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Nature Makes a Gift to Gardeners

This article was first published on 27 Oct 2021.

Cordyline 'Karo Kiri'

Cordyline 'Karo Kiri'

Photo by the Otago Daily Times

In a native garden bed next to the upper botanic garden car park, there’s a striking group of plants that wouldn’t look out of place in a Dr. Seuss book. Surprisingly, they are a form of Cordyline australis, the old familiar cabbage tree or tī kōuka.

Cordyline 'Karo Kiri' is a dwarf cultivar that is reminiscent of a dracaena or a yucca. It grows to only a couple of metres, with short, narrow leaves growing stiffly from the stems. Normally it produces a single trunk which grows tall and straight without branching. If you prune it, it will form new shoots just below the cuts and grow multiple heads.

This weird form of cabbage tree popped up all by itself in a batch of seedlings in a Christchurch nursery in the early 1980s. Seed had been collected from the North Island and when the seedlings grew, one looked different. The mutant was planted and grown on in a shrubbery and eventually its progeny was cultivated and formally described by botanists at Manaaki Whenua–Landcare Research in Lincoln.

Cordyline 'Karo Kiri' is available to buy from retail nurseries. With its cabbage tree genes, it is perfectly suited to a tough life outdoors. It also works well in a pot on the patio or as an indoor plant. With a bit of careful pruning and removal of some lower leaves, it could even be made into a living sculpture – the perfect bonsai version of a wild tī kōuka.