Cordyline australis affectionately known as the ‘Torbay or Cornish Cabbage Palm’ is a very familiar sight in gardens of the South West particularly exposed coastal locations where it’s impressive often branched structure adds height and an exotic effect. Originally from New Zealand it naturally grows in moist valleys and meadows often near the coast where it’s natural defence to the strong southern winds are the long strap like leaves allowing the wind to pass through the crowns. Capable of reaching over 5 metres high in ideal conditions, eventually forming a stout trunk with multiple branches holding the long up to 1m long narrow deep green leaves. During summer large sprays holding hundreds of tiny creamy white very fragrant flowers are produced which develop into hundreds of grey-black seeds. On young plants the first flowering is difficult to predict some plants flowering whilst only 30-40cm others waiting until they are well over a metre high, one thing for sure is that once flowered the growing point divides and the plant becomes multi headed, again this is random the Cordyline may divide simply or become a mass of new growth. So I guess if you really want a tall single stem or a low multi-headed specimen it’s best to choose a semi-mature plant already showing the characteristic you desire. I should also point out that Cordylines are always called palm trees by all who see them but are in fact more closely related to asparagus than any true palm which may be why in days gone by native Maori used to cook and eat the growing points, hence the name ‘Cabbage Palm’.
20 years ago we would have said that Cordyline australis is almost hardy in milder parts of the U.K but these days they seem pretty safe just about anywhere, I do recall however as a child seeing magnificent plants cut down to the ground after a particularly snowy cold winter. They didn’t die and re-sprouted with enormous vigour from the base the following spring and to this day remain as 4 metre tall specimens. So on balance a pretty tough ‘palm’ great for adding height and structure, tolerant of most conditions but especially suitable for coastal or windy roof gardens. I would avoid cold frost pockets and prefer the exposure to be from the warmer south or west.
- Eventual Size:Up to 5 metres in height.
- Position:Full sun to partial shade tolerant of salt and wind.
- Habit:Single trunk, with long, strap-like leaves and white flowers.
- Soil:All soils, but avoid waterlogged areas drought tolerant once established.
- Hardiness:Hardy in coastal and relatively mild parts of the UK (-5 to 1).