July 21, 2017

Not Your Common Cabbage

Plants from Middle Earth

Garden Maine’s New Zealand Extravaganza – Celebrating a Completely Unexpected Journey

Anna Paton Photo | Cordyline australis - cabbage tree or tī kōuka

Anna Paton Photo | Cordyline australis – cabbage tree or tī kōuka

Anna Paton Photo | Cordyline australis - cabbage tree or tī kōuka

Anna Paton Photo | Cordyline australis – cabbage tree or tī kōuka

Cordyline australis is one of the characteristic plants of New Zealand, widely distributed across the landscape. Called the cabbage tree, Cordyline australis is endemic (see explanation below) and is a food source for a number of native birds, including the New Zealand pigeon. The tree can reach more than 60 feet in height and has swordlike leaves massed at the ends of branches that can be more than 3 feet long. The oldest known cabbage tree grows in Pakawau, Golden Bay, and is estimated to be between 400 and 500 years old. In late spring it sports fragrant white flowers followed by white-blue berries.

The Maori call it tī kōuka and used it as a food source, even cultivating it when other plants failed. The tree’s rhizomes and young stems are edible, rich in sugar and carboydrates. It is a fiber plant, used in making rope for anchor lines, fishing line, baskets, cloaks and sandals. Even the juice in the leaves was used for medicinal purposes.

The plant can be found in the Northern Hemisphere, usually in milder coastal climates. Its common name on the north side is Torquay palm.

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Photographs kindly provided by Anna Paton of Auckland, New Zealand, at Auckland Botanic Gardens in November 2012. For a brief interview with Anna, click to read here.

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“New Zealand’s flora is described as being unique due to our long isolation many thousands of years ago. We have some 2,357 different plant species and approximately 80% of them are endemic, meaning they don’t occur anywhere else in the world.”

– From the Auckland Botanic Gardens website

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How did all this come about? You can read about how Janine Pineo of Garden Maine found Anna Paton, more than 9,000 miles away, as the crow flies. If a crow could fly 9,000 miles like that. Click here for that story.