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Other Hawaiian name: La'i

English name:

Family name:
Scientific name:
Cordyline fruticosa
Introduced by:
Polynesian introduction
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This species native range is unknown, but possibly indigenous in the Himalayas, southeastern Asia, Malesia and northern Australia. It is widely spread by early human migrations and widely distributed in Tropical Asia, Australia and Oceania. It is found even in New Zealand. Ti was especially sacred to the God Lono and the Goddess Laka and played a major role in the evolution of the kahili (royal standards) and a symbol of truce between warring parties.


Ti can grow wildly in the wet forest, although it grows well in lowlands when it is planted there. It has been grown as an ornamental plant in many Pacific islands and Southeast Asian areas. Today, it is widespread in Hawaii from sea level up to above 3,000 ft. It thrives well in moist loamy soil that is moderately fertile.


Stem: Ti is a shrub that grows as high as 12 feet, with branched or unbranched slender stems ringed with leaf scars and of clusters of leaves arranged in close spirals at the top of the stem.
Leaves: The narrow oblong leaves are 1-2 feet long and about 4 inches wide, smooth, shiny, flexible, with deeply channeled leaf stalks that are 2-6 inches long.
Ti produces a branching flower cluster of drooping lilac-tinted flowers, which individually are about 0.33 inch long, and with male and female parts.
Fruit: Small berries that start yellow and mature to become red can be produced but seldom seen.
Root: Ti produces large rootstocks that can grow to as heavy as 30- 300 lbs.


In old Hawaii, ti was culturally important. It played a major part in the evolution of kahili (royal standards). A messenger between chiefs would announce the end of war by bearing a ti-leaf flag aloft like a kahili. Ti leaf was a sign of respect to high rank and divine power. Huts dedicated to Lono were bordered and thatched with ti leaves.

The leaves were made into whistles, house thatch, raincoats, sandals and more recently into hula skirts. They serve as plates and wrappers for food (laulau) and as fodder for horses and cattle. During hukilau fishing, dry ti leaves are fastened to long drag nets to drive the fish to shallow waters.

A high grade, colorless, transparent brandy called "okolehao" is distilled from fermented mash made from the baked roots. The name "okolehao" came from two words: "okole" the name of the bottom of the cauldrons used originally to boil the roots, shaped like human buttocks, and the "hao" means iron (iron try-pot in which whale blubber has been boiled, erected over a fire with attached gun barrel to reduce and draw off the okolehao). "Okolehao" was both the rig and its product. The liquor was a success and was a "gift from heaven" and everyone became addicted to it. During prohibition days, those who were exceptionally fond of it paid up to $100.00/gallon. The roots baked in communal oven served as a famine food for the Hawaiians.


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