Araucaria heterophylla

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Araucaria heterophylla
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Young Norfolk Island Pines
Young Norfolk Island Pines
Plant Info
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Scientific classification
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Division: Pinophyta
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Class: Pinopsida
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Order: Pinales
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Family: Araucariaceae
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Genus: Araucaria
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Species: A. heterophylla
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Binomial name
Araucaria heterophylla
(Salisb.) Franco
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Type Species
Araucaria heterophylla foliage from a mature tree

Araucaria heterophylla (synonym A. excelsa) is a distinctive conifer, a member of the ancient and now disjointly distributed family Araucariaceae. As its vernacular name Norfolk Island Pine implies, the tree is endemic to Norfolk Island, though it is not a pine. The genus Araucaria occurs across the South Pacific, especially concentrated in New Caledonia (about 700 km due north of Norfolk Island) where 13 closely related and similar-appearing species are found. 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.

The leaves are awl-shaped, 1-1.5 cm long, about 1 mm thick at the base on young trees, and incurved, 5-10 mm long and variably 2-4 mm broad on older trees, the thickest, scale-like leaves on coning branches in the upper crown. The cones are squat globose, 10-12 cm long and 12-14 cm diameter, and take about 18 months to mature. They disintegrate at maturity to release the nut-like edible seeds.

The scientific name heterophylla ("different leaves") derives from the variation in the leaves between young and adult plants.

Cultivation and uses

Its distinctive appearance, with widely spaced branches and a symmetrical, triangular outline, has made it a popular cultivated species, either as a single tree or in avenues. When the tree reaches maturity, the shape may become less symmetrical. As well as in its native Norfolk Island, it is widely planted in Australia, New Zealand, Florida, Hawaii, South Africa and southern California.

It grows well in deep sand, as long as it receives reliable water when young. This, and its tolerance of salt and wind, makes it ideal for coastal situations.

Mature Norfolk Island Pine in Auckland, New Zealand

Young trees are often grown as houseplants in areas where the winters are too cold for them to grow outside (they will not, for example, survive outdoors in most of the United States or Europe, but are sometimes used as Christmas trees there, as elsewhere). Some people may experience a strong allergic reaction if they touch the leaves. The timber is good for woodturning, and is extensively used by Hawaiian craftspeople. However, British explorer James Cook unsuccessfully used these trees as ship masts when exploring Norfolk Island. Large numbers of Norfolk Island Pines are produced in South Florida for the houseplant industry. The bulk of these are shipped to grocery stores, discount retailers and garden centers during November. Many of these are sprayed with a light coating of green paint prior to sale to increase their eye appeal.

In Florida, these trees are subject to frost damage and as a result produce multiple stems with weakly attached trunks. In the 2004 hurricane season, many of these trees failed under the 160 km/h winds. Some coastal communities (e.g. Vero Beach) prohibit their use as a tree in local landscape plan approvals.

In the US it is sometimes called a star pine, due to its symetrical shape as a sapling.

References and external links



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