Plant Profiles Australian Cordylines

Cordylines Native to Australia

Eight species of the genus Cordyline are found in Australasia. There are about 15 species overall with some occurring in the western Pacific and one in tropical America. The Cordyline are erect, evergreen shrubs. The scientific family to which they belong is Ruscaceae. Typically they are palm-like with few branches. The fibrous stems are tipped with a tuft of strap- or paddle-like pointed leaves. Masses of small flowers are produced. The flowers are followed by ornamental berries which may be red, black or whitish.

Cordyline stricta is also known as the slender palm lily and is native to the moist subtropical forests of coastal New South Wales and slightly into neighbouring Queensland. It grows to 5 metres and consists of erect clumps of somewhat weak stems. The linear leaves have a weeping habit. The violet to purple flowers are small and hang in long sprays. The flowers are produced in late spring and into summer and are followed by shiny, purplish-black berries. This is an easily grown plant, hardy to a range of conditions although it can be frost-tender. It is a good choice for narrow, shaded areas. The plants may sucker lightly to form a clump.

Cordyline haageana (synonym C.murchisoniae) comes from slightly further north in the coastal rainforests of Queensland. It forms clumps with stems the thickness of a pencil. The lance-shaped leaves are thin and have wavy margins. Small sprays of white, reddish or purple flowers are produced in spring followed by red berries.

Another cordyline from the rainforests of subtropical eastern Australia is C.petiolaris or the broad-leaf palm lily. This plant develops into spreading clumps of strong stems. It has dark green, broadish, lance-shaped leaves. Long arching sprays of small flowers are produced in late winter through to early spring. The flowers may be white or a pale purple and are followed by red berries.

Also from the rainforests of subtropical eastern Australia is C.rubra commonly known as the palm lily. The narrow, arching leaves grow to 50cm long and are carried on channelled stalks of some 20cm in length. Lilac flowers are produced in summer followed by scarlet-red berries. It is a tough plant, which will continue to survive even though neglected.

Some species are ideal as indoor plants. Most cordylines like a protected situation with partial shade. They can be grown in well-drained, organically rich soil. They will require regular watering over the warmer months. To achieve a clumping effect and multiple trunks, cut the main stem at any height.