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Tree Botanics

Cabbage Tree Previous


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Other Names: (Cordyline australis) = Ti Kouka

The cabbage tree (Agavaceae family) is one of the most distinctive, readily identifiable & characteristic of the native trees in New Zealand. It may be seen growing in many diverse situations throughout the 2 islands varying from swamp to forest margins (lower montane forests) & populating barren, wind-swept hillsides. It is found throughout the North, South & Stewart Islands from sea level to 760m. When young it grows on a slender unbranched stem, presenting much longer leaves than in a mature specimen. When it first flowers the flower panicle (a branched cluster of flowers in which the branches are racemes- an inflorescence having stalked flowers arranged singly along an elongated unbranched axis, as in the lily of the valley) is produced from the growing tip which then causes it to branch. Each successive flowering then causes further branching. Older trees may have trunks up to 1m in diameter, many limbed/branched, typically reaching heights of up to 12m, though occasionally this species has attained up to 20m in a wild environment. The thick and corky bark is grey-brown in colour, and presents a roughened and fissured surface. The leaves are narrow & linear, ranging from 30cm - 100cm long X 4cm - 8cm wide. Young trees are unbranched and have leaves scattered along the stem. As the tree matures, the leaves grow in tufts. The flower panicle is 60cm - 1.2 m long and has numerous small white, or creamy-white flowers that are very sweetly scented, appearing in October. The fruits (berries) are white, about 7mm in diameter & ripen to a blueish-white in February. Cabbage trees are quite variable, and in some districts may have massive trunks exhibiting large dimensions, while in others trunks may be more slender. Particularly in the far North, the trees have typically several slender main trunks (multi-stemmed). It is also known as ti-kouka; 'ti' is a native generic term for Cordyline species. The Maori formerly used the pith and fleshy inner root of the cabbage tree as a food source (young leaf bud also) while the leaves were used for weaving and plaiting.