Cordylines (or cabbage trees) are THE plant which evokes instant homesickness in New Zealanders overseas, whenever they spy a cabbage tree in someone's garden. The connection with cabbages is a little odd, since Cordylines used to be classified as giant lilies. Not any more, though...
New Zealand Green Cordylines
I love Cordylines and have always grown them in my garden. I'll pot up the seedlings, and pus larger juveniles in patio pots. I am especially fond of the normal common green varieties, and have quite a few planted in different beds. In a way they act like a garden growth chart - the first Cordylines I planted are now between three and four meters high.
first cordyline planted in mooseys garden
In Groups, In Groves...
The general idea was to plant them in small groups, and I'm glad I did that in the general garden. But recently I've planted a deliberate Cordyline Grove in a clearing in the Hump - it's an inhospitable piece of sandy garden, bordered by gum and pine trees. So far, so good!
It's exciting when a Cordyline planted years ago suddenly starts looking and behaving like a mature tree. Of course the trunks are fibrous rather than wooden. They all drop their old leaves regularly - the garden beneath is constantly being cleared of them. Also a fussy gardener can gently pull off the lowest dead leaves - is they have time for that sort of thing...
Not in Chippers or Shredders!
Like Phormium (or flax) leaves, the old leaves from a cabbage tree are better burnt or left to rot slowly. Don't ever be tempted to put then in a chipper or a shredder! They can be dangerous for lawn mowers, too. In New Zealand, Cordyline leaves are not accepted in the green waste at the council dumping stations - that says something about their non-compostable status.
Many Cordylines start off being simply single, and then for no reason decide to produce many different trunks. And when a trunk is removed others can soon form at the base of the tree. So you can cut down a Cordyline, but expect its own personal replacements in the following years!
Ten Year Old Cordyline
Fat-Leaved Green Goddess
A popular green variety that I grow has fatter leaves and is called 'Green Goddess'. It's slower growing than the species, and consequently there are less dead leaves to clean up - nice! I have several in the garden and in patio pots.
Stylish Variegated Cordylines
I also have experiences of the stylish variegated Cordyline Albertii. My first plant provided free meals - the caterpillars which ate it munched the most expensive plant I have ever ever bought! I stripped off the offending leaves, the resulting plant looked rather peculiar with three stalks pointing up to the sky - not very stylish at all! Then it died - probably from stress at being eaten. Oops.
And the Ubiquitous Reds...
And of course there are colours other than green - for example, those ubiquitous red Cordylines one sees all over London in pots...
But that's another story...