The Ti Plant
Pronounced “tea”, but it’s not the tea the English drink – that tea plant that is a camellia. Cordyline fruticosa is the scientific name of an evergreen flowering big leaved plant in the Asparagus family, also called: good luck plant, palm lily, ti plant, Kī.
Growing up to 15 ft tall, typically with leaves 12–24 in at the top of a fibrous stem. It produces long bunches of small scented yellowish to red flowers that mature into red berries. 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.
Ti is a “canoe plant” spread from its native range to Hawaii by Polynesian settlers. Its starchy roots are very sweet when mature, and eaten as food, made into candy or as medicine, and the leaves were used to thatch the roofs of houses.
Ti “Mana” In Old Hawaii
In ancient Hawaiʻi the plant was thought to have great spiritual power (mana); 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. Ancient Hawaiians also believed that the leaves had 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.
Still popular in Hawaii for many uses:
- Hawaiian hula skirts
- To wrap up the traditional offerings, gifts and to carry things
- Wrapping steamed foods such as Lau Lau (which you can buy in most big stores and stands in Hawaii)
- Disposable plates and to serve food on
- Leis, especially for men and at sporting events
- Property corner markers in rural areas
- People in rural Hawaii still plant tī near their houses to bring good luck
- Ti is a popular ornamental plant, with numerous colors, sizes and forms available, it’s well known in Southern California as a landscape plant
- Tī rhizomes are sometimes still fermented and distilled to make okolehao, a potent liquor