Cordyline australis, also known as the Cabbage Tree or Torbay Palm – The common name ‘Cabbage Tree’ comes from the fact that early settlers in New Zealand ate the crowns! The British name ‘Torbay Palm’ comes from the fact that it is very commonly seen in streets and gardens in Torquay, Devon.

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The Cordyline is very distinctive with its palm like appearance and adds that element of the tropics, sandy beaches and holidays. 

Cordyline Australis Torbay Palm Types & Varieties

Cordyline australis is not really a tropical or jungle plant and in fact it does not like that type of climate. They are hardy in the UK in all but the harshest of winters such as the winter of 2010 to 2011 where it reached -20°c in some parts. Due to the unusually low temperastures many were cut down to the ground but many regrew. In the milder regions of the UK they remained unaffected.

colourful cordyline growing in pots

colourful cordyline growing in pots

cordyline autralis charlie boy pink stripes

cordyline autralis charlie boy pink stripes

The Cordyline tree can take temperatures down to -9°c so it does stay evergreen all year round and are frost hardy. Some cultivars however are not as hardy as the plain green variety you see growing most commonly. The pink varieties are reported to be more tender with the exception of Cordyline australis ‘Charlie Boy’ which is just as hardy as the green ones.

Cordyline Plant Care – Torbay Palm Care, position and soil requirements

Common Name: Cabbage Tree or Torbay Palm
Latin Name: Cordyline australis
Tenderness Rating: Hardy in normal winters!
Ease of growing: Easy
Position: Full sun to dappled shade
Soil Condition: Any fertile soil

Cordylines do not require pruning as such, they are pretty much maintenance free and can be left alone which makes it great for a low maintenance garden. The only Cordyline care I have ever needed to do is to remove the lower leaves as they dieback to keep it looking tidy.

tropical looking cordyline

They can produce flower stems not unlike the Yucca and these can also be removed when the flowers die to keep the plant looking tidy.

Snails can be a problem as they can hide in the crown and come out to munch on the leaves which makes the plant look untidy. The snails are pretty easy to spot and remove and it really only seems to be a problem with younger less mature plants.

Cordyline flower

cordyline flower

You wouldn’t expect Cordyline to flower but they do. Cordyline australis flower in summer, the picture above is from a young Cordyline australis and this is the first time it has flowered. Flowering takes place on these palms after about 15 years at which point the growing tip splits to form two stems.

The flower spike covered in a spray of tiny white flowers is quite large and does look quite impressive attracting insects including bees. Mine did not produce any seed that year but they can produce a profusion of small berries.

I removed the flower spike in March only because I was tidying up after winter and it didn’t look like I was going to get any viable seed from it.

Cordyline Plant Varieties

Here is a list of Cordyline varieties with hardiness temperatures. I have taken the temperatures from past experience and sources online so take as a guideline.

The new coloured varieties can add a real eye catching feature to your garden and add that exotic appeal. As they are evergreen they remain in leaf all year round and do not die back unless we get a really harsh winter as in 2010/11.

‣ Cordyline australis, green -9°c
‣ Cordyline australis ‘Cardinal’, red, -5°c
‣ Cordyline australis ‘Pink Passion’, purple centre stripe with pink edges, -5°c
‣ Cordyline australis ‘Claret’, purple, -5°c
‣ Cordyline australis ‘Purple Sensation’, reddish purple with cream stripes and central pink stripe, -5°c
‣ Cordyline australis ‘Red Star’, lighter red bronze, -5°c
‣ Cordyline australis ‘Southern Splendour’, greeny grey with pink margin, -5°c
‣ Cordyline australis ‘Sundance’, green with central pink stripe, -5°c
‣ Cordyline australis ‘Torbay Dazzler’, green with cream margin, -5°c
‣ Cordyline australis ‘Charlie Boy’, red purple with pink margin, -9°c
‣ Cordyline australis ‘Pink Sensation’, red purple with pink margin, -6°c
‣ Cordyline australis ‘Red Sensation’, darker red purple, -1°c
to -9°c(needs verifying)
‣ Cordyline australis ‘Torbay Red’, burgundy red, -5°c
‣ Cordyline australis ‘Sparkler’, green pale red stripe and cream margin, -5°c
‣ Cordyline australis ‘Sunrise’, dark pink with bright pink margin, -5°c
‣ Cordyline australis ‘Verde’, green, -5°c
‣ Cordyline australis ‘Purpurea’, purple, 0°c
‣ Cordyline australis ‘Pink champagne’, pink flush near base to green with white cream margins, -5°c
‣ Cordyline australis ‘Choc Mint’, chocolate brown with mint green margins, -8°c(needs verifying)
‣ Cordyline australis ‘Eurostripe’, wide reddish stripe with green margin, -5°c(possibly same plant as Choc Mint)

Cordyline australis For Sale

You can find quite a diverse range of Cordylines for sale online covering the green, reds and pink colour ranges. We really are spoilt for choice and the range is growing to rival that of Phormiums.

We should mention that there are other Cordylines such as Cordyline banksii, Cordyline stricta, Cordyline obtecta and Cordyline fruticosa but are not commonly available. They have not been widely grown and tested in our British climate as well as australis.

The standard green Cordyline is the hardiest and the most established in the UK. The purple and reds vary in hardiness but are the next most established.

The most colourful and interesting are the pink varieties with each cultivar varying slightly in appearance but seemingly varying greatly in hardiness and reliability.

cordyline australis charlie boy

I stumbled across the pink striped ‘Charlie Boy’ some time ago and managed to get hold of one after much trying. Then in 2017 at a plant fair I spoke to someone who had one for sale who was a friend of the person who originally grew it from a seedling which was supposed to be the standard green variety.

cordyline australis charlie boy pink stripes

He had been growing it in a relatively exposed position for several years and hadn’t suffered any damage at sub zero temperatures. The plant has been exposed to periods at -9°c suffering only slight frost damage.

Varieties such as Charlie Boy are more widely available and are well worth buying as an addition to the green Cordyline.

Most Popular Cordylines

cordyline australis form trunks over time

The Cabbage palm or Torbay palm as I prefer is an iconic plant that adds a touch of the exotic to a garden. Whilst there a number of more colourful varieties the most popular and most readily available Cordyline plants are the green C. australis and C. australis ‘Red Star’.

This sub tropical Cabbage tree is fast growing and once the roots are established can put on a foot a year. In favourable conditions this palm has been known to grow 10 feet in 3 years.

I have found they seem to grow faster when given sun, space and well drained soil. I have some growing on raised ground (pictured above) where it stays very dry.

On the opposite side of the garden I have one that looks great and is growing rapidly in a dry shaded location facing west and sheltered on the east side by a fence.

cordyline australis torbay dazzler

I have only ever seen mature green plants and semi mature red and purple leaved sports. The pinks are relatively new in their widespread availability and so are still few and far between in our British gardens.

It would however be an amazing site to see a fully mature multi headed ‘Charlie Boy’ as large as the palms you see in Cornwall.

Cordyline australis Eurostripe

cordyline australis eurostripe

An unusual variegation of red and green with a wide red central stripe and green outer edges. I’ve grown one since 2017 so it has survived a few winters with the lowest being down to -5c.

It seems to be the same plant as Cordyline Chocolate Mint or Choc Mint and does not seem to be widely available in the UK.

Cordyline australis ‘Red Star’

cordyline australis red star

A popular and widely available variety of Torbay Palm is Cordyline Red Star. Similar to the standard green leaved form but with a more red than burgundy colouring and similar to Red Sensation in looks.

It should grow to a similar height to the other cultivars although I have never seen a fully mature Cordyline other than the standard Cordyline australis and possibly Cordyline Verde. It also produces multiple heads that branch out from the central stem to eventually form a canopy as it reaches a mature height about the height of the guttering on a typical UK house.

Cordyline australis ‘Charlie Boy’ vs Cordyline ‘Pink Passion’

cordyline australis charlie boy

The two most popular pink Cordyline are very similar in appearance but Cordyline Charlie Boy has a better cold tolerance and seems to fair better in our damp and cold climate. I’ve written more in depth about Cordyline Charlie Boy and there are lots more pictures so you can see how it compares to Pink Passion.

Red Cordylines

cordyline red varieties

There are not many varieties of big leaved plants that are not green but when it comes to Cordyline australis we have quite a few colourful varieties to choose from. I have seen quite a few mature standard green cordylines growing in the UK, mostly along the coast due to the milder climate allowing them to survive rare deep freezes that may cut down palms growing inland.

The red coloured Cordylines (although they tend to be closer to burgundy) can stand out amongst the green foliage. Variegated and unusual colour foliage plants are a great way to add colour to complement bright coloured flowers. Being evergreen the long strappy tropical like leaves stand out all year round.

The red varieties tend to be as hardy as the green and are mostly safe to grow unprotected in the UK bar regions that experience persistent sub zero temperatures or exposed cold winds.

The likes of Cordyline Red Star and Cordyline Red sensation are probably the most commonly available in the UK although Torbay Red, Red Sunset and Purpurea are also available.

How tall does the Torbay palm get?

It is a striking plant that can reach 6-12 m tall in its native habitats in New Zealand, though considerably less in the UK, though 3-5m is easily obtainable. With age it has multiple trunks topped with dense, arching leaves 1m or so long and from 2-5cm wide. MORE: What to plant with Cordylines?

What are the flowers like on the Cordyline australis?

The huge inflorescence’s are creamy white and highly scented, with a divine fragrance of lilies in late spring, followed by tiny white fruit in autumn. Young plants grow as a single stem until they flower, which causes them to branch. This happens many times to form very large heads when mature.

Buy Cordyline australis – Cabbage Tree or Torbay Palm UK

How hardy is the Cordyline australis?

Hardy from about -5 to 1°C for short periods, though resent winter’s have been much colder than this in many places cutting them to the ground. Luckily though it will always regrow from the base quite rapidly as it has a large root system. One here in Norfolk was cut to the ground in the 1980s and regrew massively over the last few decades so will do so again unless we have continuing freezing winters! For proper palm trees have a look here. There are many colourful hybrids, but they are far less hardy!

Places to buy Cordyline australis – Cabbage Tree or Torbay Palm

Cordyline australis Verde – Green Torbay Palm

Cordylines come all the way from New Zealand and Australia. Cordyline australis Verde are flowering plants which  are able to survive cold weather in urban areas or regions with only mild cold weather.  ‘’Verde’’ essentially refers to the cordylines which grow green leaves while there are cordylines with red leaves as well. Flowers on cordylines can be cut when they are no longer serving that aesthetic purpose. It does not affect their growth. While cutting the dead leaves or flowers, it should be kept in mind that the cutting should be done as close to the main trunk as possible but never pull them out. This damages the main trunk.

Although the ideal time to plant cordylines is during the spring, they have the tendency to acclimatise which makes them all the more attractive for gardeners. Planting them before summer in order to give them a chance to become familiar to their environment when summer arrives is also a way to go forward. When planted, cordylines give an equatorial vibe giving off a very beautiful tropical view.

Tips to remember when planting Cordylines:

      • Don’t let the soil get too wet but also not completely dry! Cordylines keep themselves hydrated with just enough water.
      • Cordylines prefer being in the sun! A shady area with a hint of sunlight will also do just fine.
      • If you choose to keep the plants in pots, sprinkle or integrate fertiliser to promote growth.

These conditions will help cordylines to grow deeper roots. When they have grown roots deep enough, these flowering plants will be able to survive drought conditions too. They are used because of their easy handling and vividly intense colours. In case your Cordylines are affected by the weather most commonly in winters, try tying up the foliage to protect.  This will help with the damage caused by winds. Another benefit of tying up the foliage is that it prevents water collection which could block the growing points of your Cordylines. They have a single embryonic leaf or cotyledon in their seeds which makes them Monocotyledons. Wheat is another famous cotyledon, having a huge commercial importance.

Further reading

Cordyline australis is commonly called the New Zealand cabbage tree or Dracaena australis. It is the hardiest of all cordyline species due to its ability to survive frost, snow and harsh winds in most cases.  Also, it is a small evergreen tree with several branches arising from a single trunk. At the tip of its branches are long, sword-shaped leaves. Even more, it gives rise to large clusters of cream coloured, cup-shaped flowers. The scent of these flowers attracts a wide range of insects, ensuring pollination. It yields small, round berries that serve as food for birds. Despite being hardy, this tree is susceptible to cordyline slime flux.

How to grow and care for cordyline australis?

Cordyline australis is quite easy to grow and requires very little maintenance. 

Water: It needs to be watered regularly especially in its early stage to keep the soil evenly moist. Extra watering is very important during hot, dry weather. 

Fertiliser: You can encourage growth by applying a balanced liquid fertiliser every week.

Pruning: Pruning is usually done when the tree becomes too leggy. It involves taking out dead leaves and faded flowers. This will encourage blooming and result in healthy foliage. If the tree has been damaged by frost, it should be cut back hard to promote healthy new growth. It can be cut back to any point and new shoots will still emerge from below the cut.

Where should I position cordyline australis in your garden?

Before planting cordyline australis, make sure to choose a suitable location as transplanting may complicate things. This tree has a taproot and while it is possible to dig it up and move it, it is not likely to survive transplanting. You must select an area that is fully or partially exposed to sunlight. Do not plant it close to taller plants which may reduce its access to light. This cordyline may be positioned facing west or south. You can shelter it when temperatures are extremely low.

What is the height and spread of cordyline australis?

In appropriate conditions, New Zealand cabbage tree will have a medium to fast growth rate. It will attain a maximum height of eight metres in twenty to fifty years. Its spread is between 2.5 and 4 metres.

What kind does soil does cordyline australis need?

Cordyline australis will grow effectively in humus-rich, light or medium-textured soil. The soil must be moist yet able to drain excess water effectively. It will thrive in any soil that isn’t too acidic or alkaline.

How should I propagate cordyline australis?

Cordyline australis can be propagated by seeds or stem cuttings You can plant the seeds in late spring when the last frost is gone. Place them in individual pots containing some compost. Water once a week to keep the soil from drying out.

Stem cutting can be gotten by cutting off the main stem a few inches from the trunk. Saw this stem into blocks and then place them in pure peat. You must keep them moist until they start to root well, then plant them out in late spring.

Move your plant to a more exposed area but remember to protect it during its first winter. When the plant starts to outgrow its container move it to a larger one. 


Last Modified: May 6, 2023