The Norfolk Island Pine (Araucaria heterophilla) hails from Norfolk Island – a small island in the Pacific Ocean between New Zealand and New Caledonia. Norfolk Island is extremely important for botanists because it is one of the only islands left in the world with a number of surviving fossil species. Fossil species are species that have existed for so long on earth that there are fossils of them and they are still alive today. Over 50 of the Island’s native plants are endemic (exist nowhere else in the world), and almost half of those are threatened with extinction.
This ancient lineage of trees has been on earth for over 200 million years, evolving in the Early Jurassic period. During the Jurassic, conifers and cone-bearing plants (gymnosperms) were the dominant plant life, and are thought to be a food source for dinosaurs. During this time, major diversification of the gymnosperms occurred, which was due, in-part to the warming of the earth and rising of the seas.
They would have been lost to history during the Cretaceous Extinction Event (~65MYA, the same one that killed the dinosaurs and 75% of life on Earth), if it were not for a few members of the species surviving on Norfolk Island! Previous to the mass extinction, Araucarias were spread all over the world, and as far north as Sweden! Their propensity for growing in perfectly geometric shapes and patterns have given them (and other plants in the family) the nickname “monkey puzzle trees”, but it is no puzzle why these cone-bearing trees are great houseplants–their resilience, vigor, and ability to survive mass extinctions. Just give them plenty of natural light!
Strangely enough, the Norfolk Island Pine is not even a pine at all – but rather part of a more ancient lineage of cone-bearing trees in the family, Araucariaceae. Norfolk Island Pines, being related to early pines, split off pine (Pinaceae) ancestors during the Jurassic, have been on the earth for millions of years before today’s pines even evolved. Norfolk Island Pines lack characteristic pine traits. And although most cone-bearing trees like pines are better adapted for cold conditions, Araucaria heterophylla is actually a tropical plant! Its quirky yet symmetrical shape has made it a fun, alternative option to the usual holiday tree.
Norfolk Island Pines make excellent houseplants, as they are low-light tolerant, and help clean the indoor air from toxic pollutants.
Medium light to bright light. Some dappled sun is fine- so is a full day of sun. Adjust water and humidity accordingly.
Water weekly. Allow potting mix to dry out before watering (can tolerate drying out, but not for long). Soil about 1-2” down should be dry to touch. Water more frequently during warmer months, and fertilize during the growing season.
Do not overwater or keep the soil wet for too long, as this will encourage root rot. A coarser potting mix that drains well may be necessary, as they do not like to sit in water, but do like to be kept moist – i.e. aim for frequent, well-drained waterings!
Likes higher humidity. Normal room humidity is fine, but prefers more, if possible.
65°F-85°F (18°C-30°C). It’s best not to let it go below 60°F (15°C)!
This plant is considered toxic by the ASPCA to cats and dogs (and humans) if consumed, but not fatal. Best practice is always to keep houseplants out of reach of small children and pets.
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