Cordyline australis, also known as a cabbage palm or cabbage tree, is an evergreen perennial species that has evergreen, long, spiky, foliage. Because the species grows well in containers, it is a popular choice for patio or indoor growing in pots. After reaching maturity, Cordyline australis plants will produce white flowers with a pleasant fragrance, which also attract pollinators such as bees.
Two of the most popular types of Cordyline australis are the ‘Red Sensation’ and ‘Red Star’ varieties. These two varieties have much in common but can be differentiated by a few unique features.
This article will explore some of the major similarities and differences between the ‘Red Sensation’ and the ‘Red Star.’ Before we discuss their features in greater detail, here are some of the characteristics that the two share.
- Both have reddish-colored foliage that grows outwards in all directions to form a starburst shape
- Both produce fragrant white flowers, which are attractive to pollinators, such as bees
- Both grow well in containers or outside in USDA Hardiness Zones 9-11
- Both have long, spiky leaves that look like swords
However, there are also a number of ways in which the ‘Red Sensation’ and ‘Red Star’ can be differentiated from each other. This article compares and contrasts the two so that you will know their histories, differences in appearance, and ideal growing environments. Let’s learn more about these two types of Cordyline australis, also known as the cabbage palm now!
Comparing Cordyline ‘Red Sensation’ and Cordyline ‘Red Star’
|Characteristic||Cordyline ‘Red Sensation’||Cordyline ‘Red Star’|
|Scientific Name||Cordyline australis ‘Red Sensation’||Cordyline australis ‘Red Star’|
|Common Name||Cabbage palm, cabbage tree, giant dracaena||Red star cabbage palm, cabbage tree, giant dracaena, red grass palm|
|Origin||New Zealand||New Zealand|
|Description of Plant||The ‘Red Sensation’ variety has striking dark red or burgundy-colored leaves. In the early summer, the ‘Red Sensation’ plant will blossom with white flowers that bloom on the top of the stems and have a pleasant fragrance. The plant will reach a moderate size, growing to be 3 to 6 feet tall with a spread of 2 to 3 feet.||The ‘Red Star’ variety has variegated foliage. The sword-like leaves of ‘Red Star’ are a dark red or bronze color with white or cream-colored stripes. In the summer, ‘Red Star’ also produces sweet-smelling white flowers in the summer and berries in the fall. At maturity, ‘Red Star’ will reach 8 to 12 feet tall with a spread of 5 to 6 feet across.|
|Growing Conditions||Full sun or partial sun||Full sun or partial sun, typically more partial sun due to variegation|
|USDA Hardiness Zone(s)||9-11||9-11|
Descriptions of Cordyline ‘Red Sensation’ and ‘Red Star’
Cordyline australis, which also goes by the common names of cabbage palm, cabbage tree, and giant dracaena, is a perennial evergreen plant with spiky leaves. While both of these plants are often called dracaena or palm, it is not related to either of those species. Cordyline is a relative of Dracaena, but they are separate genera.
In North America, Cordyline plants are common ornamental plants grown indoors and outdoors, often in containers. Natively from New Zealand, Cordyline australis can now be found growing throughout much of the United States, particularly in parts of the west coast and southeast. This so-called cabbage tree can grow to be 20 to 30 feet tall when grown outdoors in USDA Hardiness Zones 9-11. However, it may also be grown in containers outdoors and inside. Even the plants grown in pots can reach a significant height of 10 to 15 feet when grown on a patio or a large space, depending on the variety.
The cabbage tree’s leaves are thin and spiky, reaching up to 3 feet in length but only a few (2 to 3) inches in width. The different varieties produce leaves in a variety of colors. In general, these sword-like leaves are green or grayish green in color, but certain varieties have leaves that can be red, purple, yellow, and white. In the spring and summer, outdoor plants will bloom with small white flowers, which bring a pleasant aroma. However, these characteristics can change depending on the distinct variety of Cordyline australis. Among these varieties, ‘Red Sensation’ and ‘Red Star’ are two favorites.
Cordyline ‘Red Sensation’ vs. ‘Red Star’: History
Cordyline australis is native to New Zealand. There, it grows to reach 20 to 30 feet tall and appears across the country. They thrive particularly well in wet, swampy areas. In New Zealand, the Cordyline australis is known as a cabbage tree. It is called one of the “most distinctive trees in the New Zealand landscape,” and is widely cultivated both in New Zealand and in other parts of the world.
Historians estimate that the cabbage tree was first domesticated in New Guinea, from which indigenous peoples transported Cordyline variants to islands across the Pacific. The Maori people cultivated the plant in New Zealand. However, with European colonization, it was eventually transported back to Europe and North America, where it gained great popularity in the United Kingdom and the United States of America. Since being introduced to the United States in the 1800s, it has become a common plant in states such as California, Florida, and many parts of the southeast.
Today, cabbage trees are popular among landscape architects because they are easy to care for, very tolerant to drought, and have robust root systems that can help rehabilitate eroding land. The ‘Red Star’ is one of the oldest types of cabbage tree.
Cordyline ‘Red Sensation’ vs. ‘Red Star’: Appearance
‘Red Sensation’ grows upright, with top leaves that grow straight, and lower leaves that branch out. ‘Red Sensation’ foliage grows in a dense cluster, but with maturity, the stem will form multiple branches, each of which form a head. In the spring and summer, the stems produce small, white flowers which have a sweet, pleasant fragrance. ‘Red Sensation’ tends to have wider leaves that are more purple in color compared to those of the ‘Red Star.’ Some growers have also reported more leaf spots on ‘Red Sensation’ than on ‘Red Star’ under certain circumstances.
The ‘Red Sensation’ variety has striking dark red or burgundy-colored leaves. In the early summer, the ‘Red Sensation’ plant will blossom with white flowers that bloom on the top of the stems and have a pleasant fragrance. These are followed by berries in the autumn season. The plant will reach a moderate size, growing to be 3 to 6 feet tall with a spread of 2 to 3 feet.
In contrast, the ‘Red Star’ variety tends to have lighter-colored variegated foliage. The sword-like leaves of ‘Red Star’ are a dark red or bronze color with white or cream-colored stripes. In the summer, ‘Red Star’ also produces sweet-smelling white flowers in the summer and berries in the fall. At maturity, ‘Red Star’ will reach 8 to 12 feet tall with a spread of 5 to 6 feet across. It grows as an erect shrub, with top leaves that grow straight up and lower leaves that droop toward the ground or grow parallel to the ground. Like the ‘Red Sensation,’ ‘Red Star’ grows in a cluster with leaves pointed in all directions, forming a starburst shape. The thin, woody stems can be singular or branch to have multiple heads of leaves. Like ‘Red Sensation,’ ‘Red Star’ produces fragrant, small white flowers followed by berries in the fall.
Cordyline ‘Red Sensation’ vs. ‘Red Star’: Growing Conditions
‘Red Sensation’ and ‘Red Star’ can grow under very similar conditions. Both may be grown outdoors or inside as a container plant. As a perennial plant, both may behave like an annual if they are not treated carefully during the colder winter months and brought indoors. When grown in a container, you should move both types of plants inside before they can be harmed by frost – otherwise, treat them as if they are annuals! In general, ‘Red Sensation’ and ‘Red Star’ varieties are low-maintenance and generally resistant to pests. However, with both varieties, potential pests can include mealybugs, spider mites, and scale. Plants grown inside are particularly susceptible to these, but they can be addressed through soap spray applied every week or two.
Growing ‘Red Sensation’
‘Red Sensation’ is a resilient Cordyline variety, which can be kept as a small indoor plant or be grown outdoors. ‘Red Sensation’ is drought-tolerant and resilient to changes in temperature, including low temperatures or heat. The plant has average water needs. You should water it regularly, but be careful to not over-water it. It can also grow well in soil that is acidic or mildly acidic, with a pH between 5.6 and 6.5.
Growing ‘Red Star’
‘Red Star’ grows best in dry climates with partial to full sun, getting at least 6 hours of sun daily. The ideal temperature for your ‘Red Star’ plant to thrive is at least 60 degrees Fahrenheit, though it may survive in temperatures as low as 40 degrees Fahrenheit or even colder drops into the 20s when the plant is mature. Like ‘Red Sensation,’ ‘Red Star’ is drought-tolerant, low-maintenance, and relatively easy to grow outdoors or inside in a pot. Outside, ‘Red Star’ grows in both dry and wet soils, but indoors, it should receive moderate amounts of water when the soil starts to become dry. Keep the plant in rich, well-draining soil that is mildly acidic, ideally with a pH between 6 and 6.5.
Because ‘Red Star’ will grow a long tap root, grow your plant in a large container with sufficient depth. This will allow the root to grow and keep the plant stable. In general, variegated cordyline plants tend to do better with more indirect light compared to other varieties.
Cordyline ‘Red Sensation’ vs. ‘Red Star’: Toxicity
Cordyline australis is considered to be toxic for animals. If you have a pet such as a cat or a dog, you may want to be cautious about bringing your ‘Red Sensation’ or ‘Red Star’ plant inside. While you may find that certain sprays can deter your pet from chewing on the plant, it would be detrimental to your pet’s health if they were to consume any part of the plant. If you believe that your cat or dog has eaten part of the plant, you should call a veterinarian immediately. You can also look for signs, such as vomiting or other digestive issues, dilated pupils (cats), or hypersalivation.
Cordyline ‘Red Sensation’ vs. ‘Red Star’: Uses
Historically, indigenous people in New Zealand used cabbage trees as a source of food and medicine. They ate the roots, stems, and tops of the Cordyline australis plant. The natural fibers from the plant could make textiles and items such as baskets and sandals. Cabbage trees were also known for having fire-resistant trunks that provided good wood for construction. Because of this, European arrivals to New Zealand used the trunks from cabbage trees as building materials. They also used the leaves for fire kindling. Both the indigenous Māori people and the European arrivals used elements of the plant for beverages such as tea and beer, with the Māori using the leaves to make medicinal tea and the Europeans brewing beer from the roots.
The Māori used the plants’ various parts to treat many different kinds of illnesses. For example, the tip of the plant could be eaten raw as a cleanser. Juice made from the leaves treated cuts and sores. Tea from the leaves could be used to treat digestive issues and diarrhea. The leaves were applied in a paste as a topical treatment or ointment. In addition to these uses for Cordyline australis, Cordyline fruticosa, a related species, was also used for a variety of other medical purposes.
These plants are also particularly useful for controlling soil erosion on hills and river banks, a use for which they are popularly cultivated today.
This article compares two varieties of Cordyline australis, a beautiful perennial with spiky, sword-like leaves that can add color and texture to your patio. Some of the most significant differences between the two come down to the color of the leaves, the height of the plant, and their resilience in different environments.
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- New Zealand Department of Conservation, Available here: https://www.doc.govt.nz/nature/native-plants/cabbage-tree-ti-kouka/#:~:text=The%20cabbage%20tree%20is%20one,up%20to%20a%20metre%20long.
- The Spruce, Available here: https://www.thespruce.com/grow-cordyline-indoors-1902747
- North Carolina Gardener Extension, Available here: https://plants.ces.ncsu.edu/plants/cordyline-australis/
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- Gardenia.net, Available here: https://www.gardenia.net/plant/cordyline-australis-red-sensation