Collecting the folklore and uses of plants

Cabbage palm

Cabbage palm, Cordyline australis (or Dracaena australis, the name favoured by the Royal Horticultural Society)  is a hardy tree native to New Zealand which was introduced to Britain in 1823.  It is now widely grown, particularly in coastal areas throughout almost all of Britain and Ireland, apart from the far north of Scotland.  In recent years planted trees have shown an increasing tendency to produce seedlings.

Despite its name, cabbage palm does not belong to the Palm Family, Arecaceae, but is a member of the Asparagus Family, Asparagaceae.  The ‘cabbage’ part of the name seems to refer to Maoris eating the growing tips of the plant, either raw, or cooked as a vegetable.

Various parts of the British Isles have claimed cabbage palm as their ‘palm’, thus local names include Manx palm, and particularly Torquay, or Torbay, palm.  With the promotion of the Torbay area, which includes the coastal towns of Brixham, Paignton and Torquay, as the English Riviera, numerous cabbage palms were planted in local parks and public gardens, and a silhouette of the tree was selected as an emblem of the resort.  According to a report in The Times of 16 May 1991, Torbay’s Recreation Director ‘accepted fully’ that the Torbay palm ‘is not really  true palm in the botanical sense’, but it had been ‘adopted’ in the 1960s and its use of as the town’s logo had been ‘very successful’.  ‘To make a change would, apart from being an embrassing climbdown, cause problems for the mini-industry that the tree … has inspired, including the Torbay Palm Farm, which sells thousands of seedlings each year to people wanting a memento of Torbay’s benign climate in their gardens’.

Images:  main and middle inset, Torquay, Devon, November 2018; centre inset, postcard purchased June 2002; lower inset ‘Manx palm’, Douglas, Isle of Man, September 2023.

Updated 18 September 2023.