From Angie's photos and description I think it highly likely that her tree is this wonderful New Zealand tree. Cabbage trees flower in late Spring here, so I was able to rush out yesterday evening and take some photos of the ones we have growing around here complete with their flowers.
We planted most of our cabbage trees between 10 and 18 years ago, and I wasn't able to get very close to the flowers on our trees as most of them are 15 or 20 feet up (my 2001 vintage digital camera also has only a 2x optical zoom). I did contemplate climbing onto our roof and taking a photo from up there, but I think the photos that I took have enough detail to give the idea of what the flowering stems look like.
The hundreds of tiny new flowers look like some sort of huge snowflake on their flowering stem when viewed from this angle.The stem of the cabbage tree has a distinctive texture. It is rough, fissured, slightly soft and cork-like. I am no botanist, but I seem to recall someone saying that the stem is actually more like the root of a plant rather than a trunk, and that you can plant sections of the trunk and they will grow into a tree.
A Cabbage tree starts life as a little head of spiky green leaves. In the very early stages it looks a bit like young New Zealand flax, phormium tenax, but the leaves are a brighter green and somewhat thinner.
In time the young cabbage tree will grow a trunk. Cabbage trees will tend to hold onto their old leaves, especially in the colder parts of the South Island of New Zealand. The old leaves form a rather decorative skirt around the trunk which helps insulate and protect the tree. We find that birds will often nest in them, as well as in the new leaves.
The top of the tree branches after each flowering. The trees will also grow up multi stemmed if the trunk is damaged. Some of our trees had a bad time with frost when they were young, and some got diseased, these all grew up with several stems.
Cabbage trees give a fascinating display of form and texture in the garden. Birds and insects love them. Cabbage tree roots are full of sugar and were a food source for Maori. Cabbage tree leaves burn furiously, but the trunks resist fire. In areas where fire has destroyed forests, cabbage trees are often able to recover quickly.
Laura has a Farmer's Magazine of 1836. In it is a lovely picture and article about Cow Cabbage. These were tree cabbages! I imagine that they would have been quite a challenge for garden snails and slugs, but may have been a haven for cabbage white butterflies which would been out of sight of the farmer below!
A new link.
I have put a link on my blog to a blog site that is by Armelle who lives on an Island just off the coast of France. Armelle does really lovely paintings, takes wonderful photos, and is also making a raku kiln. Armelle's site is in French, but she kindly includes an English translation. I really enjoy visiting her site.
This is a day or two late, but happy thanksgiving to those of you in America. I have just started to catch up with some of your thanksgiving blogs, and can see what a special, thoughtful day it is for you. It seems also to be such a family occasion with people getting together for a shared meal. I wish we had a similar day here. A National day of thankfulness seems such a positive thing.