Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Cordyline recovery - and decline

Back in May 2011 I bemoaned the damage done to my well branched plant of Cordyline 'Coffee Cream' by the previous harsh winter.  Well, over the last twelve months it has recovered, helped by a relatively mild winter this year.  I lost three of ten stems - one from wind damage in last Autumn's gales - which has left the plant a little lopsided but the terminal rosettes have filled out and are starting to look good once again.  It's always satisfying when this happens - even if it's not as pristine as previously.  At least I didn't lose all the top growth - as occurred with many cordylines in other parts of the UK.  This is how it looked last year:

Cordyline 'Coffee Cream' in May 2011

And this is what it looks like today:

Cordyline 'Coffee Cream' in May 2012

A distinct improvement.

I wish the same could be said about the penny plain Cordyline australis in the front garden.  The old saying is be careful what you wish for.  For a couple of years now I've idly speculated about cutting it back to ground level to let the latent buds on the rhizome produce new shoots in order to, eventually, produce a multi stemmed plant.  There are many examples in the Plymouth area of winter frosted cordylines that have done exactly that - and very elegant they look.  I had one in my previous garden.  I've never done it, of course.  No point in giving up height that easily.  It's survived the recent bad winters quite happily and is now a two branched plant of about 12ft / 3.5metres height. 

I don't think it is going to branch any more.  I noticed a couple of months ago that the lower leaves were going brown at an increasing rate.  Since then its gone into rapid decline and there is now little green left.  All the symptoms of the Phytoplasma induced sudden cordyline decline which devastated plants in their New Zealand homeland in the 1990s and has since spread to the UK.  I'll give it another month but it looks pretty terminal.  So I may get my idle wish after all.

Swansong of a cordyline?

It's all part of gardening, of course.  Plants die; from old age, disease, winter cold, neglect or incorrect placing.  Providing the disease hasn't spread to the roots it should regenerate.  All I've lost is a little height and a few years growth.  But I'll miss it when its gone.  And I'll hope the bacterium doesn't spread to my 'Coffee Cream' or the baby 'Red Star' I've got in the rear garden.


  1. Glad to see the Coffee Cream making a strong comeback, it's not a cultivar that I see around much.

    Shame about the plain green form. I have a soft spot for cordylines. Yes, they are common as muck, and sometimes attract derision for it, but it cannot be denied that they can add that exotic feel to any garden with the minimal amount of work and stress.

  2. Great recovery on the Coffee Cream, shame to see what happened on the other one. All our planted out Cordylines were cut down to the ground a couple of winters ago. Mostly it's just the plain green australis that do well in our garden, and find the coloured varieties more difficult to establish as they seem less hardy and prone to root rot, especially with our wet winters.

    As Ben has also said, we have a soft spot for Cordylines and still gravitate towards them whenever we see one.

  3. Thanks to you both. I've never taken Cordyline australis hardiness for granted ever since I lost a good sized one in my previous garden in the winter of 1986. It recovered from the root buds and was still there when I went past last year. I remember doing some training at a country club near Liskeard in Cornwall in 1997 and seeing the remains of good sized plants that had been trashed by the hard winter of that year. They were all for pulling them out until I recounted my experiences. There were some nice multistemmed ones the last time I was in that area.

    The coloured leaved forms are definitely more tender - though there is a nice 'Red Star' just up the road from me and another good one the next road down. I still regret losing 'Pink Stripe' 3 winters ago. It was shaping up to be a very attractive plant.