Cordyline are common decorative plants that thrive outdoors in hardiness zones 9 to 12, but also make excellent houseplants. They typically have leathery leaves shaped like a spear or lance with a variety of coloring including green, red, yellow, white, purple, and purplish-red. Some species in this group have fragrant, cuplike flowers followed by berries. Care for these plants indoors is simple and straightforward, but they must be kept warm, and need a lot of light.
Identifying Cordyline Plants
The naming of cordyline and related plants can get rather confusing because they are labeled with different names depending on where you are buying them. The most popular indoor cordyline is the C. terminalis, which is often sold as C. fruticosa or Dracaena terminalis. Likewise, these plants are often referred to as "ti plants" or "Hawaiian ti trees." However, Dracaena fragrans, with its bright green leaves, also are commonly sold as ti plant. Cordyline and dracaena are both members of the agave family. The best way to tell the difference is to look at the roots: cordyline roots are white, while dracaena roots are yellow or orange.
Stick to a few basics—light, water, temperature, and soil—and you will see positive results when growing cordyline plants indoors. Cordyline need bright light, but avoid direct sunlight in unhabituated plants. Also, green-leaved cordyline tend to do best with direct light, while those with other colors of leaves may prefer bright indirect or filtered sunlight.
It is important to keep the soil continuously moist, but you should reduce watering during the winter. This plant prefers a high humidity environment. Cordyline thrive in temperatures above 62 F. Make sure to avoid putting the plant near a cold draft, especially if the temperature drops lower.
Cordyline need a rich, well-drained potting mix and to be fed in the spring with slow-release pellets. Or you can feed the plant weekly during growing season with a liquid 20-20-20 fertilizer at half-strength.
Propagation is typically done with cuttings. Cut 3- to 5-inch pieces from mature stems and remove all of the leaves. Lay the pieces in sand and apply heat from below, as needed, to ensure a temperature of 62 F. Shoots will grow from the eyes of the stems and can be planted in potting soil when they have about four to six leaves each.
You can repot in spring or every other spring, as needed.
There are 15 species of cordyline, but only a few are commonly seen in cultivation:
- C. australis resembles the yucca plant with narrow, long, and grayish to dark leaves.
- C. terminalis is a gaudy show plant with nearly infinite varieties. The leaves are wide (3 inches) and thin and come in green, red, black, yellow, orange, and mixed colors. Varieties include "Tricolor," "Rededge," "Firebrand," and "Ti."
C. australis is more like a desert plant than its cousin C. terminalis, but it's also less interesting. Over time, cordylines tend toward leginess; the best solution for this is to trim back individual stems in a staggered pattern. A mature, well-trimmed C. terminalis should have stems of various heights, up to 3 to 4 feet, and be clothed in leaves to the soil level. These are jungle plants, so if you're experiencing leaf drop, try raising both the temperature and humidity.