Cordyline australis, or Cabbage Palm comes from New Zealand. In its natural habitat it can grow up to 20 meters tall with a trunk of 1.5 to 2 meters wide. They are very common in San Francisco. Unfortunately they are often misplanted; too close to foundations, too close to walls, too close to retaining walls, in small spaces where they eventually get too big.
They tend to get very dense and bushy as you can see from the “before” shot below. For that reason they offer birds a protective habitat to nest. On several occasions I have had to halt pruning these trees because of nesting birds. It may be a better to wait until fall or winter when baby birds have most likely left the nest.
The flowers appear in panicles about 2-3 feet long. The have a sweet aroma and attract bees and other insects. Birds love the fruit. The spent flower stalks are persistent on the tree and look ugly. They should be removed for aesthetic reasons.
There are also many different cultivars. Cordyline australis is one of the most cultivated New Zealand trees. It is all over Europe, England, and the United States. They are often used poolside or for tropical effect.
“Red Star” is a favorite for gardens in San Francisco and the Bay Area.
The Cabbage Tree was used by the Maori as food, medicine, and fibre. Check out the Wikipedia page on Cordyline australis for more detail on its many uses and its fascinating history.