Here’s a hardy ornamental for the home garden that rates high on the eco-garden list. I’m referring to the ti plant (Cordyline terminalis), which is highly esteemed for its foliage with striking hues of red, yellow, green and blue.
Many nurseries in Costa Rica use the name ti, though it’s also popularly called caña india. This name is used for many of the dracaenas, which are close relatives to the ti plant. However, ti plants have distinctive stems with clasping petioles that cling to the trunk of the plant.
Borne on long panicles among the leaves, the pastel flowers look like small, violet and yellow lilies and have a pleasant fragrance and appearance. These plants have a tendency to form an upright shrub, though older specimens become gangly and bend toward the ground.
Ti plants are most often used to enhance a tropical landscaping effect. They are best set in foundation arrangements or large pots, as single standing specimens or under larger trees, as they are very shade-tolerant.
In fact, their colors are enhanced in shady habitats.
It’s interesting to note that the ti plant originated in eastern Asia and the Polynesian Islands. It has deep cultural roots in Hawaii, where it’s known as ki and is planted around homes to bring good luck and ward off evil spirits. The plant’s leaves are also used for thatching, rain gear, clothing, wrapping for food and fodder for livestock, and the roots for food and beverages.
Renowned botanist Henry Pittier, who classified many of Costa Rica’s plants in 1908, did not include the ti plant, which leads me to believe this plant was a rather late arrival to the country. Perhaps it arrived decades later with the banana companies.
Propagating ti plants is simple. Stem cuttings 10 to 20 centimeters long can be planted in pots or plastic nursery bags or even planted directly in the soil in their permanent sites. Kids enjoy the magic of starting plants from cuttings; you can use recycled plastic cups and gain a “three Rs” lesson all in one.
Ti plants do well in a wide range of soils, though rich, fertile loam encourages the best growth. They require no water in the dry season, nor chemical fertilizers or insecticides.
All you need is compost, which is easily made at home from organic kitchen and yard waste.Compost can change hard, red clay soil into dark, soft brown soil, or sandy soil into a brown sandy loam.
Nurseries carry a wide variety of ti plants, but it’s also fun to check around the neighborhood and beg a cutting or two from a neighbor – why, you can even trade at times. Who knows? It may even bring a little luck your way.