The Norfolk Island pine tree is native to the Southern Hemisphere, where it grows to heights of up to 200 feet. Not only is it a part of the landscape, but it plays a key role in the economy, valued for the wood used in shipbuilding. Outside of the Southern Hemisphere, this tree is a houseplant throughout the year and a holiday decoration at Christmas. During the holiday season, big-box stores sell small Norfolk Island pines decorated with ornaments and bows.
Despite its name, the Norfolk Island pine is not a pine tree; it is a member of the Araucariaceae family, which includes other ornamental trees such as bunya-bunya and the monkey puzzle tree. Norfolk Island pine is also known as Araucaria heterophylla, and as the name denotes, it is from the Norfolk Island, just east of Australia in the Pacific Ocean. Capt. James Cook discovered the island itself, named after the Duchess of Norfolk. The island was settled in 1856 by Pitcairners, descendants of the mutineers of the H.M.S. Bounty.
Foliage of the Norfolk Island pine is light green and soft to the touch. This tree does well in full sun and will tolerate most soil conditions. It is pyramidal and hardy in zones 10 through 11. Outdoors in its native habitat, Norfolk Island pine can reach a height of up to 200 feet. But when planted in the southern regions of Florida, the tree will reach a height of only 50 feet. Because of its weak root system, the tree is susceptible to the occasional hurricane-force winds in Florida.
The tree'sr native habitat is the Southern Hemisphere. In the United States you will find the Norfolk Island pine growing outdoors in southern Florida, and on the West Coast. San Francisco's Golden Gate Park contains groves of this species. The Norfolk Island pine as houseplant can be found throughout the world.
When used as a container plant indoors, the Norfolk Island pine needs to be located in a cool bright spot. It requires approximately two hours of direct sunlight. The tree will gravitate toward the light and should be rotated to keep it growing straight. It should be fertilized during the growing season--spring, summer and fall--and it will need to be watered regularly, be not excessively. Do not allow water to sit in the saucer. The Norfolk Island pine requires 50 percent relative humidity to thrive.
This container plant does not require pruning. You will only need to prune to remove any dead branches or brown tips of the tree. Once a branch or tip is pruned, the tree will not grow at that spot again, so do not prune more than necessary. Because of their weak root system, they will only need to be repotted every three to four years. The repotting should be done in the spring.