Plant Collector: Cordyline petiolaris

The Paris pink and yellow flowers of Cordyline petiolaris

The Paris pink and yellow flowers of Cordyline petiolaris

I have been waiting for weeks for these cordyline flowers to open and finally it is starting to happen. It is not that they are overly spectacular, more that they are an unusual Paris pink in colour with golden centres. In due course, they will turn to eye-catching red berries which hang on for a long time and are widely regarded as the more spectacular feature. Though it should be added that the wide, spatula-shaped leaves measuring up to 8cm across are also eyecatching.

Cordylines are of course what we commonly refer to as cabbage trees but the family is a little larger and geographically more widespread than our iconic native species, C. australis. This is an Australian species which occurs in the rain forests of northern New South Wales and Queensland. Our loyal cabbage tree moth whose offspring caterpillars chew the leaves of our native cabbage trees to shreds does not appear to like our Australian neighbours and consequently the foliage stays clean which is a distinct bonus in a garden plant. However, its flowers lack the heady summer fragrance of our native forms. The plant is somewhat hardier than its subtropical origins suggest, though it won’t tolerate heavy frosts. Given moist, sheltered conditions, it is not difficult to grow and will eventually reach about 5 metres high, keeping leaves down most of its length. It can be propagated relatively easily from stem cuttings or raised from seed.