Despite what my family and friends will tell you, I do not know everything about gardening. In fact, there are tons and tons of gardening topics and plants I am unfamiliar with. But I generally can find answers to questions or problems that come my way. For example, several weeks ago, during a Zoom meeting, a friend told me I should drive past her home and see a tree she had in bloom that had never bloomed before. Well you know me, after the Zoom meeting was over, I hopped in the car and drove over to see it. I thought erroneously I was looking for a deciduous spring-bloomer like a magnolia or dogwood. The only tree I could see looked more like a palm tree. And by gosh, it looked like it had fireworks blooming from the top. I had never seen blooms on a palm tree before, only coconuts.
I forgot about it for a week or so and then happened to look out my front window and saw I also had a “palm tree” blooming in my yard. Which is where it gets interesting because I had never planted a palm tree but instead planted a tree that only looked like a palm: a Cordyline. I didn’t think a real palm tree would do on the North Oregon Coast, which is why I chose a Cordyline. But I never knew they bloomed!
Time to do some more research. And because this is a genus of 15 plants, it wasn’t easy to pin down the ones that bloom in this different way. My Sunset Western Garden Book calls them evergreen, palm-like trees or plants. While this genus is related to agaves and yuccas, these plants with sword-like leaves are most often found in nurseries grouped with palm trees.
Most of the Cordylines come from the Pacific Islands and Southeast Asia and gardening books say they thrive in USDA Plant Hardiness Zones 9 through 12, meaning they need a warmer climate and are not hardy in Zones 8 and below. Ha. We are in Zone 8B and they do just fine here. This is because there are so many of the Cordylines but not all will work as outdoor plants. Some, called the “Ti Plant,” are brought as souvenirs from Hawaii. But the Ti Plants are only for indoors and do not get as giant as the ones around Tillamook County that are blooming in June.
Cordylines like sun but will also do well in some high shade. If you choose one of the lower-growing varieties with colored leaves, place them in some deeper shade so the color isn’t washed out. They will be happy as long as they are in well-drained soil. Try to place them so they are sheltered from the winds. Plants that have been stressed by wind or cold, wet weather may develop brown spots or even drop their leaves.
After doing as much research as I could, both online and in my extensive home library of gardening books (and my journals!), I can only surmise my particular Cordyline is the Cordyline australis. But that is confusing, too, as I have seen photos labeled as the C. australis but they are a lower-growing form. And this from the Royal Horticultural Society’s webpage: “C. australis is a small evergreen tree with several stout branches from a single trunk. Leaves are long and sword-shaped. Large panicles of small, fragrant flowers… bloom from the top.” So, I think I can trust that website and we have found my “palm tree.” Some varieties will grow taller but initially form a dense clump at ground level.
My best advice if you are looking for one is to go to a reputable nursery and ask the staff for what you are looking for: a palm-type Cordyline or a clumping type. And, in the end, you may be as surprised as I was to learn about a new/old plant.