Cordyline are common decorative plants that make excellent houseplants and thrive outdoors in hardiness zones 9 to 12. They typically have leathery, spear- or lance-shaped leaves 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, they need a lot of light.
Identifying Cordyline Plants
The naming of cordyline and related plants can get rather confusing. 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 plants. 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 the following basics for the best results with cordyline plants indoors:
Light: 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.
Water: Keep the soil continuously moist, but reduce watering in the winter. High humidity is preferred.
Temperature: Above 62 degrees F is preferred. Avoid cold drafts if the temperature drops lower.
Soil: Rich, well-drained potting mix.
Fertilizer: Feed in spring with slow-release pellets or weekly during growing season with liquid 20-20-20 fertilizer at half-strength.
Propogation 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 degrees 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.
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 yucca plant, with narrow, long and grayish to dark leaves.
- C. terminalis. A gaudy show plant with nearly infinite varieties. Leaves are wide (3 inches) and thin and come in green, red, black, yellow, orange, and mixed colors. Varieties include C. terminalis 'tricolor'; C. terminalis 'Rededge'; C. terminalis 'Firebrand'; and C. terminalis '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.