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Cabbage Palm

Cordyline australis

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Plant Profile

Flowering Months:
Asparagaceae (Asparagus)
Evergreen tree
Life Cycle:
Maximum Size:
20 metres tall
Beaches, gardens, parks, seaside, towns.

White, 6 petals
The flowers of Cordyline australis, commonly known as the Cabbage Tree or Torbay Palm in the UK, are delicate and striking. They appear in large, showy clusters known as panicles that emerge from the center of the plant during late spring to early summer. Each flower is small and star-shaped, composed of six narrow, pointed petals that are typically white in color. These blooms are subtly fragrant, attracting pollinators such as bees and butterflies. The panicles can reach impressive lengths, adding a dramatic flourish to the tree's already picturesque silhouette. Overall, the flowers of Cordyline australis contribute to its appeal as an ornamental plant in gardens and urban landscapes across the UK.
The fruit of the Cabbage Palm is a small, round berry-like drupe. These fruits develop after the flowering period, typically appearing in late summer to early autumn. They are usually green initially and may turn bluish-black when fully ripe. Each fruit contains one to three seeds within its fleshy pulp. While not typically consumed by humans, they are an important food source for various birds and small mammals. The fruits add seasonal interest to the tree, contrasting with its long, sword-like leaves and contributing to its overall ecological value in both cultivated and natural settings.
The leaves of the Cabbage Palm are one of its most distinctive features. They are long and sword-shaped, growing in a dense cluster at the top of the tree's trunk. Each leaf can reach lengths of up to 1 to 2 meters (3 to 6 feet) and is characterized by a glossy, dark green color. The leaves are leathery and lanceolate, tapering to a pointed tip and curving slightly downwards. They have prominent parallel veins running the length of the blade, which contribute to their structural strength and rigidity. The leaves remain evergreen throughout the year, providing a bold and tropical aesthetic, particularly in gardens and coastal landscapes where the tree is commonly cultivated.
The fragrance of the Cabbage Palm is subtle yet distinctive. When in bloom during late spring to early summer, the flowers emit a delicate, sweet scent that is often compared to honey or light citrus notes. The fragrance is not overpowering but adds a pleasant, aromatic element to gardens and landscapes where the tree is cultivated. It attracts pollinators such as bees and butterflies, enhancing its ecological role while providing a sensory experience that complements its visual appeal.
Other Names:
Cabbage Tree, Cabbage-palm, New Zealand Cabbage Tree, Torbay Palm.
Frequency (UK):
Occasionally seen  

Similar Species

Other Information

The Cabbage Palm is a striking evergreen tree native to New Zealand. It belongs to the Asparagaceae family and is characterized by its tall, palm-like appearance with long, sword-shaped leaves clustered at the top of its trunk. The tree can reach heights of up to 20 meters (65 feet) in its native habitat and is known for its resilience and adaptability to various growing conditions. Cordyline australis produces fragrant, star-shaped white flowers in spring, followed by small, berry-like fruits that are typically green turning bluish-black when ripe. It is widely cultivated as an ornamental plant in gardens and parks worldwide for its dramatic foliage and architectural presence. Despite its palm-like appearance, it is not a true palm but rather a member of the lily family. In its native New Zealand, the tree holds cultural significance and has historical uses ranging from food and fiber to medicinal purposes, though caution is advised as some parts of the plant can be toxic if ingested.

The Majestic Cordyline Australis: A Comprehensive Guide

In the verdant landscapes of gardens, parks, and coastal areas across the globe, there stands a tree that exudes an air of exoticism and resilience—the Cordyline australis. Commonly known as the Cabbage Tree or Torbay Palm (though it's not a true palm), this majestic evergreen hails from the distant shores of New Zealand, where it holds cultural significance and ecological importance. Its towering form and striking appearance have made it a favorite among gardeners and landscapers seeking to introduce a touch of the tropics into their surroundings. Join me as we delve into the fascinating world of Cordyline australis, exploring its characteristics, cultural connections, and practical insights for cultivation.

Origins and Botanical Features

Native to New Zealand, Cordyline australis belongs to the Asparagaceae family, placing it among a diverse group that includes everything from asparagus to agaves. The tree is renowned for its palm-like stature, with a single, stout trunk that can reach heights of up to 20 meters (65 feet) in its native habitat. Atop this sturdy trunk sits a crown of long, sword-shaped leaves, each measuring between 30 to 100 cm (1 to 3 feet) in length. These glossy, dark green leaves are arranged in dense clusters, creating a distinctive silhouette that stands out against any backdrop.

Seasonal Flourishes: Flowers and Fruits

Come late spring and early summer, Cordyline australis adorns itself with a flourish of fragrant blooms. Clusters of small, star-shaped white flowers burst forth from panicles that emerge from the center of the tree. These delicate blossoms not only add visual appeal but also emit a subtle, sweet fragrance reminiscent of honey or light citrus notes. Following the flowering season, the tree produces small, berry-like fruits that start green and mature to a dark bluish-black hue. While these fruits are not typically consumed by humans due to their potentially toxic compounds, they serve as a vital food source for birds and small mammals, contributing to the tree's ecological role.

Cultivation and Adaptability

One of Cordyline australis's most appealing traits is its adaptability to a wide range of growing conditions. In its native New Zealand, it thrives in diverse habitats, from coastal regions to inland forests, showcasing its resilience to salt spray, wind, and varying soil types. This adaptability has made it a popular choice for landscaping in temperate climates worldwide, where it brings a touch of the exotic to gardens, parks, and urban landscapes. In regions where frost is a concern, choosing a sheltered location or providing winter protection can help ensure the tree's longevity and health.

Cultural Significance and Uses

Beyond its ornamental value, Cordyline australis holds a place of cultural significance among the indigenous Māori people of New Zealand. Known as "Tī kōuka" in Māori, the tree has historically been revered for its diverse uses. The young shoots or hearts of the tree were traditionally harvested and prepared as a food source after careful cooking to remove toxins. Additionally, the leaves were used for thatching, weaving into baskets, and crafting ceremonial items, highlighting its multifaceted role in Māori culture and daily life.

Practical Tips for Gardeners

For those considering adding Cordyline australis to their landscape, here are some practical tips to ensure its success:

  1. Planting: Choose a sunny or partially shaded location with well-draining soil. Ensure adequate space for the tree to grow to its full height and spread.

  2. Watering: While tolerant of drought once established, young trees benefit from regular watering to establish strong root systems.

  3. Feeding: Apply a balanced fertilizer in spring to promote healthy growth and flowering.

  4. Pruning: Remove dead or damaged leaves as needed to maintain the tree's aesthetic appeal and health.

  5. Winter Care: In cooler climates, protect young trees from frost by wrapping them or situating them in a sheltered spot.


In conclusion, Cordyline australis stands as a testament to nature's resilience and beauty, embodying the spirit of the South Pacific in gardens far and wide. From its striking appearance and seasonal blooms to its cultural significance and practical uses, this tree continues to captivate enthusiasts and environmentalists alike. Whether you're seeking to create a tropical oasis in your backyard or simply appreciate the wonders of botanical diversity, the Cabbage Tree offers a compelling story of adaptation, utility, and timeless allure.

Embrace the allure of Cordyline australis, and let its presence enrich your outdoor spaces with a touch of New Zealand's natural splendor.

30 Interesting Facts About the Cabbage Palm

Here are 30 interesting facts about the Cabbage Palm (Cordyline australis):

  1. Botanical Name: Cordyline australis, often referred to as the Cabbage Tree or Cabbage Palm.
  2. Origin: Native to New Zealand and parts of Australia.
  3. Family: Belongs to the Asparagaceae family, previously classified under Liliaceae.
  4. Appearance: Resembles a palm tree with a tall, single trunk topped by a dense cluster of long, sword-shaped leaves.
  5. Height: Can grow up to 20 meters (65 feet) tall in ideal conditions.
  6. Leaves: Glossy, dark green leaves measuring 30-100 cm (1-3 feet) in length.
  7. Fragrance: Produces small, star-shaped white flowers with a subtle, sweet fragrance.
  8. Flowering Season: Typically blooms in late spring to early summer.
  9. Fruits: Berry-like drupes that start green and mature to bluish-black.
  10. Edibility: Historically, young shoots were eaten after careful preparation by indigenous peoples, though caution is advised due to potential toxicity.
  11. Cultural Significance: Known as "Tī kōuka" in Māori culture, used for food, fiber, and ceremonial purposes.
  12. Adaptability: Tolerates a wide range of conditions, including coastal and inland environments.
  13. Ornamental Use: Widely cultivated as an ornamental tree in gardens and parks worldwide.
  14. Wildlife Support: Provides food and shelter for birds and small mammals through its fruits and dense foliage.
  15. Climate Tolerance: Hardy in USDA Zones 8-11, tolerant of wind and salt spray.
  16. Lifespan: Can live for several decades, with some specimens surviving over 100 years.
  17. Propagation: Propagated from seeds or stem cuttings.
  18. Symbolism: Represents endurance and resilience in landscaping.
  19. Pest Resistance: Generally resistant to pests and diseases.
  20. Drought Tolerance: Once established, requires minimal watering.
  21. Root System: Develops a deep and extensive root system.
  22. Growth Rate: Moderately fast-growing in optimal conditions.
  23. Fiber Use: Leaves historically used for weaving mats, baskets, and thatching roofs.
  24. Medicinal Uses: Traditional Māori medicine used extracts from various parts for healing purposes.
  25. Hybridization: Several cultivars and hybrids exist, varying in leaf color and size.
  26. Environmental Impact: Enhances biodiversity by providing habitat and food sources for wildlife.
  27. Conservation: Protected in its native range due to ecological significance.
  28. Global Distribution: Found in temperate regions worldwide for landscaping.
  29. Root Structure: Shallow root system in young plants, deepening with age.
  30. Cultural Appropriation: Sometimes mistakenly referred to as a palm due to its appearance, but botanically unrelated to true palms.

These facts highlight the diverse characteristics and ecological importance of the Cabbage Palm, making it a fascinating subject for both gardeners and nature enthusiasts alike.


Cabbage Palms filmed around Mousehole and Penzance in Cornwall on the 7th and 8th of June 2024.


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