31 Cordyline fruticosaCommon Names: ti plant, Hawaiian ti, cordyline, good luck plant Family: Agavaceae (agave Family)
Ti is a palmlike evergreen shrub with a strong, usually unbranched trunk that can get up to 10 ft (3 m) tall. However, most of us know it as a smaller foliage house plant, before much of a trunk has developed. The leaves are 12-30 in (30-50 cm) long, 4-6 in (10-15 cm) wide and may be glossy green, reddish purple, or marked with various combinations of purple, red, yellow or white. The leaves originate in tufts at the top of the woody stems in mature plants, and more or less along the stems in younger house plants. Mature plants produce yellowish or reddish flowers that are sweetly scented, less than a half inch (1.25 cm) across, and clustered in conspicuous 12 in (30 cm) panicles. The fruits are red berries. Ti plant sometimes grows in clumps by suckering from the enlarged tuber-like rhizomes.
Many cultivars have been selected for their beautiful foliage: 'Imperalis' has leaves variegated with red and pink; 'Amabalis' has wide, oval leaves that are spotted with pink and white; 'Baptisii' has recurved leaves that are pink and yellow streaked; 'Hybrida' has leaves with pink margins; 'Tricolor' has leaves that are boldly streaked with green, pink and creamy yellow; 'Firebrand' (a.k.a. 'Red Dracaena') has reddish purple leaves with paler veins; 'Baby Ti' has coppery leaf margins and gets only 2 ft (60 cm) tall; 'Hawaiian Bonsai' has dark crimson leaves and gets only 3 ft (1 m) tall; and 'Margaret Story' has leaves splashed with copper, red and pink and gets only 3 ft (1 m) tall.
Cordyline fruticosa probably was native originally to SE Asia and Papua New Guinea, but was carried throughout much of the Pacific by early Polynesians who used the starchy rhizomes for food. Today ti occurs in eastern Australia and on many of the larger islands in the tropical Pacific, including the Hawaiian Islands.
CultureLight: Ti does well in partial shade to nearly full sun. It needs more water if grown in full sun. Indoors, ti likes a bright position, but out of direct sunlight. Although it will survive in quite low light, the foliage will never develop its full potential colors. Moisture: In summer, do not allow the soil to dry out between waterings. Ti needs very humid air to keep the leaf tips from drying out and turning brown. Mist frequently, especially in an air conditioned room, or, better yet, use a humidifier to keep the air around the plant humid. Another trick is to position the pot on a bed of gravel and water. Best bet is to grow in a greenhouse or enclosed flower window. Fluoride in the water will cause the leaf tips to brown. Hardiness: USDA Zones 10 - 12. Ti should not be subjected to temperatures below about 55° F (13° C.) Propagation: Ti is easy to propagate from stem cuttings, called "logs." Cut 3-5 in (7-12 cm) sections of mature stem, remove the leaves, and place on a bed of sand, preferably with bottom heat. The "eyes" on the stem cuttings will grow into shoots with leaves. When a shoot gets 4-6 leaves, cut it and its eye from the log, and root in potting medium as you would any cutting.
In tropical climates ti makes an interesting specimen shrub, valued mainly for its magnificent foliage. Elsewhere, grow in a container. The white club-shaped rhizomes are high in starch and were a valuable food item for Polynesians and Maoris. Other than bringing good luck to its owner, perhaps the most important use is that the leaves are made into Hawaiian hula skirts!
There are some 15 species of cordylines, known also as dracaenas, cabbage palms, and palm lilies. They are similar and closely related to the true dracaenas, and many of the popular ti cultivars previously were listed under Dracaena.
Steve Christman 4/25/00; updated 5/6/06