Cabbage Tree or Cabbage-palm is a widely branched monocot tree endemic to New Zealand. Hardy and fast growing, it grows up to 66 ft. tall. It has a stout trunk and sword-like leaves, which are clustered at the tips of the branches and can be up to 3 ft. long. With its tall, straight trunk and dense, rounded heads, it’s fruit is a favourite food source for the New Zealand pigeon and other native birds.
Known to Māori as tī kōuka, the tree was used as a source of food, particularly in the South Island, where it was cultivated in areas where other crops would not grow. It provided durable fibre for textiles, anchor ropes, fishing lines, baskets, waterproof rain capes and cloaks, and sandals.
Cabbage tree is indeed the regrettable name Captain Cook gave to these iconic New Zealand natives with spiky leaves sprouting from tall trunks. In 1769 when Cook’s Endeavour was anchored at Ship’s Cove in Queen Charlotte Sound he had his crew boil up the trees’ young inner leaves. They discovered a nutritious vegetable-like plant, able to combat the deficiency of vitamin C – a cause of the seafarers’ dreaded disease, scurvy. Cook so named the tree owing to the cabbage being a staple vegetable in European society.