Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Ti Kouka - NZ Icon

Ti Kouka is so photograph-able, it is most probably the plant I have taken hundreds of pics of. This tall, up to 17m New Zealand icon holds a special piece of all our hearts, instantly recognized and now grown in many gardens overseas.

This special emblem of Aotearoa can be found growing throughout the country. Ti Kouka or Cordyline australis is a tall palm-like tree with dark green strappy leaves that blow in the wind like a wild woman`s hair, then drop to the ground becoming the bain of every NZ child`s lawn mowing days as they ( the leaves) have a habit of stopping the mower if run over !
In flower now, the scent is nice, not over-powering but distinctive - when out walking you smell it before you see the tree ! Bees love it, the single Ti in my garden is covered in honey bees every day right through to mid December.

This plant is not a tree, it belongs to the Lomandraceae family, is often called a Tree Lily with its tall trunk, not a woody trunk but one with phloem and xylem, no cambium, a monocot. The leaves are large and long-lived, with many parallel veins and a broad leaf base that wraps around the stem. Ti will grow in most places, often creating a dense forest in swampy areas or to be seen as a lonely figure growing in a paddock, its companions cut down or dead. Called Cabbage Tree by early settlers as the white `heart` of the plant can be cooked and eaten, tastes similar to cabbage apparently. Maori believe that a large early flowering means a long summer ahead. Old Ti are often hollow with one specimen growing up north large enough to house a gum digger, chimney and all !

Ti Kouka has been the subject of many NZ stories and poetry, one of my favorites being `The Wild Bees` by James K Baxter . . .
Often in summer on a tarred bridge plank standing
Or downstream between willows, a safe Ophelia drifting
In a rented boat - I had seen them come and go,
Those wild bees swift as tigers, their gauze wings a-glitter
In passionless industry, clustering black at the crevice
Of a rotten cabbage tree, where their hive was hidden.

Baxter also wrote : I hope they`ll plant me in
The kind of hole they dig for horses
Under a hilltop cabbage tree.

The wonderful `Dancing Leaves - the story of New Zealand`s cabbage tree, ti kouka` by Philip Simpson, is one of my books that I pick up often, a wonderful social and ecological history of this much loved native plant.


Marilyn said...

Yesterday Jeff and I walked the Coast to Coast in Auckland (I have just posted it0 and we saw so many flowering Ti Kouka, especially in the Auckland Domain, and enjoyed their beautiful perfume but weren't able to photograph them as they were so tall!
Your photos are wonderful.

Joan said...

All the flowering trees and plants around the lake has had me sneezing! Wonderful photos.