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Cordyline - Growing Guide
Growing Cordyline australis
Commonly known as ‘Cabbage Palm’ or ‘Dracaena’
This hardy New Zealand native is so widely grown in Cornwall that is has become known and sold to tourists in shops and garages as the ‘Cornish Palm’. Visitors to Dracaena Avenue in Falmouth or to the public parks in Penzance will have been amazed at the size of these huge, often multi stemmed, trees of up to 30 or so feet in height branching in maturity with flower heads and seeds heads 4-6ft long. Longer and larger in many instances than the leaf crowns from which they occur. Cabbage palms will easily tolerate the worst salt laden westerly gales which a West Country winter can throw at them and will readily tolerate -5°C or even -10°C for short periods especially when they have started to develop a woody trunk after five or so years.
In consequence, this palm-like tree with arching lance shaped leaves, is very widely grown in coastal locations, all along the south coast and, now, increasingly in city developments as a bold architectural plant. They grow well on any fertile, well drained soil in full or partial sun. If disaster strikes in a very cold winter chop the trunks down to ground level quickly and a mass of new shoots will immediately regenerate from the base. A good thick mulch around the base of the tree will help with this. Cordyline seeds are quite likely to self sow themselves in coastal areas on dry bare earth. While they may not be quite as invasive as echium seedlings they are easily collected and sown in containers in the spring. Cordyline do not usually flower and set seed until they are 15 to 20 years old. The single stemmed trees then develop branches and flower even more prolifically.
There are now many forms and varieties of C. australis which are almost as hardy. C. australis ‘Albertii’ has wonderful green cream and white variegations in its leaves. C. australis ‘Purpurea’ is smaller growing with brown leaves flushed purple. There are also newer forms with pink margined leaves (‘Southern Splendour’) and red central veining (‘Sundance’). These are definitely more tender and untried even in Cornwall. It may therefore be best to keep them in the greenhouse until more established at least in colder counties.
If your Cordyline (Cabbage Palm) has suffered in the Winter and its crown appears brown and dead (even if there are still green leaves below) it will soon die. To save it you need to take drastic action and cut off the top. New vigorous shoots will appear from the base of the plants or perhaps up the stem as well.