Piwakawaka Mini Te Mära Reo ~ The Language Garden
* [Proto-Polynesian, from Proto Malayo-Polynesian *siRi]


Cordyline species [a generic term, with individual species identified by a qualifying word or a separate name]. (Agavaceae)

Other inherited names: köpuapua, mauka, possibly Töï (see separate pages)



This is a name which was carried over the Wallace Line from the Philippines into the Western Pacific and ultimately to the northern and southern extremes of Polynesia, along with plants of the much-esteemed Tï-pore, Cordyline fruticosa. It almost certainly reached Easter Island too, but unfortunately neither the name nor the plants survived there.

There are five indigenous species of tï in Aotearoa and two species that have long been cultivated here: Cordyline fruticosa which was brought by the first Polynesian settlers, and Cordyline rubra, which was a very early introduction, possibly also by Maori, in this case returning from visits to Australia in the early 19th Century (the New Zealand Plant Conservation Network database refers to this species as "Probably horticultural - however it arrived here rather early in New Zealand's recorded history. It is possibly partly indigenous.")

It was only recently that I discovered, thanks to a specialist at the Auckland museum, that plants which we had carried carefully in turn to our homes in Wellington, Auckland and the Waikato from our family property in Russell, thinking they were remnants of C. fruticosa, were in fact C. rubra (with which they are easily confused, but true C. fruticosa have wider leaves). We also have plants of this species from old-established groves on Waiheke Island and from abandoned Maori settlements in the Auckland area. Despite its having formerly been widely cultivated in the North, apparently very few plants descended from the original Polynesian introductions survive.

The indigineous species, with their Mäori names (some of which almost certainly refer to particular varieties), are:

Cordyline australis (tï-käuka, tï-köuka, tï-awe, kiokio, kiokio tüpare, tï-para, tï-pua, tï-räkau, tï-whanake). This iconic tree ultimately grows up to 20 metres in height with a trunk up to 1.5 metres through. It is found naturally on the margins of forest and around swamps, and also colonizes clearings. The masses of beautifully scented flowers are borne in late spring and summer. There are plenty of them in Te Mära Reo, although none yet approach a metre in girth!

Cordyline banksii (tï-ngahere, hauora, tï-kapu, tï-ngahere, tï-pärae, tï-torere, turuki). This is the forest cabbage tree, found along forest margins and also among rocks in places where there is a high rainfall. It grows to about 4 metres, and often has multiple trunks. We have quite a few locally-sourced seedlings in the Mära Reo, but none have yet (October 2009) developed trunks.

Cordyline indivisa (töi, tï-kapu, tï-kupenga, tï-mataku-tai). This beautiful tree with its leaves up to 2 metres long and 15 centimetres wide grows to 8 metres or so high, generally unbranched. Its flowers are born in tightly-packed panicles, almost like bunches of bananas. It is a plant of the mountains, luxuriating in rich soils in areas where there is a lot of rain and mist.

Cordyline pumilio (tï-koraha, mauku, köpuapua, korokio, tï-rauriki). This is a small grass-like plant, although old plants may have a very slim trunk up to a metre high. It flowers profusely, like most of the other tï, bearing its strongly scented flowers in long, open panicles. It is found in open forest and scrubland from the Waikato and Bay of Plenty north.

Cordyline kaspar (). This is the Kermadec Island tï; it grows to 4 metres high with a short trunk and many branches.

The young shoots, roots, and the inner part of the trunk of all these species can be prepared for eating, but the root of the Ti-pore, C. fruticosa, was particularly esteemed because of its high sugar content.

There are numerous proverbs referring to the tï, especially because of its ability to regenerate from the base or a chip off the trunk after it has been cut down. Elsdon Best quotes several of them in his Forest Lore of the Mäori (p. 87):

He uru a kï, he uru tï, e pihi ake.
A grove of words, a grove of tï, both shoot up. (That is, be careful what you say, your words may take off on their own!)
Ka whati te tï, ka wana te tï, ka rito te tï.
The tï is broken off, the tï puts out new shoots, the tï regains its crown. (Mead & Grove [#1214] interpret this as a comment on inevitability, contrasting the vulnerability of people with the resilience of the tï.)

Ehara i te tï e wana ake.
It's not as if he's a tï that will sprout again. (A reason for mourning the dead)



Ti koukaTï-kouka (Cordyline banksii)

Ti kouka inflorescenceTï-kouka inflorescence

PPN: * Cordyline spp (Agavaceae)
Mäori Reflex: (Cordyline spp.)

Tongan: Sï (Cordyline fruticosa)
Niuean: Tï (C. fruticosa)
Samoan: Tï (Cordyline spp.)
Tahitian: Tï (Root of C. fruticosa)
Marquesan: Tï (Cordyline spp.)
Hawaiian: Kï (C. terminalis)
Tuamotuan: Tï (C. fruticosa)
Rarotongan: Tï (C fruticosa)

Note: The botanical classification of this plant has become controversial in recent years. See the page for the Proto-Polynesian source word (link at the top of this page) for more information.

C rubraTï (Cordyline rubra )
[The flower behind is a Camellia!]

Ti kouka inflorescenceC rubra inflorescence developing (late October)




Source of photographs: Te Mära Reo.



Hue flower

Te Mära Reo, c/o Benton Family Trust, "Tumanako", RD 1, Taupiri, Waikato 3791, Aotearoa / New Zealand
Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 New Zealand License.