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An evergreen tree up to 40 ft high with an erect trunk usually unbranched for several, often a good many, feet up, then forking into several, sometimes fairly numerous, equally erect branches, each crowned with a dense rounded head of leaves. The branching usually commences after the plant has reached the flowering stage. Leaves sword-shaped, 11⁄2 to 3 ft long, 1 to 21⁄2 in. wide; pointed, of hardish texture; the midrib is obscure but there are numerous parallel veins running lengthwise. The upper leaves are more or less erect, the lower ones drooping. Panicles terminal, either erect or somewhat pendulous, 2 to 4 ft long, half as much wide, repeatedly branched, the ultimate divisions being cylindrical racemes about 1⁄2 in. wide upon which the creamy white fragrant flowers, each 1⁄4 to 1⁄3 in. wide, are closely set. The six divisions of the perianth are narrow oblong; anthers yellow; berry white or bluish white, globose, 1⁄4 in. wide; seeds black. Bot. Mag., t. 5636.
Introduced in 1823 from New Zealand, where it is abundant on both islands and gives to their scenery one of its most characteristic features. In some of the gardens of Cornwall and W. Scotland it has also become familiar. So much is it at home there that numerous self-sown seedlings may often be seen. This is the case, for example, at Brodick in the Isle of Arran, where there are many trees, the tallest about 30 ft high. On the west coast of Scotland it grows as far north as Scourie, only 30 miles south of Cape Wrath. At Brodick specimens 10 ft high have been felled by mice, which eat out the pith in winter. Some of the best branched trees I have seen are in the public garden at Penzance. There appear to exist two forms of this cordyline which are differentiated by the persistence of the leaves. In one they drop cleanly away as they die, but in the other, after dying, they persist on the stem for many years, hanging down and hiding it. Whether this difference is merely an individual characteristic or is a racial one I do not know. At Kew all the various forms, some with variegated or reddish leaves, have to be given cool greenhouse treatment. The type itself is 40 ft high in the Temperate House and flowers annually.
Although it is only in the milder parts that this species really flourishes, quite healthy, slender-stemmed specimens are to be seen in the London suburbs. Two forms with purplish leaves are hardy in the National Trust garden at Hidcote in Gloucestershire.