Despite its name, the Hawaiian Ti plant, or Cordyline, actually does not originate in Hawaii. It is believed to be native to Southeast Asia and Papua New Guinea, later transported around the Pacific Islands, where it was used as a source of food by early Polynesians. Currently, the plant also grows in the wild in Australia, Hawaii, and the islands of the Pacific. Hawaiians have found many used for the plant since its introduction, including using the leaves to make up a hula skirt and to make covers for surfboards.
Though they thrive outside, Hawaiian Ti plants also make excellent houseplants as they are easy to grow and take care of. Known for their vibrant colors, Hawaiian Ti plants come in a range of colors, with leaves varying from shades of green to purple, red, pink, yellow, and white. Some varieties also produce fragrant flowers and berries.
Cordyline plants, commonly known as Ti plants, are often confused with Dracaena plants, as both types of plant are sometimes labeled and sold as Ti plants. The most popular variety of Ti plant used as a houseplant is the Cordyline terminalis, though this is frequently mislabeled and sold as Cordyline fruticosa, or Dracaena terminalis. Similarly, the Dracaena fragrans is also sometimes sold to consumers under the label of ‘Ti plant,’ as they both look very similar in appearance.
It’s important to distinguish exactly which type of plant you have, as they will have various needs and requirements in terms of care. The simplest way to identify whether your plant is a Cordyline or Dracaena is checking the roots. A true Cordyline will have white roots, while the Dracaena plant will have orange or yellow roots.
|Common Names||palm lily, cabbage tree, good luck plant, Hawaiian ti plant, baby doll ti, ti leaf|
|Maximum Growth||10 ft|
|Ideal Temperature||65-80º F|
|Varieties||27 recognized varieties exist, including Cordyline minalis, and Cordyline fruticosa|
|Light||Brightly lit areas|
|Watering||Enjoys consistently moist soil, water frequently|
|Repotting||Every two years when young, every four years when mature|
|Humidity||Enjoys high humidity|
|Toxic||Poisonous to cats and dogs|
|Pests||Spider mites and thrips|
How to Care for Your Hawaiian Ti Plant
The Hawaiian Ti plant likes to be kept in continually moist soil, though will need less frequent watering during the winter. Rather than watering little and often, water deeply during growth periods in order to maintain a damp soil and prevent it from drying out. In winter, be careful to avoid overwatering and allow the soil to dry out between each watering during colder months. Use a well-draining pot to ensure waterlogged soil does not occur, which can result in root rot. The Hawaiian Ti plant can be harmed by fluoride, so collect rainwater to water your plant if you live in an area where high levels of fluoride are present in your tap water.
If you have planted your Hawaiian Ti plant outside, then it will benefit from a mix of shade and bright direct light. However, when grown as a houseplant, the Hawaiian Ti plant enjoys bright light, out of direct sunlight. The exception to this is green leafed varieties, which thrive in direct light. Other colors of Hawaiian Ti plant can suffer burn on their leaves when in direct light, so if your plant lives on a windowsill, be sure to filter the light with curtains or window blinds.
As a tropical plant, the Hawaiian Ti plant enjoys high levels of humidity. To replicate this inside, frequently mist your plant with a water misting spray bottle. Another way to create humidity is to place the plant pot on a tray of pebbles surrounded by water. As the water evaporates, it will create a more humid environment for the plant. Alternatively, use an electric humidifier. Although Hawaiian Ti plants thrive best in humid atmospheres, they will do just fine in lower levels of humidity as long as the air is not very dry.
This plant does well with temperatures ranging from 65-80º F (College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources- University of Hawaii). It will struggle if the temperature drops below 60º F and should be kept away from cold draughts. If you keep your plant on a windowsill or near an external doorway, make sure your move it to a more protected area during colder seasons so as not to let it get too cold.
Use a fertilizer high in nitrogen for the Hawaiian Ti plant. A half strength solution should be fed once every two weeks while the plant is in the growing season. It is not necessary to feed the plant outside of growing season.
Propagation of the Hawaiian Ti plant is usually successful and can be achieved by using stem cuttings. Cut a stem from a mature plant to about 3 to 5 inches and remove all of the leaves. Plant the stem cutting in the sand and heat it from the underneath to a temperature of at least 62º F. Shoots will grow from the stems eyes and turn into leaves. When a handful of shoots have appeared on the stem cutting, it is time to replant it in potting soil. To encourage growth, you could use rooting hormone on the stem cutting; however, this is not necessary for successful propagation.
This plant also grows well from seed, which should be sown during the warmer part of spring. Start seeds in a propagator, moving the plant to a bright spot once the weather heats up. They can be potted up individually as soon as the seedlings are large enough to handle manually. The young seedlings should spend winter in a greenhouse or on a bright windowsill, ready to be planted outside or in pots when the next spring arrives.
Hawaiian Ti plants are capable of growing up to 10 feet, though this is usually too tall for a houseplant. If you are growing your Ti plant inside, you can trim back the stem to your desired height. Trimming the plant will also help give it a fuller appearance. Aside from trimming the height, Ti plants do not need to be pruned, aside from removing the occasional dead leaf or flower. You can also prune if you become unhappy with the look of the plant, in which case, you can thin out the leaves of the plant if it becomes too wild looking. For outdoor Ti plants, remove any leaves or stems which have suffered from winter damage.
The Hawaiian Ti plant sometimes produces flowers, and more commonly when grown outside. The flowers appear in clusters in shades of pink or white and are very fragrant. The flowers are quite small, usually around half an inch in width. The plant also produces fruit in the form of red berries.
While the plant is in its early years, it will need to be repotted once every two years, once the roots have filled the current pot. Carefully remove the plant from its current pot and place into a slightly bigger pot where it will have more growing room, and cover the roots in a light loam-based soil. Once the plant reaches maturity, it will need to be repotted less frequently, around every four years. During the time in between repotting, you can also change the topsoil in the plant pot to maintain the health of the plant.
If you wish to grow your Hawaiian Ti plant outside, plant it during spring so that it has enough time to become strong before winter approaches. To plant in the ground, dig a hole roughly twice the width of the root ball and add some compost to sit the plant on. To ensure good drainage, you could add some horticultural grit, as the Ti plant does not like to sit in wet soil. Place the plant in the hole, cover it over with soil, and water fairly heavily. Once mature, the plant should do well without too much attention and will not need any physical support to steady it.
If planting in a container pot outside, use compost that is loam based, and a horticultural grit to aid in good drainage (University of Illinois Extension).
For Hawaiian Ti plants living outside, it may be necessary to provide some winter care to help protect them from winter damage. Collect the leaves upward and secure together using a soft fabric. This will protect the leaves from harsh winds and will also prevent water from sitting on the crown of the plant and rotting. In especially cold areas with little shelter, you may want to wrap the plant up in fleece. This will help to prevent damage from frost or snow. If your Ti plant is in a container pot, you should move it indoors or to a greenhouse during colder months. If this is not possible, wrap the plant in fleece and shelter it against a wall or fence to help protect it from winter damage.
There are many varieties of the Cordyline, which all fall into the category of Ti plant. Some of the most popular are listed below.
Cordyline australis- ‘Red Star’
This plant features long burgundy sword-like leaves and enjoys lower humidity and dry conditions. When grown outside, it produces small white flowers. This Ti plant works particularly well outside in planters and suits a minimalist style garden display.
Cordyline pumilio- ‘Dwarf cabbage tree’
Unsurprisingly, this Ti plant is one of the smallest varieties, growing up to a maximum of around three feet. It originates in New Zealand and is grown primarily as a food crop for its ability to add sweetness to foods.
Cordyline Electric Pink
This striking pink plant was produced from a mutation of another Ti plant, the Cordyline banksii. It is extremely popular in outdoor gardens because it is very tolerant of an array of conditions, able to survive even extreme temperatures once matured. The vivid pink leaves make this plant an ideal centerpiece in the design of a garden, adding color to the landscape all year round.
The leaves of this Ti plant are pink and yellow-streaked.
This plant features leaves with white and pink spots.
This plant’s leaves are streaked with bold splashes of pink, green, and yellow.
This plant features pale veins and leaves in a purple/red color. It is also sometimes called the Red Dracaena.
The Hawaiian Ti plant is poisonous to dogs and cats when ingested. It contains toxins called saponins, which can result in symptoms such as vomiting, lack of appetite, and low mood. If you become aware that your pet has eaten some Ti plant, take them to a vet quickly for evaluation, where the animal may need medication to help them recover. Though the plant can produce unpleasant symptoms when ingested, it is not known to be fatal.
The plant is not toxic to humans and can be eaten when cooked.
Spots can appear on the leaves of Ti plants when they are stressed or have been physically damaged. When living outside, this usually happens as a result of cold wind, snow, or heavy rain. To prevent this, you may need to bring potted Ti plants inside for the winter months or provide some winter protection outside with temporary shelter or covers.
Leaf Drop/ Yellow or Brown Leaves
Ti plants suffering from foliage discoloration or leaf drop is usually a result of improper growing conditions. As a jungle plant, they prefer warmer temperatures and high humidity, though too much heat will cause similarly troublesome conditions. If your Hawaiian Ti plant is suffering from these symptoms, try to increase the humidity with regular misting sprays or by using a humidifier, especially in dry seasons. You may also find that your Ti plant struggles to grow if it does not experience good levels of humidity or if it is allowed to get too cold or wet during winter.
This condition occurs in outdoors Ti plants following a particularly bad winter, producing a foul-smelling, slimy liquid. The problem is caused by two things: initially, frost damage can cause ice to form in the stem and root vessels, which results in damage to the tissue. The damage then provides entryways for the second problem, bacteria. Bacteria, which usually lives harmlessly in nearby soil, access the plant through the frost wounds. When spring comes around the sap in the plant rises, it becomes fermented by the bacteria, and bacterial slime flux sets in.
Young Ti plants are at most risk from frost damage, though it has been known for frost to destroy mature Hawaiian Ti plants beyond repair. To identify frost damage, look for rotting on the stem of the plant where frost has invaded the tissue. The center of the plant where leaves grow from can also become brown and rotten. Another sign of frost damage is a pile of fallen leaves on the ground surrounding your Ti plant, along with floppy and wilting leaves.
Slime flux is even easier to spot, with an oozing, smelly liquid appearing on the stem of the plant. The liquid may be orange in color and can create patches of black staining on the stem.
There is no cure for bacterial slime flux, though, fortunately, it is rarely a death sentence for the Ti plant. If your plant falls victim to slime flux, you can scrub away the slime to try to reduce the smell and help with the appearance of the plant, though there is nothing you can do to remove the slime completely without cutting down the plant. If the slime is severe, you may wish to prune the plant right back down to its trunk, allowing it to regrow in the summer. Depending on the positioning of the slime, it may be necessary to cut the plant back down to ground level, where new shoots should sprout in late summer (Royal Horticultural Society).
Protection from frost damage is your best bet to prevent slime flux from reoccurring. Collect your Ti plant’s leaves up to the center in an umbrella-like fashion, and cover the whole plant with several layers of fleece fabric. This should help to prevent frost damage during exceptionally cold months, but it is not a failsafe solution.
The Hawaiian Ti plant is quite resilient against pests, though it sometimes falls victim to spider mites and thrips. Spider mites are hard to identify as they are incredibly tiny, and it is often only possible to know the plant has spider mites by spotting their webs. Spider mites will suck the sap from the Ti plant, resulting in discoloration on the leaves. To remove spider mites, use a strong stream of water to spray them away, and maintain a regular watering schedule.
Thrips can also be a problem for Hawaiian Ti plants, as they suck the sap, resulting in discolored, scarred leaves, and sometimes, stunted growth. Thrips are harder to treat and may require the use of an insecticidal spray after cutting off badly affected areas of the plant. Alternatively, for outdoors Ti plants, introduce beneficial predators to the area, such as ladybirds, which will help control the thrip population.
Thank you for reading, and good luck with your Hawaiian Ti plant! Comment below with any thoughts or questions.