A Living Christmas Tree

In its native environment the Norfolk Island pine can reach heights of 61 metres but it is also a popular indoor plant especially around Christmas as it transforms beautifully into a Christmas tree.

The Norfolk Island pine (Araucaria heterophylla) is one of the Araucariaceae family. It is endemic to Norfolk Island which is located east of Australia in the southern Pacific Ocean. The inhabitants of Norfolk Island are descendants of Fletcher Christian and fellow mutineers from the HMS Bounty. Norfolk Island has a width of 3 miles wide and a length of 5 miles. Araucaria species are endemic to the southern hemisphere.

Norfolk Island Pine(53076)Credit: Wikimedia

The Norfolk pine is not really a pine despite its pine-like appearance. It is a very tolerant plant and will grow in saline conditions really close to the beach. It also survives in very acid soils. However it has a weak root system and in areas prone to tornados or strong winds, it rarely reaches anyway near its full potential height-wise.

If grown in a container it will rarely need re-potting. They do not like to dry out but neither do they like to have wet feet so ensure they have good drainage if grown in a pot. They don't like cold weather. Below 40oF (4.4oC) they fail to thrive and the foliage will start to discolour. If the tree should succumb to frost, new shoots will appear from the roots.

Norfolk Island PineCredit: Wikimedia

Propagation is by cutting or seed. These should be taken in summer from the terminal leader. Taking cuttings from lateral branches is not recommended as the cuttings will be irregular in form. Six to eight inches long is a good length. Treat the cuttings with rooting hormone before planting.

Propagation by seed is relatively simple. Place the seed(s) flat on a germination medium. A 3:1 mixture of peat and sand works well. Leave the seed uncovered but mist lightly from time to time until the tap root and a stem appear. The peat/sand mix will help keep the trunk straight and will help make up for the limited root system.

If kept indoors, the plant will do best in bright light but not in full sun. Generally a location within four feet of a large window will work well. Indoor plants generally grow towards the light and the Norfolk Island pine is no exception. To counteract this, give the pot a quarter turn regularly. This will keep it growing symmetrically.

Keep the soil damp and water thoroughly every week through summer. If the plant dries out, increase the frequency of watering without letting the soil become soggy. In winter, allow the soil to dry out completely between waterings. Every month feed with a half strength plant food. Should the tips become brown, the needles drop and/or the lower branches die, the humidity is too low. Mist regularly to prevent such problems.

An outside specimen will not need as much attention. Once established, the Norfolk Island pine makes a highly effective specimen tree in the centre of a stretch of lawn. Inside or out, the Norfolk Island pine will be greatly admired.

Norfolk Island Pine

Indoor Christmas Tree

Norfolk Island Pine - The Indoor Christmas Tree - 4" Pot
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For an attractive living Christmas tree, a Norfolk Island pine is a wise choice. After several years bearing decorations in December, it can then be planted out to continue giving pleasure.