The Other Christmas Tree
Who could imagine a 200 foot tree growing from those little evergreens seen at the holiday season in many garden centers and big box stores. Many people use the Norfolk Island Pine (Araucaria heterophylla) as a Christmas tree. I have one that is getting very large, which came from my Grandmother’s funeral in 2003. It actually should be much larger, but it was living with my brother for a long time. He gave it to me and the soil it was growing in was appalling! I asked him what kind of soil he used and he said, “I went out into the field behind our house and got a shovel full.” (He lives in the country,) Well, soil is a subject for another post, but lets just say, garden soil or field soil, as the case may be, is NOT the best soil for houseplants. It was as hard as cement and I literally had to chip it off the roots. I planted it in nice custom mixed soil, mixed by yours truly, and it is finally taking off.
Norfolk Island Pines (Araucaria heterophylla) originally come from a small island called -wait for it…..Norfolk Island, off the coast of Australia. (Map courtesy of discovernorfolkisland.com. ) They were discovered there in the 1700’s by explorer, Captain James Cook. They can grow outside in Zones 10-11, but anywhere else in the United States, it is a houseplant. Though it has the name pine, it isn’t a true pine but is in the family Araucariaceae.
In their native habitat, they can grow over 200′ tall, whereas in the house it will get 3-10′ tall-thank goodness! Norfolk Island Pines need bright light and good humidity. If the humidity is too low or the plant gets too dry, it will lose its lower branches. It may also get spider mites if the humidity is too low. Keeping it on a pebble tray is the best way to raise the humidity around the plant.
These plants are always sold at Christmas, either plain, (my preference) or with glitter and ornaments. I am not an advocate of spraying live plants with glitter or paint, or anything for that matter. (This includes plant shine!)
Norfolk Pines are also used in interior landscapes, such as the atrium at Henry Ford hospital in West Bloomfield, MI. Of course, plants are known to be therapy, (read about that here) so placing them in a hospital makes perfect sense. Many of the patient rooms overlook the atrium. Seeing these plants would make me feel better, for sure!
These trees are quite often used for Christmas trees, but be gentle when decorating, as they can break easily, and use lights that won’t damage/burn the foliage. This would make a perfect gift for someone home bound or in the hospital or a nursing home at Christmas time.
I have also seen them in churches and in local businesses. They develop a distinct shape as they age.
While attending the Chicago Flower Show last spring, I saw many Norfolk Island Pines used in fairy garden settings. A small Norfolk pine works great as a small evergreen in these minute gardens.
If you receive one of these wonderful evergreens this holiday season, don’t throw it away after the lights and tinsel are a dim memory. This tree makes a wonderful houseplant, and if need be, a cute Christmas tree.