36 / Cabbage Tree

Cordyline australis

The cabbage tree is one of New Zealand’s most familiar trees, and was known by Māori as tī. It is found throughout New Zealand, growing in swamps, beside rivers and on open plains. It has a slender trunk and, at its head, a mass of sword-shaped leaves up to 1m long. Māori used the long root of the tree as a source of food. When the Endeavour was at Tolaga Bay in October 1769, James Cook reported such a tree was ‘cut down for the sake of the Cabbage’, and the ship’s artist, Sydney Parkinson, also recorded that the ‘cabbage’ of the tree ‘ate well boiled’. Since the 1980s a large number of cabbage trees have died as a result of disturbed or modified habitats, making the trees susceptible to parasitic bacteria spread by sap-sucking insects.

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