Plant Collector: Norfolk Island Pine (Araucaria heterophylla)

The urge is to put a Christmas star on top - Araucaria heterophylla

The urge is to put a Christmas star on top - Araucaria heterophylla

I am very fond of Norfolk Island pines in the landscape though they should come with a warning not to ever, under any circumstances, plant them in a suburban setting. We once owned a house where the neighbour’s Norfolk Island Pine robbed us of several hours of sunshine a day.

These are not actually members of the pine tree family. They are araucarias and this one is A. heterophylla. That name is used synonymously with its earlier name of A. excelsa but heterophylla is the correct one these days. The best known araucaria is the monkey puzzle tree (A. araucana) and it hails from Chile. At least these are true to their name in that they come from Norfolk Island which gives a hint to ideal conditions – mild and coastal. Last time I was in Napier, I thought their seafront avenue specimens looked a bit scruffy but any tree that can survive and grow in the full blast of salt spray and wind is a bit of a wonder. The tough, tightly whorled leaves encircling the branches will have evolved to cope with salt spray. Even so, any tree is going to look lusher with a smidgeon more shelter or planted a little further back from the seashore than those Napier specimens.

It is that perfect, open pyramid shape that makes it such a fantastic landscape tree where space allows. You just want to put a Christmas star on top every time you look at one. Potentially they can grow huge, up to fifty or sixty metres over time and that is massive. This is not a tree that will look attractive if you try and top it to keep it lower. Its application is probably limited to public plantings and farms but viewed from afar, they make a great visual contribution.

First published in the Waikato Times and reprinted here with their permission.

Advertisements