Cordyline banksii, the Forest Cabbage Tree, is a graceful long-leaved Cordyline from the North Island and the north-western parts of the South Island of New Zealand. It grows in coastal and lowland scrub, rocky banks, dense bush and bush margins, hillsides with scrubby secondary growth as well as on higher forested slopes to an elevation of about 1000m. Despite this wide variety of habitats it is not that often seen in the wild and although not rare, a chance encounter with a Cordyline banksii while tramping through the New Zealand bush is always a joy. It is however, relatively rare in cultivation and even in New Zealand is not especially well-known compared to the much more familiar Cordyline australis. Its leaves are quite different from Cordyline australis being longer and broader in the middle section and tapering at both ends. They have a distinctive midrib and are held in a graceful arching manner that gives them a less spiky and more tropical look. Although the leaf span is longer - giving younger plants a wider spread - it is overall a smaller and somewhat more delicate plant, the trunks slender and considerably less robust than the often monumental Cordyline australis and more inclined to have multiple stems although single stems are also typical.
In the New Zealand climate, Cordyline banksii is not often subjected to what we would call a heavy frost. The proximity of the sea, the constant westerly air flow, the orographic rainfall and the fairly dense canopy of the New Zealand bush all create a series of rather mild environments that are benign by UK standards. Nontheless, Cordyline banksii can tolerate subzero temperatures down to about -5C for short periods of time.
In the UK, Cordyline banksii needs somewhat more care than Cordyline australis and it should always be given a warm sheltered south-facing position ideally with some overhead protection from larger broad-leafed evergreens. Planting it out in the open, without the protection of surounding vegetation is not recommended even in coastal locations. In the winter, its leaves should be tied up and wrapped thickly in several layers of horticultural fleece. Ensuring the root system has a suitably thick covering of mulch is a sensible precaution.
This is a choice plant, not often available in the UK and is suitable for experienced growers.
|Geographical Origin||New Zealand: throughout the North Island and Malborough, Nelson/Tasman, North Canterbury and the coastal margins of the West Coast in the South Island as far south as Haast|
|Cultivation||Warm, sheltered south-facing aspect. Against a wall or ideally under the protective canopy of other larger broad-leaved evergreens. Well-drained but humus-rich soil|
|Hardiness||Nor fully hardy in most UK locations. Needs winter protection with fleece and mulch. This is a sensible precaution even in a 'mild' winter|
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