Cordyline is a small genus of around 20 species with about 8 found in Australia. The genus is sometimes placed in the family Asteliaceae and is very familiar to many gardeners through Cordyline australis, a native of New Zealand but commonly available in the general nursery trade in Australia. The genus is characterised by plants with long, strap-like leaves arising from thin trunks. Some of the exotic species are cultivated for their colourful foliage.
Cordyline petiolaris (formerly C.terminalis var petiolaris) is a tall, narrow plant to about 5-7 metres tall. The leaves are deep, glossy green up to half a metre long by about 75 mm wide with a sheathing base. The small white to purple flowers occur in winter and spring in clusters (panicles) from the upper leaf axils. They are followed by brilliant red berries which are the most attractive feature of the plant.
Although not commonly cultivated (like most Australian cordylines) this is a hardy species for moist soils in semi shade. However, it may be damaged by heavy frost. When small, it makes an excellent container plant and can be kept indoors for long periods.
Propagation can be carried out from seed which germinates readily. Division of larger plants is also a useful method of propagation and stem cuttings also strike readily.
Photo: Peter Sparshott