Friday, September 9, 2011

Random plant event: Cordyline fruticosa

My huge green Cordyline fruticosa should have died this summer. I got fed up with it last winter -- no matter how far from all the other plants, no matter how careful I am to wash down the leaves when watering, no matter how cool and moist the environment, it still always gets spider mites, every winter, and I've gotten sick of dealing with them. So this spring, I put it outside.

The goal wasn't necessarily to kill it. I just wanted to get it away from the other plants, so the mites wouldn't spread. It had spent a summer outside before, so I figured it could handle it. On the other hand, there was something a little passive-aggressive about my method: I didn't try to gradually acclimate it to the new conditions. I just shoved it out there and let it fend for itself. Then I "forgot" to water it, even though we weren't getting very much rain. It responded the way you'd expect: first it sunburned, then it (partly) defoliated, and by mid-August I was ready to throw it out.

So we moved it to the back yard (there's a pile where we're dumping plant-related waste, soil, lawn clippings, etc. It's not quite a compost pile, because we're not trying to manage it like a compost pile, but we do expect it to break down into soil eventually.), but then for whatever reason it didn't get dumped. And since it was closer to the garden hose, it got watered when I thought of it.

(27 August 2011) Sorry about the shadows. I didn't realize the photo would turn out quite this crappily.

And then the damn plant started to grow new shoots from its base. Apparently it had been living off the stored water and starch in the swollen rhizome at its base all summer because I wasn't watering it properly. Then we got some rain besides, so suddenly it's ready to grow again.

(5 September 2011)

And I guess it'll get the chance. I get frustrated with C. fruticosa because of the spider mites (I gave up on the other Cordylines at the end of June), but I really like it otherwise, and if it's just the one plant, and it's growing lots of new stems at once . . . well, I'm not made of stone. I've cut back the old stems, and the Cordyline can stay for another year, as long as it behaves itself. No doubt I'll regret this decision next February, but it's not like I have to kill it now or I forever lose the chance, right?


Liza said...

I admire the little guy's enthusiasm, but it's hard to battle spider mites all the time. Kudos to you for being a good human!

Jeff said...

I just successfully rooted a cutting from one of these. I had in a homemade "greenhouse", and noticed it had actually worked. Tried many times to propagate this, but it never worked.

Had it growing in a nice south window, and one of my cats decided to take a bite out of the new leaves.

I've had my parent plant outside every summer for 4 years, but luckily never had a problem with spider mites.

photalgio said...

I've also brought out both my 'Kiwi' (dehydrated) and 'Mambo' (spider mites) not expecting them to survive. The cut-back Kiwi has two shoots now. The Mambo did sunburn as expected but continued to produce leaves. I'm planning to restart both in LECA while it's still warm hoping the wetter medium will discourage mites.

Good luck with yours!

Anonymous said...


For the mealy bugs and other problems in the wonderful world of gesneriads, we use a systemic, called Marathon. Perhaps there is a spider mite systemic out there that you could apply now that the growth is new. I would put on a bit more than the instructions say, and water it in well. Reapply in a month or two. Perhaps you will have then eradicated them. Whenever I transplant or make cuttings I use the systemic and have NO more pests. Might that work for you here?

Your Stimulus Package (Seattle)

mr_subjunctive said...

Your Stimulus Package (Seattle):

The pesticide in Marathon (imidacloprid) doesn't work against spider mites, and I'm not aware of any systemics that do. I could spray routinely with neem oil, which is effective against spider mites, except that C. fruticosa is very sensitive to all horticultural oils (leaf shiner, neem, certain other "natural" anti-mite products). In the past, whenever I've sprayed a C. fruticosa with neem, it's responded by dropping a substantial percentage of its leaves. So pre-emptive spraying can't work in this case.

Since I'm always bringing in new plants, which are pre-infested with mites often enough to keep a small but stable mite population in the house year-round, really it's probably easiest to just not try to grow plants that mites find especially appealing. I've already given up on Hedera helix, Codiaeum variegatum, Alocasia/Colocasia, Brugmansia/Datura, Hibiscus rosa-sinensis, and Dracaena thalioides. If I weren't so fond of C. fruticosa, I would have given up on it already too.

Cathy said...

No wonder it grew back! The Good Luck Palm is known for it's survivability, otherwise it wouldn't have made jungles in the islands. :)

You know, when I planted one in my garden I didn't know about how useful this tree is - I only took it for a decoration plant. Then my aunt (who had visited Hawaii) saw it, and and went like "So you want to knit hula skirts now?" She always thinks one must do something for a purpose. Anyway, I took it a funny jibe first, but then dug in the net and found out that actually this is the plant whose leaves were used in making the original hula skirts! Also, the natives of Polynesia used various portions of this plant for medicinal purposes. Even the roots were used for surfing in Hawaii, I don't know how.