What is Cordyline?

Casey Kennedy

Cordyline is a palm-like evergreen tree that is a member of the Agaveaceae or agave family. There is some debate about this classification, however, and it is sometimes placed in the larger Asteliaceae, Draceaneaceae or Lomandraceae families. The cordyline was also once even considered a part of the Liliaceae or lily family.

Woman with a flower
Woman with a flower

There are over 19 species in the genus. They can be found in many countries including Asia, Australia and New Zealand. South America, the Norfolk Islands and even the US island of Hawaii have also been known to produce the trees. Cordyline comes from the Greek word kordyle, which means club. This refers to the plant’s large underground stem.

The Cordyline terminalis or Cordyline fruticosa is perhaps one of the most common species of the genus because of its popularity as an indoor potted plant. It is sometimes referred to as the ti plant or Hawaiian good-luck plant. This plant is prized for its bright and colorful foliage, which can range in color from reddish purple to dark purple and even a light green or variegated. It produces flowers during the spring that are typically pale pink, but may also be seen in other variations of red or even yellow.

When choosing the cordyline terminalis as an indoor plant, it is wise for individuals to choose one of a larger size since they are rather slow to grow. When grown indoors, the plant is typically 4 to 6 feet (1.2-1.8 m) in height and will have the appearance of a small tropical tree. It does best in a window where it will receive indirect sunlight, but can survive in low light. The colors, however, will not be as lush and vibrant.

While this plant does not have a problem growing indoors, it does need very humid air to keep the leaves from drying out. Regular misting of the plant with water in a spray bottle can help, or planters can place the pot on top of a bed of gravel. A room humidifier or enclosed flower window can also give the plant the type of humidity it needs.

If used in landscaping, trees can often reach a height of almost 10 feet (3m). Unlike the smaller indoor plants, they will often develop a thick, woody trunk when grown outdoors. Plant leaves grow from 12- to 30-inches (30 to 50cm) long and 4 to 6 inches (10-15cm) in width.

Like most other species of cordyline, the cordyline terminalis prefers partial shade to full sun. It does not have any specific soil requirements, but does well in a slightly acidic soil that is well-drained. When planted in full sun, it will, however, typically need more water. This plant is recommended for US Department of Agriculture hardiness zones (USDA) 10 through 12.

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