Norfolk Island Pine

David Deutsch (Gondwana Gardens) gondwana at
Fri Dec 19 10:58:15 EST 1997

> I was given this"tree" as a gift  and am wondering what its requirements are
> for light, temperature and moisture.  Is it actually a pine, it looks more like
> a spruce.
> Joe

Hi Joe,

Norfolk Island Pines are botanically known as Araucaria heterophylla (or
sometimes, Araucaria excelsa). I know a fair bit about these trees
because Araucarias are a classic example of Gondwanan flora (which is an
interest of mine, as I'll explain shortly).

At any rate, Norfolk Island Pines are not pines at all (and they aren't
Spruces either). Although both Pines and Araucarias are confers, the
Araucarias belong to a different family (Araucariaceae). Your tree is
not the hardiest of the Araucarias. That honor belongs to the
Monkey-Puzzle tree (Araucaria araucna) from Chile. Your tree originates
on Norfolk Island, which has a subtropical climate. Nevertheless,
Araucarias generally show surprising cold hardiness in proportion to
what one would expect, given their origins. I've seen them growing in
Modesto, California (we grow them outdoors here in Livingston, a
half-hour south), so they can clearly tolerate mild to moderate frost
quite well....especially after they've grown a bit and have some wood on
them. I imagine Zone 8 is probably the limit for them, but don't know
anyone who has tested the limits of this particular species, even though
(like I said), it's not the hardiest.

They will take some aridity once they are established, but you should
not let them get bone dry for the first couple of years...they need to
be able to set roots that pull in water. They can definitely take a lot
of heat, but seem to perform best as coastal trees, where they excel
because they tolerate salt spray and sea winds extremely well. I'd plant
in the spring, when all danger of frost is past, but before the heat of
summer arrives. It may get sunburned the first year if you plant it in
full sun, but they do recover. They become majestic trees with a
beautiful symmetry.

Araucarias belong to a very ancient family of trees that today is
represented by only three genera: Araucaria, Agathis, and Wollemia
(which was only discovred in Australia a couple of years ago or so, and
it's location is still secret). they're all living fossils (Wollemia
especially so). Millions of years ago, South America, Antarctica,
Australia, New Zealand,few other chips and pieces were fit together as a
single continent in the Southern Hemisphere, called Gondwanaland.
Earlier still, India and Africa had been a part of Gondwanaland, but had
broken off early on. When Gondwana finally broke up in earnest, each
individual piece carried with it representative flora from the former
super-continent. This is why you can find Araucarias in Chile and
Brazil, as well as in Australia, New Caledonia  and New Guinea. There
are many other general and familes that are like this (the souther
beechothofagus, is a perfect example). The forests of Chile and New
Zealand (and a couple other surviving remnants) are surprisingly similar
in the family relationships and the kinds of plants.

Hope this answers your questions. It was hard to give you cultural
information since you didn't saywhat part of the country you're from.
You may end up having to use it as a potted plant, and they do make
excellent specimens...even fairly decent living Christmas trees.

Good luck and happy holidays,

David Deutsch

David Deutsch
Gondwana Gardens

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