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 stricta is a tall, narrow plant to about 2-5 metres tall. The leaves are deep, glossy green, linear in shape and up to half a metre long by about 25 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 black berries.
This is the most commonly cultivated of the Australian species and has proven to be adaptable in a range of climates although it is a little frost tender and may be damaged in colder areas. The plant usually recovers from damage, however. It prefers moist soils in semi shade but is surprisingly tolerant of extended dry conditions once established. When small, it makes an excellent container plant and can be kept indoors for long periods. The cultivar ‘Rubra’ has attractive reddish foliage.
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: Brian Walters