Araucaria heterophylla (Norfolk Island Pine)

December 9, 2008

Featured tree

A handsome, statuesque tree.  Due to its size and form the Norfolk Island Pine can provide a good contrast to other landscape elements and is a feature of many Australian coastal towns.

Norfolk Island Pine

Norfolk Island Pine showing tall, tiered effect.


Norfolk Island


Specific epithet refers to the distinction between the juvenile and adult leaves.  Juvenile leaves narrow, incurved, generally softer, while adult leaves are rigid, overlapping and lanceolate.  Grey-black bark, flaking, deep pink beneath.  Branches are held in horizontal whorls of 4-7.  Ovoid to globose female cones found in small numbers held upright in the uppermost branches.   Growth rate is reported as being fast, however will be dependent on nursery production method, landscape site conditions and after-care maintenance.


A large tree that can adapt to a range of soil conditions (as long as well drained) and is drought tolerant once established.  Moderate tolerance to waterlogged soils.  High tolerance of winds also salt laden winds in coastal situations. Not seriously affected by pest or disease.

Root space:

Based on mature size, tree would require approximately 176m2 area or 106m3 root volume. (Crown projection method based on 15m diameter canopy due to narrow form of species).



Uses & management:

The most widely cultivated of the araucarias. Norfolk Island Pine is well suited to coastal situations where, in Australia, it has become an iconic species.  Possibly used in coastal towns as landmarks for shipping.  Species is suited to urban landscapes, both coastal and inland.  Also used as street tree where space allows (Zone of upheaval 4.0m to 5.0m diameter) .  Good tree for open space. Norfolk Island Pine can also be used as an indoor plant and is often seen as a Christmas tree.
Prune to central trunk otherwise little pruning is required.  Supplemental irrigation to establish trees is essential.
Roots are surface orientated and can lift hard surfaces.  Consideration will need to be given to allowing room for both upper crown development and root buttress expansion.

Featured Tree© Tree Logic Pty Ltd 2008
Rowell, R. J. (1996) Ornamental conifers for Australian gardens. UNSW Press.
Spencer, R. (1995) Horticultural flora of South-Eastern Australia. Ferns, conifers & their allies. UNSW Press.

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20 Responses to “Araucaria heterophylla (Norfolk Island Pine)”

  1. Alex Jones Says:

    We have a Norfolk Island Pine about a meter from a our bedroom window. We planted it there 30 years ago after using it for 2 years as a Christmas tree in a pot. It provides excellent privacy from the road and we keep it pollarded at about roof height every 3-4 years, so it hasn’t become a problem. We often get 4-5 decent sized small Christmas trees from the top whenever we cut it because it makes multiple shoots. It produces lots of new growth and bushes up really well once it’s cut, unlike the naturally growing ones. Not a problem really if you want to keep a tree. Just prune it to suit the location, with lots of TlC!

    The Japanese have a habit of pruning their trees in temple grounds in all sorts of ways and they look great so I don’t see why we need to get rid of trees if they survive quite well with pruning/pollarding.

  2. Angela pap Says:

    Hi. Our neighbour has a Norfolk pine in their backyard less than a metre from our fence and about 2-3 metres away from our pool. We are concerned that the roots may cause damage to our pool, as the pavers around the pool are all lifted, Will this in time cause serious damage to our pool?

  3. Gary Anderson Says:

    please discuss possible pathological ideas to explain a large limb drop from very large, healthy, mature Araucaria heterophylla. 4 trees are growing in close proximity forming a landscape feature although not close enough to be competing for root space. looks like it has possible preliminary fungal attack but may well just be a bit of dying back, water shortage etc. Large branch at point of breakage at approximately 11m high seems to have a darker coloured gumosis on one sector of the lignified xylem?…Can send photo if helps. Owner wants to keep tree and I don’t know how to help as yet….

  4. James Martens-Mullaly Says:

    Hi Bill,
    Norfolk Island Pines can reach a mature height of 100′. If soil conditions are favourable then roots could easily extend a distance of 50′ or more.
    In relation to your neighbour’s concern over roots intruding into sewage pipes, I offer the following for consideration.
    Underground services, particularly those laid in the upper soil profile (2’ or less below grade) may be affected by root activity. There are several mechanisms by which roots can directly or indirectly damage services and depend on a range of factors including depth of installation, distance of service from the tree, soil type, tree size, and service construction type.
    Roots will not penetrate intact services, though root incursion can occur where a service contains an existing defect and conditions inside the pipe are conducive to root growth (moist and aerated). Root colonisation of the service can occur. Radial growth of the roots where it passes through the service may enlarge the defect, while colonization of the service may cause a blockage. Roots will follow soil moisture gradients including those resulting from leaking water or sewerage services.
    Indirect damage may occur in reactive soils as these soils are vulnerable to expansion and shrinkage. Differential movement can distort a service supported in such soil; short segmented services, typical of older constrcution types at least in Australia, in particular are vulnerable to localised distortion resulting from soil movement. Service distortion can also be caused where a service passes from a reactive soil into a rigid structure. Movement of reactive soil occurs in the absence of trees however uptake of soil moisture by trees can exacerbate soil moisture deficits influencing localised soil movement.
    Direct damage can be caused by the compressive force of roots growing over, under or around services. Such damage is most likely to occur where large structural roots develop typically, within 6’-13’ laterally from the trunk and within the top 2’ of the soil profile, though generally speaking roots or surrounding soil tend to distort rather than the service
    Roots growing over, under or around services may also damage services where movement of the lower trunk and structural roots occur a result of the dampening of wind loading through the tree structure applying direct pressure to the service. Uprooting of trees can damage services passing through the failed portion of the root plate Again though such damage usually occurs, within 6’-13’ laterally from the trunk and within the top 2’ of the soil profile.
    Hope this helps,

  5. Bill - Cypress, CA Says:

    I live in Southern California and have 2 Norfolk Island Pines in my yard. I was contacted by one of my neighbors who complained that this tree’s root system is likely to intrude on the sewage drainage system causing clogs and failures. Is this a concern? The two trees are about 6′ tall now. How big is the root system likely to encompass?

  6. James Martens-Mullaly Says:

    The Norfolk Island Pine like many conifers naturally develop a main stem which outgrows and subdues the lateral branches beneath, resulting the development of the characteristic cone shaped crown with a central trunk referred to as excurrent growth habit. Removal of the top of the main stem will not alter the excurrent tendency of the tree. New shoots with a strong vertical orientation will develop below the point at which the main stem was cut. To maintain the desired height, removal of these shoots will be required, however their removal will trigger new shoots to develop and so shoot removal to maintain the desired height will be ongoing. Incremental growth of the lower lateral branches will occur as will an increase in trunk girth and root mass.

    The conical form of the tree and its aesthetic appeal will be lost with such pruning. The desire to maintain a tree that is capable of reaching a mature height in excess of 30m to a height below 7m indicates the tree does not suit your requirements for that location. Rather than compromise a large tree species, you should consider its removal and replacement with a more suitably sized specimen.



  7. Kathy Says:

    I have a norfolk pine in my backyard in central queensland, I love this tree but I fear the size that it might grow ( It’s about 4m from house). Can I “bonsai” this 7m tree by taking off the top, and keep trimming it?

  8. James Martens-Mullaly Says:

    Hi Kathy,

    The short answer is a long time, but just how long the average life span is for the Norfolk Island Pine when grown in Victoria is still being tested as some of the oldest know planted specimens are still alive and in good condition. One such specimen is that planted in the Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne in 1851 by John Dallachy, the second Director of the Botanic Gardens, making it around 160 years old!



  9. Kathy Whitburn Says:

    Hi James,

    Can you tell me how long the average life span is for the Norfolk Island Pine. We have a lovely avenue of them in Frankston where I work that are about 30 metres tall probably planted in the 1930’s. They are very healthy and I assume that they will continue to grow for some time as they seem to get to at least 50 metres at maturity.


  10. James Martens-Mullaly Says:

    Hi Michelle,
    The challenge you face appears to be establishing young plants with small developing root systems in an area dominated by the vigorous roots of an established tree. Any fertilization or irrigation of the new young plants will be exploited by the roots of Norfolk Island Pine at the at the expense of the plants you are trying to establish.
    Light levels beneath the tree canopy may also be an issue so it may be best to take a photo of the site you are trying replant to your local nursery and get some advice on native plants that would best suit the location.
    Thereafter you could try to plant advanced specimens with a well developed root system. Without damaging the larger woody roots of your Norfolk Island Pine, try to make the planting holes 2-3 times the diameter of the pot in which they came but no deeper.
    All the best with your project,

  11. James Martens-Mullaly Says:

    That’s a good question Tom, however I cannot return a good answer. The cones of Norfolk Island Pine (Araucaria heterophylla) ripen in 2-3 years before disintegrating. Seed cones will mature irrespective of the number of fertile seeds within. The few times I have pulled apart cones I have found extremely variable numbers of seed. The maximum number of seed can equal the number of cones bracts.

  12. Michelle Eva Says:

    I have a Norfolk Island Pine in my front garden, I removed bushes of Lavender from under the tree and planted various other native Australian plants. These plants have not grown an inch in 2 years, I was thinking the tree might be creating the wrong soil conditions for anything else to grow under it, is there anything I can do??
    Michelle Perth Australia.

  13. Tom Alonzo Says:

    Can someone tell me the average number of seeds in the female cone of the Norfolk Island Pine (Araucaria heterophylla)? Please.
    Tom Alonzo – Kansas City, Kansas (USA)

  14. Helen Says:

    Thank you David. I’ll suggest that if they have an offer accepted, they get an inspection within the cool-off period. I appreciate your quick response.

  15. David Balsamo Says:

    Thanks Helen for your question. The short answer is I do not know. Large, evergreen coniferous species are generally listed as having moderate to high water demands so the capacity for the tree to do damage is there but will depend on a number of factors including soil type and profile, foundation type and condition, the level of moisture deficit in the area due to drought, changes in site drainage to mention a few. If your friend has a concern, then I suggest that they engage a building surveyor to inspect the building for amongst other things, signs of distress due to soil moisture deficit which may not be visible to the untrained eye. Hope this helps. Cheers David

  16. Helen Says:

    My friends want to purchase a house with a magnificent Norfolk Island pine in the front yard. Its canopy touches the house gable, and the trunk is about 2.5metres in circumference. Is it likely to damage the foundations of the house in the years ahead? There is no apparent damage at the moment.

  17. James Martens-Mullaly Says:

    Thanks for your enquiry Tim.
    To my knowledge the timber of Araucaria heterophylla is not commercially harvested, as it is generally unsuitable for construction. The wood is however valued by craftsmen for wood turning. An internet search of woodworking / wood turning associations in your local area may reveal persons willing to take the wood.
    Best wishes

  18. Tim Says:

    we have a tall mature Norfolk Island pine which is too close to the house and in the way of an extension. Is the wood of any value to anyone, or would anyone remove it at no cost in exchange for the timber?

  19. James Martens-Mullaly Says:

    There are several reasons why your may have sparse foliage in the upper canopy however, without having seen the tree I can only offer the following. The appearance of a sparse upper canopy is the typical look of a healthy Norfolk Island Pine, the result of its its natural habit. The trees develop a single trunk around which regularly spaced whorls of branches emanate. The branches are initially short but elongate with age thus providing the classical conical silhouette, a defining feature of the species. So when looking through the canopy of a Norfolk Island Pine the lower portion inevitably appears denser than the upper portion. This is due to due to greater volumes of foliage volumes present on increasingly longer branches the lower down you look.

    Conversely, the tree could be under stress that is causing the thinning of foliage in the upper canopy, though unless the stress is common to all trees in the area which you mentioned appeared similar, then it is likely a result of the the natural pattern of growth.



  20. Katie Pigott Says:

    Hi have noticed that my Norfolk Pine is quite sparsely foliaged at the top with comparison to the rest of the tree, any ideas? others in the area I have also noticed suffer similarily.

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