–3 in) in diameter which is greedily eaten by birds. The nectar attracts great numbers of insects to the flowers.

Large, peg-like rhizomes, covered with soft, purplish bark, up to 3 metres (10 ft) long in old plants, grow vertically down beneath the ground. They serve to anchor the plant and to store fructose in the form of fructan. When young, the rhizomes are mostly fleshy and are made up of thin-walled storage cells. They grow from a layer called the secondary thickening meristem.

Cultivation:
Prefers a good sandy loam rich in humus[1]. Succeeds in full sun or light shade. A very wind hardy plant, tolerating maritime exposure. A very ornamental plant[1], it is not very cold-hardy, tolerating short-lived lows down to about -10°c. It only succeeds outdoors in the milder areas of Britain. It grows very well in Cornwall where it often self-sows. A form with purplish leaves is hardier than the type and succeeds outdoors in Gloucestershire. The flowers have a delicious sweet scent that pervades the air to a considerable distance. Mice often kill young plants by eating out the pith of the stem[

Cordyline australis is one of the most widely cultivated New Zealand native trees, very popular as an ornamental tree in Europe, Great Britain and the United States. Hardy forms from the coldest areas of the southern or inland South Island tolerate Northern Hemisphere conditions best, while North Island forms are much more tender. It is easily grown from fresh seed — seedlings often spontaneously appear in gardens from bird-dispersed seed — and can be grown very easily from shoot, stem and even trunk cuttings. It does well in pots and tubs.

It is also widely planted in western Europe and the Northwest coast of the United States.It is particularly popular in Britain, where it is thought to resemble a palm tree. Cabbage trees are so common in the south of England that they are called Torquay palms, and are used in tourist posters promoting South Devon as the English Riviera. Some plants grow well as far north as western coast of Scotland where the Gulf Stream tempers the climate, including the village of Plockton. It is occasionally mis-named Cornish palm, Dracaena palm, Torbay palm or Manx palm in the British Isles due to its extensive use in Torbay and as the official symbol of that area under its alternative identity, the English Riviera. It also grows in Spain, Italy and Japan.Even though the natural distribution of C. australis ranges from a subtropical 34° S to a mid-latitude 46°S, and despite its ultimately tropical origins, it also grows at about five degrees from the Arctic Circle in Masfjorden, Norway, latitude 61ºN, in a microclimate protected from arctic winds and moderated by the Gulf Stream.

Propagation  :

Seed – pre-soak for about 10 minutes in warm water and sow in late winter to early spring in a warm greenhouse. The seed usually germinates in 1 – 3 months at 25°c. There is usually a good percentage germination. Prick out the seedlings into individual pots as soon as they are large enough to handle and grow them on in the greenhouse for at least their first winter. Plant out in late spring after the last expected frosts and give the plants some protection in their first winter outdoors. Stem cuttings – cut off the main stem just below the head and then saw off 5cm thick blocks of stem and place them 3cm deep in pure peat in a heated frame. Keep them moist until they are rooting well, then pot them up into individual pots. Plant out in late spring after the last expected frosts. Suckers. These are best removed in early spring and planted out in situ. Protect the division from wind and cold weather and do not allow the soil to become dry until the plant is established. Divisions can also be potted up and grown on until established, planting them out in the summer.


Edible Uses:

Root – baked. It can also be brewed into an intoxicating drink. Pith of the trunk – dried and steamed until soft. Sweet and starchy, it is used to make porridge or a sweet drink. The root and stems are rich in fructose, the yields compare favourably with sugar beet (Beta vulgaris altissima). Edible shoots – a cabbage substitute. The leaves are very fibrous even when young, we would not fancy eating them.

Medicinal Uses:
The Maori used various parts of Cordyline australis to treat injuries and illnesses, either boiled up into a drink or pounded into a paste. The koata, the growing tip of the plant, was eaten raw as a blood tonic or cleanser. Juice from the leaves was used for cuts, cracks and sores. An infusion of the leaves was taken internally for diarrhoea and used externally for bathing cuts. The leaves were rubbed until soft and applied either directly or as an ointment to cuts, skin cracks and cracked or sore hands. The young shoot was eaten by nursing mothers and given to children for colic. The liquid from boiled shoots was taken for other stomach pains. Cordyline australis contains an agent with anti-inflammatory properties, cinchophen, and the seeds are high in linoleic acid, one of the essential fatty acids.

Other Uses:
The leaves contain saponins, but not in commercial quantities. The leaves contain a strong fibre, used for making paper, twine, cloth, baskets, thatching, rain capes etc. The whole leaves would be used for some of these applications. When used for making paper, the leaves are harvested in summer, they are scraped to remove the outer skin and are then soaked in water for 24 hours prior to cooking.

When used for making paper, the leaves are harvested in summer, they are scraped to remove the outer skin and are then soaked in water for 24 hours prior to cooking.

Disclaimer:The information presented herein is intended for educational purposes only. Individual results may vary, and before using any supplements, it is always advisable to consult with your own health care provider.


Resources:

http://www.pfaf.org/user/Plant.aspx?LatinName=Cordyline australis
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cordyline_australis

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