Cordyline fruticosa is an evergreen flowering plant in the Asparagus family, Asparagaceae, known by a wide variety of common names, including cabbage palm, good luck plant, palm lily, ti plant, Kī, Lā‘ī (Hawaiian), Tī Pore (Māori), Sī (Tongan), Lauti (Samoan), and ʻAutī (Tahitian).
Formerly treated in the families Agavaceae and Laxmanniaceae (now both subfamilies of the Asparagaceae in the APG III system), it is a woody plant growing up to 4 m (13 ft) tall, with leaves 30–60 cm (12–24 in) (rarely 75 cm or 30 in) long and 5–10-centimetre (2.0–3.9 in) wide at the top of a woody stem. It produces 40–60-centimetre (16–24 in) long panicles of small scented yellowish to red flowers that mature into red berries.
It is native to tropical southeastern Asia, Papua New Guinea, Melanesia, northeastern Australia, the Indian Ocean, and parts of Polynesia. It is not native to either Hawaii or New Zealand but was introduced to both by Polynesian settlers.
The species was spread from its native range throughout Polynesia as a cultivated plant. Its starchy rhizomes, which are very sweet when the plant is mature, were eaten as food or as medicine, and its leaves were used to thatch the roofs of houses, and to wrap and store food. The plant or its roots are referred to in most Polynesian languages as tī. Māori ranked the sweetness of the plant above the other Cordyline species native to New Zealand.
Leaves were also used to make items of clothing including skirts worn in dance performances. The Hawaiian hula skirt is a dense skirt with an opaque layer of at least 50 green leaves and the bottom (top of the leaves) shaved flat. The Tongan dance dress, the sisi, is an apron of about 20 leaves, worn over a tupenu, and decorated with some yellow or red leaves (see picture at Māʻuluʻulu).
In Vanuatu, Cordyline leaves, known locally by the Bislama name nanggaria, are worn tucked into a belt in traditional dances, with different varieties having particular symbolic meanings. Cordylines are often planted outside nakamals.
In ancient Hawaiʻi the plant was thought to have great spiritual power; only kahuna (high priests) and aliʻi (chiefs) were able to wear leaves around their necks during certain ritual activities. Tī leaves were also used to make lei, and to outline borders between properties it was also planted at the corners of the home to keep ghosts from entering the home or property (for which its alternative name: terminalis). To this day some Hawaiians plant tī near their houses to bring good luck. The leaves are also used for lava sledding. A number of leaves are lashed together and people ride down hills on them. Ancient Hawaii also believe that the leaves has a medicinal use as antiseptic and diuretic.
The roots of the tī plant were used as a glossy covering on surfboards in Hawaii in the early 1900s.
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