cabbage tree, Dendroseris litoralis
Photo: Cabbage Tree (Dendroseris litoralis) - Wikimedia Commons

The cabbage tree, Dendroseris litoralis, is in the daisy and sunflower family (Asteraceae), with woody, tree-like stems, and rubbery leaves up to 18 in long.

It is native only to tiny, volcanic, Robinson Crusoe Island, one of the Juan Fernández Islands in the southeast Pacific, far off the coast of Chile. The leaves not only look like cabbage, they are also edible. In fact they once sustained Alexander Selkirk, the castaway who inspired the book Robinson Crusoe. When goats and other animals were brought to the islands, the Cabbage Tree was nearly eaten to extinction. It grows into a small, gnarled tree with several somewhat palm-like crowns of very large, round leaves on whitish leaf stalks and bright orange flowers. It is easy to cultivate and enjoys a cool, humid climate. It is hardy to light freezes and coastal conditions. Four-inch pots of this plant are currently available from Annie’s Annuals.