Cook Islands Biodiversity & Natural Heritage

Cordyline fruticosa


Multimedia & Additional Resources

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Open this image in pop-up window Image: Traditional cv. (L), and Recent cvs. (Centre, R) 73KB
Open this image in pop-up window Image: Traditional cv., Right in forest 85KB
Open this image in pop-up window Image: A Recent cv. 66KB

General Information

COMMON NAMES: Cordyline, Ti, Ki, Lily-Palm, Dracaena Palm, Good Luck Plant, Tree-of-Kings; German Keulenlilie

TRADITIONAL NAMES: Tī / Rautī (RR MG AT), Tī (MK AK), Pū Rautī (MT), Lautī (PK); Other Polynesian - Tī, Lau Tī, Tī Vao (SAM), Rauti (TAH); COMMENT: Mitiaro - Tī is the root, Rautī for the leaves.

GLOBAL DISTRIBUTION: NATIVE Himalya - Indonesia, but anciently widespread; EXOTIC EXOTIC pre-European contact (Asia - French Polynesia, Hawai‘i, n.NZ); nowadays circumtropical

COOK ISLANDS STATUS: Introduced - Polynesian, Not naturalised; S.Group - widespread and abundant; N.Group - uncommon; Land, lowlands - mountains (+++), gardens; on volcanic soils, propogated by cuttings

SIGNIFICANCE LIST: Medicine, Ornamental leaves, Food (former, Root), Material (Adornment), alcohol (root)

KEY FEATURES: A slender erect shrub to 4m, with 1-few stems, and leaves in erect terminal clusters. LEAVES narrow-oval, to 60x17cm, flat or recurved, uniformly green to variously red or purple. FLOWERS on long branching-stalk to 70cm; flowers abundant and small, to 5mmØ, white, pink or purple; petals 6, strongly recurved; stamens 6, protruding. FRUIT round, to 8mmØ, ripening dark red; seeds 1-5, black, 4x3mm. ROOT tuberous. Several cultivars. TRADITIONAL CULTIVAR has leaves large (to 60x17cm), flat, uniformly green; flowers pink; fruits rare and seedless. RECENT GREEN CULTIVAR to 2m, leaves to 40x10cm, flat, green with pale margin and red edge; flowers white; fruits sometimes abundant, ripen bright red, 1-5 seeds. RECENT RED CULTIVARS to 2m, leaves large to small, flat to recurved, uniform to variegated, green, pink, red and purple; flowers white to purple; fruit sometimes abundant, ripen bright red, 1-5 seeds.

Enlarged Image of 'Cordyline fruticosa'

Cook Islands Distribution

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Southern Group: Present    Makatea: Present

Northern Group: Present

Key to Symbols

Scientific Taxonomy

Cordyline fruticosa Linnaeus
SYNONYMS: Cordyline terminalis [incl. TC]; Taetsia fruticosa [incl. GW]; Convallaria fruticosa

TAXONOMY: PLANTAE; ANTHOPHYTA (=Angiospermae); LILIOPSIDA (=Monocotyledones); LILIIDAE; Liliales; LAXMANNIACEAE. COMMENT: Cordyline has been placed in a variety of families, including ASTELIACEAE, AGAVACEAE, and LILIACEAE. LOMANDRACEAE is a synonym of LAXMANNIACEAE.

More Information

POSITIVE SIGNIFICANCE: Medicine, Ornamental leaves, Food (former, Root), Material (Adornment), alcohol (root). Comments: Common hedge plant. The leaves have great spiritual significance in important ceremonies, such as investitures. They are also used as green-costumes for traditional dancing. They are also used in herbal medicine and as food-wrappers. Formerly an important famine food, when the thick starch and sucrose laden roots (each up to 25kg) were cooked in a special earthoven, with stems of Giant Taro (Kape). The sweet juice of the Tī sweetend the bitter flavour of the Kape. In some parts of Polynesia alcohol was distilled from the cooked, mashed and fermented roots, which contain up to 20% sucrose. British sailors taught the Hawaiians how to distill the liquor known as 'Okolehao, and in tern they taught the Tahitians. The mutineer McCoy, an ex-distillery worker, developed a system on Pitcairn, which lead to his downfall. In recent years many red and variegated forms, with differing shapes and sizes of leaves, have been introduced as ornamental garden plants.. Comments: Shoot tips (kao) mixed with castor oil are used as a purgative. Leaves tied around the neck are used for a stiff neck or sore throat (karaponga mamae). Leaf juice is applied to burns (pakapaka).

IDENTIFICATION: See brief description.

GENERAL NOTE: The Traditional Cultivar has sterile pollen in the Cook Islands and elsewhere in Eastern Polynesia, while in Western Polynesia (Samoa, Tonga, Niue) it has fertile pollen and the female flowers develop ripening fruit. (pers.comm. Anya Hinkle, 2003) While Polynesia has only one traditional variety there are more than 50 cultivars recognised in the Bismark Archipelago. In the Cook Islands the Traditional Cultivar is scattered throughout the mountains, and is common in hedges on property boundaries and around sacred areas. In hedges it is often interspersed with the Recent Green Cultivar which leaves smaller, blade-base with a pale margin and red edge, and fruit sometimes abundant and ripening red. Within gardens and in hedges there are also Recent Red Cultivars with leaves large to small, leaves flat to curled, leaves red to purple, and fruit often abudnant and ripening red. In pre-European times the Traditional Cultivar was a very important plant with a carbohydrate laden root as famine food and the leaves used for costumes and ceremonial attire - as they still are today.

Vouchers & References

Pukapuka: fieldspecimens ornamental varieties in village, 2/2004, ID GMcC.

p.1348 Wagner et al.- Flowering Plants of Hawaii
p.202 Neal - In Gardens of Hawaii
p.312 Hortus 3rd
p.292 Royal Hort. Soc. Index of Garden Plants
p.578 Tropica
p.1/149 A.C.Smith - Flora Vitiensis Nova
p.300 I Cheeseman - Flora of Rarotonga
p.29 Wilder - Flora of Rarotonga
p.397a Whistler - Ethnobotany of the Cook Islands
p.104 McCormack/Kunzle - Rarotonga's Mountain Tracks and Plants

Data Update History (information):
zTX, zB02, zM02, zupM03a, zD02

Web Resources

Citation Information

McCormack, Gerald (2007) Cook Islands Biodiversity Database, Version 2007.2. Cook Islands Natural Heritage Trust, Rarotonga. Online at Copy citation to system clipboard
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