What Is The Difference Between Cordyline And Phormium

Cordyline and Phormium are two popular ornamental plants often found in gardens and landscapes around the world. Known for their striking foliage and versatility, these plants add vibrant color and texture to outdoor spaces. While they may appear similar at first glance, Cordyline and Phormium have distinct characteristics that set them apart.

The primary difference between Cordyline and Phormium lies in their botanical features and environmental preferences. Cordyline typically has narrow, arching leaves with a central stem, whereas Phormium, or New Zealand flax, is recognized by its broader, sword-like leaves growing from the base. Additionally, Cordyline prefers warmer climates, while Phormium is more tolerant of cooler conditions.

Understanding the unique attributes of each plant can help gardeners make informed choices about which species to cultivate. Cordyline’s colorful foliage and tropical appeal make it a favorite in warmer regions, whereas Phormium’s robust nature and architectural form are ideal for cooler climates. Both plants offer aesthetic and practical benefits, enhancing the beauty and diversity of any landscape.

Overview of Cordyline

Description and General Characteristics

Cordyline is a genus of about 15 species of evergreen shrubs and trees known for their striking foliage. These plants are popular in tropical and subtropical regions for their vibrant colors and unique leaf shapes. Cordylines typically feature long, narrow leaves that can vary in color from green to red, pink, and purple. The leaves are often glossy and can have variegated patterns, adding to their visual appeal.

Cordylines are also known for their versatility. They can be grown as standalone specimens, in mixed borders, or as container plants. Their tropical appearance makes them a favorite in landscape design, providing a splash of color and a touch of the exotic to gardens and patios.

Origin and Natural Habitat

Cordylines are native to a range of regions, including Southeast Asia, New Zealand, and the Pacific Islands. They thrive in warm, humid climates and are often found in tropical forests, coastal areas, and mountainous regions. In their natural habitat, Cordylines grow as understory plants, benefiting from the dappled light provided by taller trees.

These plants are well-adapted to humid conditions and can tolerate a variety of soil types, provided they are well-draining. They prefer locations with ample rainfall but can also survive periods of drought once established.

Common Species and Varieties

Several species and varieties of Cordyline are commonly cultivated for ornamental purposes. Some of the most popular include:

  • Cordyline australis (Cabbage Tree): This species is native to New Zealand and is characterized by its tall, slender trunk and long, narrow leaves. It can grow up to 20 meters tall and is often used as a focal point in gardens.
  • Cordyline fruticosa (Ti Plant): Also known as the Good Luck Plant, this species is native to Southeast Asia and the Pacific Islands. It has broad, colorful leaves that can range from green to red, pink, and purple. The Ti Plant is often used in tropical landscaping and as a houseplant.
  • Cordyline terminalis (Hawaiian Ti Plant): This variety is similar to Cordyline fruticosa but is specifically native to Hawaii. It is known for its vibrant foliage and is commonly used in Hawaiian gardens and landscapes.

Overview of Phormium

Description and General Characteristics

Phormium, commonly known as New Zealand flax, is a genus of two species of perennial plants. These plants are renowned for their architectural form and robust nature. Phormium features long, sword-like leaves that grow in a fan shape from the base, creating a striking, upright appearance. The leaves can range in color from green to bronze, red, and even variegated forms.

Phormium plants are versatile and can be used in a variety of landscaping applications, from border plants to focal points in garden designs. They are particularly valued for their drought tolerance and low maintenance requirements, making them ideal for xeriscaping.

Origin and Natural Habitat

Phormium is native to New Zealand and Norfolk Island. In their natural habitat, these plants are typically found in coastal areas, wetlands, and riverbanks. They are well-adapted to a range of environmental conditions, including salty soils and high winds.

Phormium plants thrive in cooler climates and are known for their hardiness. They can tolerate frost and snow, making them suitable for regions with cold winters. Their ability to withstand harsh conditions has made them a popular choice in temperate gardens worldwide.

Common Species and Varieties

There are two main species of Phormium:

  • Phormium tenax (New Zealand Flax): This species is characterized by its tall, rigid leaves that can grow up to 3 meters long. It is often used in large-scale landscaping projects and can tolerate extreme environmental conditions.
  • Phormium cookianum (Mountain Flax): This species has shorter, more flexible leaves compared to Phormium tenax. It is often used in smaller gardens and containers due to its more compact growth habit.
ALSO READ:  Difference Between Ramen And Udon

Within these species, there are numerous cultivars with varying leaf colors and patterns, adding to their appeal in garden design.

Morphological Differences

Leaf Structure

Cordyline Leaf Shape, Size, and Arrangement

Cordyline leaves are typically long and narrow, growing in a rosette pattern from the central stem. The leaves can range in length from 30 cm to over 1 meter, depending on the species. The leaf blades are often glossy and can be variegated with different colors, including green, red, purple, and pink.

The arrangement of Cordyline leaves is spiral, with new leaves emerging from the center of the plant. This growth pattern gives the plant a full, lush appearance. The leaves are also flexible, allowing them to move with the wind, adding a dynamic element to the garden.

Phormium Leaf Shape, Size, and Arrangement

Phormium leaves are broad and sword-like, growing in a fan shape from the base of the plant. The leaves can range in length from 1 to 3 meters, depending on the species and cultivar. The leaf blades are typically rigid and can be green, bronze, red, or variegated.

The arrangement of Phormium leaves is in a fan shape, with the leaves growing upright and arching slightly at the tips. This growth habit creates a bold, architectural look that is a defining feature of Phormium plants. The leaves are also tough and durable, making them resistant to damage from wind and weather.

Growth Habit

Cordyline Growth Patterns and Height

Cordyline plants typically grow as shrubs or small trees, depending on the species. They can range in height from 1 meter to over 20 meters in the case of Cordyline australis. The growth habit of Cordylines is generally upright, with a central stem or trunk from which the leaves emerge.

Cordylines are known for their clumping growth habit, where new shoots emerge from the base of the plant, creating a dense, bushy appearance. This growth pattern makes them ideal for use as specimen plants or in mixed borders. The plants can also be pruned to maintain a desired shape and size.

Phormium Growth Patterns and Height

Phormium plants grow as large, clumping perennials, with leaves emerging from a central base. They can range in height from 1 meter to over 3 meters, depending on the species and cultivar. The growth habit of Phormium is generally upright, with the leaves forming a fan shape that gives the plant its distinctive architectural appearance.

Phormium plants are known for their vigorous growth and ability to form large clumps over time. This growth habit makes them suitable for use as focal points in garden design, as well as for creating visual interest in borders and mass plantings. Phormium plants can also be divided to propagate new plants and control their size.

Stem and Bark

Cordyline Stem Characteristics

Cordyline plants typically have a single, central stem or trunk from which the leaves emerge. The stem can be slender or thick, depending on the species and age of the plant. In mature plants, the stem may become woody and develop a rough, textured bark.

The stem of Cordyline plants provides structural support for the leaves and can vary in color from green to brown. In some species, the stem may also produce small, fragrant flowers in clusters, adding to the plant’s ornamental value.

Phormium Stem Characteristics

Phormium plants do not have a central stem or trunk like Cordylines. Instead, the leaves emerge directly from the base of the plant, forming a clump of foliage. This growth habit gives Phormium its characteristic fan shape and contributes to its architectural appeal.

Phormium plants produce tall flower spikes that rise above the foliage in the summer. These flower spikes can reach heights of up to 4 meters and are topped with tubular flowers that attract pollinators. The flower stems are rigid and sturdy, providing support for the heavy flower clusters.

Environmental Preferences

Climate Tolerance

Cordyline Climate Requirements

Cordyline plants thrive in warm, humid climates and are typically found in tropical and subtropical regions. They prefer temperatures between 15°C and 30°C and can tolerate short periods of cooler temperatures down to -2°C. Cordylines are also well-suited to coastal areas, where they benefit from the humidity and mild temperatures.

In colder climates, Cordylines can be grown as indoor plants or in containers that can be moved indoors during the winter. They require protection from frost and cold winds, which can damage the leaves and stems.

Phormium Climate Requirements

Phormium plants are highly adaptable and can tolerate a wide range of climates, from temperate to sub-tropical. They are particularly well-suited to cooler climates and can withstand frost and snow. Phormium plants prefer temperatures between 10°C and 25°C but can tolerate temperatures as low as -10°C.

Phormium’s hardiness makes it a popular choice for gardens in regions with cold winters. The plants can also tolerate coastal conditions, including salty soils and high winds, making them ideal for coastal gardens.

ALSO READ:  Difference Between Thermometer And Thermostat

Soil Preferences

Cordyline Soil Types and pH

Cordyline plants prefer well-draining soil that is rich in organic matter. They thrive in slightly acidic to neutral soils with a pH between 6.0 and 7.0. Cordylines can tolerate a variety of soil types, including sandy, loamy, and clay soils, as long as they have good drainage.

To improve soil drainage and fertility, it is recommended to amend the soil with compost or other organic matter before planting Cordylines. This will help retain moisture and provide essential nutrients for healthy growth.

Phormium Soil Types and pH

Phormium plants are highly adaptable to various soil types, including sandy, loamy, and clay soils. They prefer well-draining soil with a slightly acidic to neutral pH between 6.0 and 7.5. Phormium plants can tolerate poor soil conditions but perform best in soils that are rich in organic matter.

To ensure healthy growth, it is recommended to improve soil fertility by adding compost or other organic matter before planting Phormium. This will help retain moisture and provide essential nutrients for the plants.

Watering Needs

Cordyline Watering Frequency and Amount

Cordyline plants prefer consistently moist soil but can tolerate short periods of drought once established. It is important to water Cordylines regularly, especially during dry periods, to ensure the soil remains moist but not waterlogged. Overwatering can lead to root rot and other fungal diseases.

To maintain healthy growth, water Cordylines deeply and allow the soil to dry out slightly between waterings. Mulching around the base of the plants can help retain soil moisture and reduce the need for frequent watering.

Phormium Watering Frequency and Amount

Phormium plants are drought-tolerant and require less frequent watering than Cordylines. They prefer well-draining soil and can withstand dry conditions once established. It is important to water Phormium plants regularly during their initial establishment period to encourage healthy root development.

Cultivation and Care

Planting Techniques

Best Practices for Planting Cordyline

Planting Cordyline successfully involves several key steps:

  • Choose the right location: Cordylines thrive in full sun to partial shade. Ensure the site receives at least 6 hours of sunlight daily.
  • Prepare the soil: Use well-draining soil enriched with organic matter. Cordylines prefer slightly acidic to neutral pH levels.
  • Planting: Dig a hole twice as wide and as deep as the root ball. Place the plant in the hole, ensuring the top of the root ball is level with the ground. Backfill with soil and press gently to eliminate air pockets.
  • Watering: Water thoroughly after planting and maintain consistent moisture until the plant is established.

Best Practices for Planting Phormium

Phormium planting involves similar steps but with some variations:

  • Choose the right location: Phormiums prefer full sun but can tolerate partial shade. They are ideal for coastal gardens due to their salt tolerance.
  • Prepare the soil: Phormiums can grow in various soils, including sandy and clay, as long as it is well-draining.
  • Planting: Dig a hole that is twice the width and depth of the root ball. Place the plant, ensuring the crown is at soil level. Backfill and firm the soil around the roots.
  • Watering: Water deeply after planting. Phormiums are drought-tolerant once established but need regular watering initially.

Pruning and Maintenance

Cordyline Pruning Methods and Timing

Pruning Cordyline is essential to maintain its shape and health:

  • Remove dead leaves: Regularly trim off dead or damaged leaves to encourage new growth.
  • Trim the tips: Cut back the tips of the plant to promote bushier growth. Use clean, sharp scissors to make clean cuts.
  • Timing: Prune in late winter or early spring before the growing season starts.

Phormium Pruning Methods and Timing

Phormium requires minimal pruning but benefits from occasional maintenance:

  • Remove old leaves: Cut off any old, dead, or damaged leaves at the base to keep the plant tidy.
  • Reduce size: If the plant becomes too large, cut back the outer leaves to reduce its size.
  • Timing: Prune in late winter or early spring, similar to Cordyline.

Pest and Disease Management

Common Pests and Diseases Affecting Cordyline

Cordyline can be affected by various pests and diseases:

  • Spider mites: These tiny pests cause yellowing leaves and fine webbing. Control them with insecticidal soap.
  • Mealybugs: These pests appear as white, cotton-like masses on leaves. Remove them manually or use neem oil.
  • Root rot: Caused by overwatering and poorly draining soil. Prevent by ensuring proper soil drainage.

Common Pests and Diseases Affecting Phormium

Phormium is generally hardy but can be susceptible to:

  • Slugs and snails: These pests feed on young leaves, causing damage. Use slug pellets or natural predators to control them.
  • Phormium leaf spot: A fungal disease causing brown spots on leaves. Remove affected leaves and apply a fungicide.
  • Root rot: Similar to Cordyline, it results from poor drainage. Ensure soil is well-draining to prevent this issue.

Prevention and Treatment Methods

To keep both plants healthy, follow these prevention and treatment methods:

  • Regular monitoring: Check plants regularly for signs of pests and diseases.
  • Proper watering: Avoid overwatering and ensure soil drains well.
  • Clean pruning tools: Use sterilized tools to prevent the spread of diseases.
  • Organic treatments: Use neem oil, insecticidal soap, and natural predators to manage pests.
ALSO READ:  Difference Between Allozyme Isozyme And Isoform

Uses and Applications


Cordyline Applications in Landscape Design

Cordyline is versatile in landscape design:

  • Focal points: Use as a striking focal point in garden beds or containers.
  • Borders: Plant along borders for height and color contrast.
  • Tropical gardens: Ideal for creating a tropical garden theme with its bold foliage.

Phormium Applications in Landscape Design

Phormium’s architectural form makes it ideal for:

  • Feature plants: Use as standalone feature plants in garden designs.
  • Mass plantings: Create dramatic effects with mass plantings in large areas.
  • Coastal gardens: Perfect for coastal gardens due to salt and wind tolerance.

Companion Planting

Suitable Companion Plants for Cordyline

Cordyline pairs well with:

  • Ferns: The soft, green foliage of ferns complements Cordyline’s bold leaves.
  • Hostas: These shade-loving plants add texture contrast.
  • Palms: Create a tropical look by planting with various palm species.

Suitable Companion Plants for Phormium

Phormium companions include:

  • Grasses: Ornamental grasses enhance the architectural look.
  • Agapanthus: These provide color contrast with their blue flowers.
  • Yucca: The spiky foliage of Yucca pairs well with Phormium’s broad leaves.

Indoor vs Outdoor Use

Cordyline Suitability for Indoor Environments

Cordyline can thrive indoors if given the right conditions:

  • Light: Place in bright, indirect light.
  • Humidity: Maintain high humidity levels by misting regularly.
  • Potting: Use well-draining potting mix and a container with drainage holes.

Phormium Suitability for Indoor Environments

Phormium can also be grown indoors but prefers outdoor conditions:

  • Light: Needs bright, indirect light. Can tolerate some direct sunlight.
  • Space: Requires a large space due to its size.
  • Potting: Use a large container with well-draining soil.

Visual Appeal

Color Variations

Cordyline Foliage Colors and Patterns

Cordyline offers a wide range of colors:

  • Green: Common in many species, providing a lush look.
  • Red and pink: Varieties like ‘Red Star’ and ‘Pink Passion’ add vibrant color.
  • Variegated: Species with striped or multi-colored leaves for added interest.

Phormium Foliage Colors and Patterns

Phormium also provides diverse colors:

  • Green: Common in both species, ideal for a classic look.
  • Bronze and red: Varieties like ‘Bronze Baby’ offer deep, rich tones.
  • Variegated: Cultivars like ‘Yellow Wave’ have striking striped patterns.

Seasonal Changes

Cordyline Seasonal Appearance

Cordyline changes with the seasons:

  • Spring and summer: New growth is vibrant and colorful.
  • Fall and winter: Leaves may lose some color intensity but remain attractive.

Phormium Seasonal Appearance

Phormium’s appearance through the seasons:

  • Spring and summer: Produces tall flower spikes with tubular flowers.
  • Fall and winter: Leaves remain colorful and architectural year-round.

Propagation Methods

Seed Propagation

Cordyline Seed Propagation Techniques

Propagating Cordyline from seeds involves:

  • Collecting seeds: Harvest seeds from mature plants.
  • Sowing: Sow seeds in a well-draining seed mix.
  • Germination: Keep soil moist and place in a warm, bright location.

Phormium Seed Propagation Techniques

Phormium seed propagation steps:

  • Collecting seeds: Gather seeds from mature flower spikes.
  • Sowing: Plant seeds in a well-draining seed mix.
  • Germination: Maintain moist soil and provide warmth and light.

Vegetative Propagation

Cordyline Methods for Cuttings and Division

Cordyline vegetative propagation includes:

  • Stem cuttings: Take cuttings from healthy stems and root in moist soil.
  • Division: Divide mature plants at the root ball and replant.

Phormium Methods for Cuttings and Division

Phormium vegetative propagation methods:

  • Division: Divide clumps in spring or fall and replant each section.
  • Offsets: Separate offsets from the base of the plant and pot individually.


What are the main visual differences between Cordyline and Phormium?

The primary visual differences between Cordyline and Phormium are found in their leaves and growth habits. Cordyline has narrower, arching leaves that often grow from a central stem, while Phormium features broader, sword-like leaves that grow from the base. Additionally, Cordyline leaves come in a variety of colors, including green, red, and purple, whereas Phormium leaves are typically more uniform in color but can also exhibit striking variegation.

Can Cordyline and Phormium be grown indoors?

Yes, both Cordyline and Phormium can be grown indoors, though they require specific care to thrive. Cordyline prefers bright, indirect light and consistent moisture, making it suitable for well-lit indoor spaces. Phormium can also adapt to indoor conditions if provided with adequate light and well-draining soil. However, it generally performs better outdoors due to its size and growth habits.

What are the soil requirements for Cordyline and Phormium?

Cordyline thrives in well-draining soil that is rich in organic matter, with a slightly acidic to neutral pH. It prefers consistently moist soil but can tolerate short periods of drought. Phormium, on the other hand, is more adaptable to various soil types, including clay and sandy soils, as long as they are well-draining. It prefers slightly acidic to neutral soil and can tolerate drier conditions better than Cordyline.

How do I propagate Cordyline and Phormium?

Cordyline can be propagated through stem cuttings, division, or seeds. Stem cuttings are taken from healthy plants and rooted in a moist, well-draining medium. Division involves separating the plant at the root level. Phormium is typically propagated through division, where the root clump is separated into smaller sections and replanted. Seed propagation is also possible but is less common due to the time it takes for plants to mature.

Are there any common pests or diseases affecting Cordyline and Phormium?

Cordyline can be affected by pests such as spider mites, mealybugs, and scale insects. It is also susceptible to fungal diseases like root rot if overwatered. Phormium is generally hardy but can suffer from root rot in poorly draining soil and may attract pests like slugs and snails. Regular monitoring and appropriate care can help manage these issues effectively.


Cordyline and Phormium, while similar in their ornamental appeal, offer distinct characteristics that cater to different gardening needs. Cordyline’s vibrant, narrow leaves and tropical appearance make it ideal for warmer climates, while Phormium’s robust, architectural form suits cooler environments.

By understanding their unique attributes, gardeners can make informed decisions about incorporating these plants into their landscapes. Whether you prefer the colorful elegance of Cordyline or the structural beauty of Phormium, both plants provide valuable contributions to garden design and aesthetics.

Leave a Comment