As its common name suggests, this tree is endemic to Norfolk Island, a small island in the Pacific Ocean between New Zealand and New Caledonia, about 900 miles east of Australia. A relative of the monkey puzzle and bunya pine trees, these trees, although "conifers" - or cone-bearing trees - are not true pines. Araucarias are member of a small, ancient family of Southern Hemisphere-restricted conifers, today comprising only 19 species.
The genus name Araucaria was originally derived from the Spanish term Araucano, meaning "from Arauco," a Chilean city that was founded in 1552 and an historic region of southern Chile inhabited by the Mapuche peoples known as the Moluche. The specific epithet heterophylla, a combination of heteros, Greek for "the other of two," and phylla, Latin (derived from Greek) for "leaves," refers to the two leaf forms - both awl-like and scale-like - found on mature specimens of the Norfolk Island pine.
Although the name Araucaria was coined much earlier and based on the Norfolk Island pine's Chilean relatives, this island species was not discovered until Captain Cook's second voyage between 1772 and 1775, and was introduced into cultivation in 1793. With the European colonization of Norfolk, Nepean, and Phillip Islands in the 1780's came massive vegetation clearing, resulting in less than 10% remaining over the subsequent 200 years. Modern-day conservation work has halted this clearing, and current populations are protected within Norfolk Island National Park.
Considered "Vulnerable" by the IUCN due to restricted distributions and the consistent need for conservation work to remove competitive, invasive species, the Norfolk Island pine has flourished elsewhere in the world in coastal climates and areas with mild winters. With little to no concern for invasivity, this long-lived, architecturally-stunning species is comfortable in the ground and in containers, and even performs well as a houseplant in bright light when kept in moist, well-drained conditions.
IN BLOOM CONTRIBUTORS: Text by Corey Barnes. Profile by Mona Bourell. Photos by Joanne Taylor.