Araucaria heterophylla

young Norfolk Island pine


Araucaria heterophylla

(Salisb.) Franco 1952

pronounced: ar-ah-KAIR-ee-uh het-er-oh-FILL-uh

(Araucariaceae — the bunya family)

synonym — Araucaria excelsa

(Lamb.) R.Br. 1813

pronounced: ar-ah-KAIR-ee-uh ek-KEL-suh

common name: Norfolk Island pine

Araucaria is named for the Araucarian Indians of Patagonia; heterophylla is from the Greek 'ετερος (heteros), different, and φυλλον (phyllon), a leaf. This is to do with the difference between the leaves in very young plants and mature ones. In the synonym, excelsa is from the Latin excelsus, elevated, high.

As you would expect, this species is endemic to Norfolk Island. The Araucaria genus, which includes our own hoop pine, occurs across the south Pacific Ocean, especially concentrated in New Caledonia, where 13 closely related and similar-looking species are found. The Norfolk Island pine is sometimes called a ‘star pine’, due to its symmetrical shape as a sapling, although it is not, of course, a true pine (Pinus sp.). The trees grow to a height of 50 – 65 m, with straight vertical trunks and symmetrical branches, even in the face of incessant onshore winds that can contort most other species. Captain Cook felled some of these trees for use as ships’ masts when he discovered Norfolk Island in 1774. It was later found, however, that the wood was not resilient enough for this purpose. In the late 1950s a trial shipment of Norfolk Pine logs was sent from the island to Sydney plywood manufacturers in the hope of developing a timber export industry for the island. The plywood companies reported excellent results, but the Norfolk Island Advisory Council decided that the industry would not be sustainable, and decided to reserve local timber production for use on the island. The timber is excellent for wood-turning. As well as in its native Norfolk Island, the tree is widely planted in Australia, New Zealand, Florida, Hawaii, South Africa, south Texas, coastal California, and some cities of Brazil. The tree grows well in deep sand, so long as it receives reliable water when young. This, and its tolerance of salt and wind, makes it ideal for coastal situations. There is a fine stand of mature trees along the beach at Manly, NSW, where the photographs of the cones were taken, as I have as yet observed no cones on the young trees on Magnetic Island.

The flattened, awl-shaped needles are light green, 10 - 15 mm long and about 1 mm thick at the base on young trees, and incurved, 5 – 10 mm long and variably 2 – 4 mm thick on older trees. The thickest, scale-like leaves on coning branches are in the upper crown. Under plantation conditions, the trees can produce cones at age 15 - 20 years. The cones are squat globose, 10 – 12 cm long and 12 – 14 cm in diameter, and take about 18 months to mature. On maturity, they disintegrate to release the nut-like edible seeds. The male, pollen-bearing cones are on lower branches.

Young trees of this species are very popular as Christmas Trees, especially in North America. They are even produced as small table-top specimens for apartment-dwellers. This is done by suppressing root growth. Plants grown in 15 cm pots will usually reach only about 60 cm in height, and then stop growing. When adorned with tiny Christmas decorations, it is difficult to realize that they are in reality forest giants. At this size, of course, they will bear only juvenile foliage.

There are several trees that have been planted on Magnetic Island, among them one on the corner of Butler and Barbarra Streets, Picnic Bay, another opposite the line of shops in Bright Avenue, Arcadia, and one in a garden at 98 Horseshoe Bay Road.


Photographs taken Picnic Bay & Bright Avenue Arcadia, 2009, and Manly NSW, 2011
Page last updated 11th October 2018