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A Floridata Plant Profile #131 Araucaria heterophylla
Common Names: Norfolk Island pine
Family: Araucariaceae (araucaria Family)
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tree  Tolerant of Shade and Low Light Conditions Can be Grown in Containers Grows Well Indoors. Has evergreen foliage Has Unusual or Interesting Foliage

Norfolk pines
A neatly shaped Norfolk Pine growing near Orlando - the approximate northern limit of this species in Florida.
The Norfolk Island pine is familiar to most as the cute little living table-top Christmas tree that is sold already bedecked with bows and bulbs. In addition to this holiday market, larger specimens are sold as "houseplants" in discount stores and nurseries. In its native land, however, this delicate little plant is a forest giant that can reach heights of 200 ft (61 m). Growing very upright (occasionally with a graceful lean), the tree forms a very symmetrical pyramid, with branches emerging from the trunk in a regular and precise pattern. In Florida most specimens are less than 50 ft (15.2 m) tall as they are the among the first to be blown away in a hurricane. In California you often see taller specimens, to about 100 ft (30.5 m). But you are unlikely to see any approaching the heights achieved in their native habitat.

Not actually a pine, this plant is a member of the Araucariaceae family that includes several other trees of ornamental interest including the bunya-bunya tree (A. bidwillii) and the monkey puzzle tree (A. araucana). This plant is often incorrectly identified as A. excelsa, especially in older references. Adding to the confusion is that some of the plants sold on the market are actually A. columnaris which looks almost identical to A. heterophylla when young but older plants tend to have branches closer together and darker foliage.

The male cones are cylindrical, 1-3 in (2.5-7.6 cm) long; the seeds are formed inside 3-5 in (7.6-12.7 cm), roughly spherical female cones. The foliage is soft looking and light green. Leaves on young trees are narrowly wedge-shaped, about 0.5 in (1.3 cm) long; on mature trees the leaves are scalelike and overlapping, about o.25 in (0.6 cm) long.

The juvanile foliage of the Norfolk Island pine is soft and pliable as well as durable and beautiful! It's even rugged enough to grow indoors where it thrives with little attention.
All of the species of Araucaria are native to the Southern Hemisphere where many have economic significance and all are enjoyed for their ornamental appearance. Araucaria heterophylla is native to Norfolk Island in the southern Pacific Ocean, east of Australia. This island was discovered by Captain James Cook, claimed for Great Britain, and named for the Duchess of Norfolk. This tiny 3 by 5 mile long tropical paradise is famous not only for its namesake tree, but has a place in history, having been settled in 1856 by Pitcairners, descendants of Fletcher Christian and the other mutineers from the H.M.S. Bounty. Today the Norfolk Island Pine's unique beauty is seen in tropical and sub-tropical landscapes all over the world.

Norfold Island pine in a container
I've had this Norfolk Island pine for almost 18 years. I rescued it at the end of spring term on year from the trash out front of a frat house and nursed it back to health. I use it for a Christmas tree each year. I always have two stems growing for when the main one gets too tall I cut it off and let the other take over.
Norfolk Island pine is not particular about soil and tolerates even very acid soils as well as salty situations at beach side. They have weak root systems and rarely need re-potting when grown in containers (some may require staking).
Light: Full sun. Will tolerate shade but the leaves will droop - the deeper the shade, the droopier the leaves (which I think makes for especially graceful specimens!) When growing indoors, place this plant in a bright, evenly lit area.
Moisture: Likes good moisture with good drainage.
Hardiness: USDA Zones 10 - 11. Norfolk Island pine is very tender and will begin to sustain damage at temperatures below 40ºF (4.4ºC) beginning with discoloration of foliage. In Florida the Norfolk Island pine is grown in warmer and protected micro-climates throughout Zone 9 - especially near the water. If the tree is killed by frost new stems will be produced from the roots.
Propagation: Take 6-8 in (15.2-20.3 cm) cuttings of the terminal leader in summer and treat with rooting hormone. Caution, cuttings from lateral branches will produce irregularly shaped trees. Additional cuttings made from laterals that develop into terminals after removal of the original terminal leader will produce acceptable plants. Note that this tree is commercially produced from seeds.

This Norfolk Island pine is growing near Balboa Park in San Diego, California - someone told me they were A. columnaris but I wouldn't know for sure.
Norfolk Island Pines make spectacular specimen plants when situated on large expanses of lawn. A tough tree, it can be used in urban landscapes, adding height to designs, framing entries and accessorizing tall buildings. They make attractive groves and are happily at home in containers indoors and out. And of course, every December, we decorate our tables, desks, and counters with these gussied-up little "pines." If you get a Christmas pine this year I hope that you'll continue to enjoy it even after the holiday (but please remove bows, tinsel, etc. by Valentine's day at the latest).

The eye-catching symmetry and lovely fine textured foliage of this plant have endeared it to gardeners everywhere. Outdoors, its unique form provides an exotic whimsy to neighborhoods in south Florida where it towers above one story bungalows with a flair that Dr. Seuss would be proud of. Out west, in places like San Francisco's Golden Gate Park, groves of Norfolk Island pines, be they Araucaria heterophylla, A. columnaris or whatever, pose in front of mountains, and single specimens perch on cliffs to tower over lesser trees. Back in its remote native habitat, the Norfolk Island pine provides beauty and economic value as the wood is harvested for many uses including it's historical role in shipbuilding.

Tall specimens are often damaged in hurricanes and high winds. Trees will recover - cut them back to the ground to force new undamaged suckers to form.

Jack Scheper 06/20/99; updated 3/26/00, 10/23/04

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