Cabbage Tree, Tī kōuka Cordyline australis

Last Modified: 17-11-2020 10:38

Cabbage trees in flower on the Wither Hills
Cabbage trees in flower on the Wither Hills
© Christopher Cookson  License this image

The cabbage tree or Tī kōuka (Cordyline australis) is a common species found throughout New Zealand, and is widespread in the Marlborough region. Technically, not a 'tree' at all, but a member of the lily family, the cabbage tree thrives in difficult conditions, and has a remarkable ability to regenerate, even after fire, or damage. It is however, vulnerable to a disease known as sudden decline, suspected to be cause by a microbial agent, which has destroyed many examples of the otherwise hardy plant.

The Cabbage tree is widely distributed in Marlborough, found from the Clarence to the Marlborough Sounds, including the Awatere, on the Wairau plain, and in coastal areas around Clarence. Cabbage trees are able to tolerate both drought and wet soil, however they prefer open areas at lower altitudes.

The cabbage tree is easily recognised by its long sword-like leaves in a rosette at the end of a long trunk. In some respects, it bears some resemblence to some yuccas but is not related.

White, sweet smelling flowers are produced on long branching stems over summer, and attract a variety of insects. The small berries are eatan by Kerurū.

The name cabbage tree derives from the fact that European settlers ate the base of the leaf rosettes as a vegetable. Settlers also fermented the same part of the plant and created a distilled spirit. Culinary use had largely dropped out of fashion during the late twentieth century, however interest is reviving, and there is experimentation with growing this unique plant for food once more.

Image Date: 14/12/1999

Photographer: Christopher Cookson

Location: Latitude: -41.554626 Longitude: 173.967422

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