Cordyline Plant Profile

Cordyline
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Cordyline are common decorative plants that thrive outdoors 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 they need a lot of light.

  • Botanical Name: C. terminalis
  • Common Name: Cordyline
  • Plant Type: Perennial in zones 9 to 12, otherwise annual
  • Mature Size: 3 feet tall
  • Sun Exposure: Bright light
  • Soil Type: High-quality potting soil
  • Soil pH: 6 to 6.5
  • Bloom Time: Early summer
  • Flower Color: White to pale lavender
  • Hardiness Zones: 9 to 12
  • Native Area: Native in the Western Pacific Ocean region, including New Zealand, Australia, Asia, and Polynesia. One species is native to South America.

How to Grow Cordyline

C. australis is more like a desert plant than its cousin C. terminalis, but it's also less interesting. Over time, cordylines tend toward legginess; the best solution for this is to trim back individual stems in a staggered pattern. A mature, well-trimmed plant 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.

The bright strap-like leaves will maintain their color all season long. They are particularly nice when potted and placed along an entryway or path. The bright spear-like leaves provide a clear focal point. They pair well with flowering or creeping annuals that balance their height within the pot. Try them with the Asparagus Fern or Creeping Jenny.

The plant will produce flowers that are cup-shaped and sweet-smelling. Small berries will appear after the flowers. It's more typical for flowering to occur in outdoor varieties, but flowers can appear on houseplants. They are prone to some problems and pests. The most common are scale insects, spider mites, and mealybugs. Also, bacterial and fungal spots, bacterial soft rot, and root rot can also occur on these plants.

Light

Cordyline needs bright light, but avoid direct sunlight in unhabituated plants. Also, green-leaved cordyline tends to do best with direct light, while those with other colors of leaves may prefer bright indirect or filtered sunlight.

Soil

Cordyline needs a rich, well-drained potting mix. If you move the plant outdoors, make sure the outdoor soil drains well and any threat of frost has passed. Outdoor plants also need to be well secured. With its large leaves, they can catch in the wind and topple over.

Water

It is important to keep the soil continuously moist. Reduce watering during the winter; water your plant whenever the soil surface starts to feel dry.

Temperature and Humidity

This plant prefers a high humidity environment. Cordyline thrives in temperatures above 62 degrees Fahrenheit. Avoid putting the plant near a cold draft like a window, especially if the temperature drops lower than 62 degrees Fahrenheit.

Fertilizer

These plants can be fed in the spring with slow-release pellets. You can feed the plant weekly during the growing season with a liquid 20-20-20 fertilizer at half-strength. Do not fertilize during the winter.

Propagation

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 degrees Fahrenheit. 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.

Varieties of Cordyline

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."

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.

Dracaena fragrans, with its bright green leaves, also are commonly sold as ti plants or Hawaiian ti trees. 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. The name Cordyline originates from Greek. The word kordyle, meaning "club," is a reference to the plant's enlarged underground stems.