Thursday, April 10, 2008

When a Cabbage is a Tree

Flowering Cabbage Trees, Monument Rock, Purau. 2007 Ajr

Cordyline australis - Ti Kouka in Maori and the common cabbage tree to most New Zealanders – is commonly considered a member of the lily family; one of the largest tree lilies in the world in fact. Yet it is not quite a lily; it’s not a palm; it’s definitely not a cabbage and it’s not really a tree. I have a large one in my garden and while it’s an attractive tree, I hate the way it sheds its leaves all over my garden. Made of a very tough non-composting fibre, they won’t rot away in the compost heap, so I tie them in tight bundles and use them as kindling. They make excellent kindling. The early Maori also recognised the toughness of the leaf fibre and used it for making kete (baskets) bird snares, ropes and cords. They also made kauru (a sweet chewable food) from the roots of young cabbage trees; and early European settlers used the roots for brewing “a tolerable beer.” I loved this pair of cabbage trees, photographed just beneath Monument Rock, above Purau Bay on Banks Peninsular.

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