Palm Lilies
  • Last updated:
  • 28 Jan 2023

Cordyline is a genus of 15 species in the family Asparagaceae native to the western Pacific Ocean region, from New Zealand, eastern Australia, southeastern Asia, Polynesia and Hawaii. Eight species of Cordyline are native to Australia:

  • Cordyline cannifolia
  • Cordyline congesta
  • Cordyline fruticosa
  • Cordyline manners-suttoniae
  • Cordyline murchisoniae
  • Cordyline petiolaris
  • Cordyline rubra
  • Cordyline stricta.

Of these, two naturally occur on the Sunshine Coast; Cordyline petiolaris and Cordyline rubra. Recently I have noticed Cordyline manners-suttoniae coming up in weedy proportions within a few reserves on the Sunshine Coast. Cordyline manners-suttoniae is similar in appearance to Cordyline petiolaris and makes me wonder if it may have been planted by mistake. Cordyline manners-suttoniae naturally occurs from Cooktown to Gladstone. A few slight differences in leaf shape and petiole shape and size can help to tell the two apart. It is a concern that these two species could hybridize, making it even more difficult to determine which is which.

Cordyline; from Greek cordlye, a swelling, referring to the swelling on the stems of some species

Red Fruited Palm Lily - Cordyline rubra (The species name is from the Latin ruber "red”).

Height - to 4m tall.
Leaf - straplike leaves, narrow elliptic in shape 15-50cm long by 3-4.5cm wide.
Petiole - slightly concave petioles between 5 and 20cm long.
Fruit – Bright scarlet about 1cm in diameter.
Flower - purplish.
Distribution - It grows naturally in rainforest and wet open forest, sometimes in sandy soils, from south-eastern Queensland to north-eastern New South Wales (from Bundaberg to Lismore). It is often seen growing alongside Cordyline petiolaris, with which it sometimes hybridises. 

Broad Leaved Palm Lily - Cordyline petiolaris (petiolarlis; from Latin petiolaris, a petiole or leaf stalk, referring to the long petioles of the species).

Height – to 5m tall.
Leaf – Deep glossy green leaves 45-85cm long and 6-15cm wide. They can be quite frayed at the tips.
Petiole – Distinctive in-rolled petiole between 30 and 50cm long.
Fruit – Red 0.7 – 1cm diameter.
Flower – clusters of white to pale lilac flowers on upper leaf axils in winter and spring.
Distribution - south-eastern Queensland and north-eastern New South Wales (south-west of Gladstone to about Kempsey) in wet eucalypt forest and rainforest.

Seventeen Seventy Palm Lily - Cordyline manners-suttoniae.

Height – to 4m tall, sometimes branched.
Leaf – Leaves 35-65cm long by 6-12cm wide. Veins longitudinal widely spaced. A noticeable feature is the older leaves developing yellow edges towards the top section of the leaves.
Petiole – 12-30cm long.
Fruit – Red 1 – 1.5cm diameter.
Flower – whitish; stalks 7 – 12mm long.
Distribution – Grows naturally in swamp forest and rainforest from Cooktown to Gladstone.

Article by Nadia Joyce


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