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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Cordyline fruticosa: the distribution and continuity of a sacred plant


Abstract. Humans have continually interacted with and transformed their surroundings. Cordyline fruticosa Chevalier 1919, was among the many plants Polynesians brought with them as they voyaged from western Polynesia to eastern Polynesia. Polynesian culture is historically associated with C. fruticosa, which was centered around the ancient marae, or temples. The distribution of the large, sterile, green leaf variety was studied at marae and contemporary areas such as homes and businesses on Mo’orea, French Polynesia. I expected to find the sacred green variety around marae and the ornamental red varieties in contemporary locations. No C. fruticosa plants were found around marae sites. Contrary to predictions, the green variety of C. fruticosa was more prevalent at the contemporary sites than the red varieties. Local Tahitians were consulted on current attitudes towards and uses of C. fruticosa. These elders indicated that the sacred green variety continues to be utilized in religious, medicinal, and cultural ways, perhaps explaining its prevalence over red varieties.

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