The 12 days of Christmas plants -- Norfolk Island pine

The story of how the Norfolk Island pine became a holiday favorite.

Today, I'm handing over to Costa Farms to tell us the tale of that charming little tree known as the Norfolk Island pine. (Little, that is, when it's grown indoors; in its outdoor native habitat, it grows up to 200 feet high.) But this time of year the houseplant version makes an ideal substitute Christmas tree for those who don't want or have room for a larger tree.

Did you know that the traditional holiday fir, the Norfolk Island pine has a back story worthy of a Hollywood script? Actually, when you see these delicately shaped pines at your favorite retail store, you’re taking home a bit of nautical history.

Norfolk Island Pines (Araucaria heterophylla) are native to Norfolk Island, an island in the South Pacific. Their "romantic" history involves a famous sea captain and sultry South Sea Islands.

In 1774, during his second exploratory sea voyage to the South Pacific, Capt. James Cook discovered Norfolk Island.

On a weary vessel named Resolution, Cook and his crew also discovered stately 200-foot pines they named Norfolk Island pines. They were prized as a source of pine planks desperately needed for ship-building.

Today, like modern-day explorers, a few intrepid seed cone "hunters" from Florida travel to the Hawaiian island of Oahu every two years to revisit the grand Norfolk Island pines that thrive in the warm, tropical breezes and coastal soil.

The harvesters brave dizzying heights to pluck the hardiest seed cones from the whirling branches.  The lime-green prickly seed cones are then shipped to Costa Farms south of Miami, where horticultural experts plant them, using 6-8 seeds per pot to assure consistently superior pines for perfect holiday decorating.

The soft and compact needles, strong branches, and naturally symmetrical shape of the Norfolk Island Pine make it the ideal holiday tree. It can handle homemade ornaments and keepsakes, and provide endless decorating and gift-giving options.

According to Ethne Clarke of Traditional Home magazine, “Miniature evergreens are the trend in home décor, particularly with live trees like the Norfolk Island pine.  These miniature versions are elegant in a lovely container on the mantle, or decorated in the children’s room for fun.”

Caring for your Norfolk Island Pine:
·        They grow best indoors in a sunny location and prefer to be near a window  but away from direct heat. Avoid direct intense sunlight.
·        Indoors they flourish in 50 percent humidity so consider running a humidifier or sit them in a tray of pebbles, watering the pebbles during winter months.
·        Keep the soil moist but don’t let it dry out or stand in water.
·        If you live where the temperature stays above 60 degrees . (15 C), (such as USDA Zones 9-10), your Norfolk Island Pine can be planted in the landscape.
·        As a houseplant, the Norfolk Island Pine naturally filters the air from indoor toxins and provides much needed moisture during the dry winter months.

Select from 14-to-44 inch tall trees, fully decorated or ready for your finishing touch, available at neighborhood retailers.

A final note from Judy: If your Norfolk Island pine grows too large, never, ever cut off the top or the tips of the branches! They get all misshapen.

Also, if needles fall, it's usually from overwatering, underwatering, or too little light.

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