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February 17, 2009

New Zealand: Cabbage Tree

I’ve mentioned the cabbage tree in several of my books. It’s a native New Zealand tree and part of the lily family, the largest one in fact. The official scientific name is Cordyline australis and the Maori name is Tî râkau or Tî kôuka. It has a single trunk and the leaves are long strips. The leaves hang in rounded bunches and look like huge pom-poms.

Early settlers used them as a subsitute for cabbage (the heart part of the leaves), hence the common name cabbage tree. They grow in various parts of the world and tolerate the cold. I’ve seen them when I’ve visited other countries. There’s even one on Alcatraz Island. We have some growing in our garden, although it’s not good to run over the leaves with the lawn mower because they’re fibrous. That’s asking for trouble!

The trees grow up to forty feet high, although the ones around where I live are on the short side. They’re not very old. During recent years lots of cabbage trees have died because of a disease called ‘Sudden Decline’, caused by the pathogen Phytoplasma australiense. The disease makes the leaves fall, leaving a pathetic looking trunk behind.


This is a cabbage tree – the one with the long strip-like leaves.


These are mountain cabbage trees. Hubby and I took this photo during our recent trip to Tongarairo National Park.


This is a shot of our Parliament buildings in Wellington, affectionately known as the Beehive because of its shape. Notice the row of cabbage trees planted in front.

When I think of New Zealand trees a cabbage tree is one that always springs to mind, along with the mighty Kauri tree (a topic for another post), the pohutakawa and the kowhai trees. (both pretty flowering trees).

When you think about plants and trees native to your area which ones do you think of? Have you seen a cabbage tree in your country?


  1. Lucinda

    Where I live in southeastern North Carolina, we have lots and lots of tall, longleaf pine trees. In the spring I think of the flowering dogwoods and azaleas that are all over my town. Your pic of the mountain cabbage tree reminds me a little of the Palmetto trees along the South Carolina coast. It’s also the state tree of South Carolina.

  2. Leah Braemel

    If you hadn’t said they were cabbage trees, I would have just assumed they were palm trees.

    It’s so nice to see anything green right now, everything is white, brown and grey (dirty snow) up here until mid-April.

  3. Alice Audrey

    So when you run over the cabbage tree leaves with the lawn mower, do you end up messing up the blade or engine, or does it shoot them off to the side like a twig?

    Here in Montana the most common sight as far as foliage goes is coniferous trees. Not just pine, but spruce and even some cedar. It’s either that or grass, for the most part.

  4. Shelley Munro

    Lucinda – I love the redwoods in the States. They’re so tall and majestic, although there is such a thing as seeing too many trees. Hubby and I were treed out after a while!

    Leah – if you saw them in person you’d see they’re quite different from palms. They’re not prickly or spikey. I imagine the snow would become tedious. We’re all green again after a week of rain.

    Alice – the leaves fall and get caught in the rotor blade when you run over them. You have to stop the mower and untangle it usually. The best thing is to pick up all the leaves first!!

  5. Colleen Love

    I have lots and lots of Fir and Western Red Cedar trees here in Washington State(among other evergreen trees). On a nice warm day, they smell so sweet. Always a scent that makes me long for summer. :)

    I have never seen a Cabbage Tree. They look pretty cool!! :)

  6. Chile Vacations

    I never knew that cabbage trees looked like that. Its almost like palm trees. And they are quite tall

  7. Cheryl McInnis

    Well…in Canada we have the Maple tree of course ;- )
    In Nova Scotia, we have a really large area of untouched hardwood forest. It’s amazing, and of course we are one of the largest suppliers of Christmas trees. Spruce, Pine and Douglas Fir are everywhere, and Colleen is right, they smell delicious.

  8. Shelley Munro

    I have to agree about the scent of the pines. It’s wonderful and always makes me think of Christmas.