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Cordyline Australis - A Tropical Palm Tree for a Cooler Climate

Updated on July 3, 2012
cordyline australis
cordyline australis | Source

Cordyline australis, the cabbage palm tree from New Zealand, is tough as old boots.

It can survive snow, frost, high winds, salty winds (from the sea), and is a popular tree to be planted in promenades in Europe and the United States.

Yet, it is not a true palm tree.

If you live in USDA zone 8 and above, you can grow this tree in your yard to give it a tropical look and feel.

It requires a sunny and open position, away from undergrowth and hedging plants that may reduce its light, water, and some space.

While drought resistant in their native New Zealand, they appreciate rain as well as the warmer winds afforded by a sea-side position.

Cordyline australis is a long-living, attractive tree, which is an asset to any garden.

cabbage palm in the centre of this snowy coastal picture
cabbage palm in the centre of this snowy coastal picture | Source
junior cabbage palm tree
junior cabbage palm tree | Source

The cordyline australis can be grown from seed, or by taking trunk cuttings, or by lopping off the suckers it throws out from the base of the main stem, and planting them in sandy, free-draining soil.

The adult tree flowers every other year, with creamy panacles of sweetly-scented flowers.

The scent attracts a wide variety of insects and this ensures pollination.

In the autumn, small hard berries form which are irresistible to birds.

The birds fly off and when the remains of the berries pass through their digestive tracts, the seeds are dispersed far and wide.

They readily grow into new cabbage palm trees, so it is a good idea to recognise the baby plants so that they can be safely removed if growing in an undesirable area.

In my Dad's garden, both the cabbage palms and the pampas grass self-seed all over the place, and both look identical when they first sprout.

You can easily tell the difference by running your forefinger and thumb down the edge of one of the grass-like leaves.

The edge of the pampas grass is rough, where the cabbage palm is smooth.

2 very young cabbage palm trees
2 very young cabbage palm trees | Source
the flowers of the cordyline australis
the flowers of the cordyline australis | Source
cordyline australis flowers
cordyline australis flowers | Source

Growing cordyline australis from seed

I've grown a few cabbage palms from seed.

  1. Collect the ripe berries from the trees in late autumn, early winter, and store in a cool dry place.
  2. In early spring,, carefully plant each berry to its own depth in the surface of a compost -filled pot and water well.
  3. You can pop the whole pot inside a sealed plastic bag to retain moisture, or else give the pot a little water every few days to prevent the soil from drying out.
  4. After a couple of weeks, sometimes longer, you will see the seed germinating and the little plant pushing its way through the surface of the soil.
  5. Move the pot to a light place, and keep well-watered, moving it to a larger pot as it it outgrows its existing one.
  6. Take especial care not to damage its roots, and keep disturbance to a minimum.

Cordyline australis has a taproot, which, if broken, will result in a complete failure to grow.

When it is a couple of feet high, plant it in its final position in the garden.

It is really important to give extra water daily to your young cordyline australis during hot, dry weather.

Adult trees can survive drought, but young ones struggle.

cordyline australis in pots at the growers
cordyline australis in pots at the growers | Source

Final Position of Cabbage Palm Tree

Before you plant your cordyline out in the garden, make sure the position is suitable for it, as they cannot later be transplanted.

They have a tap root, as I said, and while it is theoretically possible to dig up and move a tree that has a tap root, in practice they seldom survive.

Growers will keep their cordylines in pots, thus avoiding this potential problem.

Cordylines are tough as old boots, as I said already, and will survive most positions, so long as you have left them room to grow, and a direct line of sight to the sun, should it come out.

Severe frost may kill your plant, so if you live in such an area where this occurs, you may find your plant will not survive.

If you do have a high-ceilinged conservatory, this plant will look wonderful growing there in pots over the cold winter months.


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    • eugbug profile image

      Eugene Brennan 3 years ago from Ireland

      I have grown several of these from seed and the adult plants which were about 12 feet tall were killed during the winter of 2010 when temperatures dropped to -14C (7F). At least I thought they were killed, but they regrew from ground level in the spring! Even if they are cut down to ground level with a saw when they get to big, they re-sprout. In fact I have the remnants of a cordyline in a lawn, which continues to regrow even when continually recut by the lawn mower.

      The worst thing about cabbage palms is picking up the shed leaves!

    • GardenExpert999 profile image

      GardenExpert999 5 years ago from Scotland

      Thanks Mary :) The cordyline australis grows in a wide range of climates, much more so than any true palm tree.

    • mary615 profile image

      Mary Hyatt 5 years ago from Florida

      I live in S. Florida, and the cabbage palm grows wild in our woods. It's interesting that it will grow in the cold. I never knew that! I learn a lot from my fellow Hubbers. Thanks for this good info. I'll vote it up etc.