Norfolk Island Pine vs Cook Island Pine

NoVaPlantGuy_Z7b_8a(Alexandria, VA 7B/8A)November 17, 2011

Hello all,

I know that most here probably don't care to discuss these conifers in this forum, but I thought it might be the best place to at least start since they are after all, conifers.

I have been meaning to post this here lately, but keep forgetting to do so. Anyway...

I have two several "Norfolk Island Pines" Araucaria Heteropylla. One pot of them I purchased recently, the others (two) I have had for 2 years now.

The ones I have had the longest one is about 3 feet tall, and one is about 10" tall. The large one was purchased from someone in my neighborhood who sells plants in his shop. The small one was one I kept out of pots of small ones that had many in one pot. I bought several pots of them a couple Christmases ago and separated them into single plants in one pot to give out as gifts at a function. Anyway, these two look identical, only difference is in size.

The newer ones I have were also grouped 4 in a pot, and are all about 2.5-3 feet tall. These I purchased a couple months ago from a reputable high end nursery here in my area.

The ones that I purchased recently are rather strikingly different looking (while still looking the almost the same) as the two older ones I have had for a couple years. Noticing this difference has made me wonder if possibly the newer once I had gotten ahold of are actually Araucaria Columnaris (Cook Island Pine) vs A. Heterophylla (Norfolk Island Pine).

Having done substantial research on them I really can not determine if what I have are in fact the two different species. I was hoping that someone here would be able to help.

Below are photos of two of them. One of the older ones (the larger one) and one of the newer ones.( the largest one) You can clearly see the difference between the two in terms of grow habit. So my questions are, are these that I have in fact two different species here, or, are they both the same and are just very dramatically different growth habits? To me one looks alot more like a A. Columnaris than the other. What do you think? Here are the photos.

The older one that I think looks more like a Norfolk Island Pine (A. Heterophylla) is first, followed by the one I think looks much more like a Cook Island Pine. (A. Columnaris)

Thanks for any help!

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salicaceae(z8b FL)

They are very likely both A. columnaris. True heterophylla is very rare in the U.S. (except in California). Here in Florida, i know of one 2 or 3 true heterophyllas in the landscape, but thousands of columnaris. I have never seen true heterophylla for sale anywhere but in CA. They are easy to tell apart when freshly germinated and also older. This age is more difficult.

    Bookmark   November 17, 2011 at 9:48PM
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I think the upper branches on the second one are simply in a more juvenile they mature, they will adopt the more feathery habit seen in the first photo.

From Krussman (Manual of Cultivated Conifers, 1985):

A. columnaris: Tree, to 60 m high, the lower branches usually abscising, short shoots arise from the adventitious buds at the base, this portion of the stem is then densely covered to make a "green column", branches horizontal, side branches long, slender, whiplike in appearance, bark exfoliating, paper thin...Differing from the similar A. heterophylla in the compact, less "feathery" habit and the columnar, "green stem."

    Bookmark   November 17, 2011 at 10:01PM
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So A. columnaris is the novelty potted x-mas trees they sell everywhere this time of year...?

Questions... are these trees seed grown? And why are there 4 or 5 trunks in these pots they sell? Multiple seeds?

    Bookmark   November 17, 2011 at 11:33PM
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NoVaPlantGuy_Z7b_8a(Alexandria, VA 7B/8A)

Thanks for the responses so far. So for all of these they have been selling A. Columnaris under the wrong name in the trade? A. Columnaris is Cook Island Pine, but they are always labeled "Norfolk Island Pine".

Not really sure about the upper branches on the second photo being more juvenile than on the first, except maybe for the very top row of branches. Even the older branches on each plant appear very different, and the needles on the one in the second photo appear to be more tightly packed. The two are about the same height, the trunks are about the same caliper and I would think the trees are about the same age. Of course no way of knowing for sure.

Could growing environment impact the look of them that drastically as to where they look this different? I'm asking because I don't know. I know some plants have extremely different growth habit when given different growing environments. Like Dracena have much more stiff, straight, sword like leaves in direct sun light, but when grown in shade the leaves are much more graceful and arch/ bend downwards. Could this be something similar going on here if they were each grown under different light / environments?

As to the question about multiple plants in multiple pots I think that is a function of the growers shoving multiple seeds into the same pot, quite possibly to save money and to also achieve a fuller looking plant. Kind of like they do with Parlor Palms (Chamaedorea Elegans).

    Bookmark   November 18, 2011 at 12:09AM
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I think time will tell with your two trees. Two distinguishing hallmarks of A. columnaris are 1) flaky, exfoliating bark, and 2) a tendency to form a slight "S" curve towards the base of the trunk.

    Bookmark   November 18, 2011 at 8:07AM
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salicaceae(z8b FL)

Yes, A. columnaris is sold everywhere as 'Norfolk Island Pine'. True heterophylla is very rare in the trade and it can be distinguished also by the much larger cotyledons, flat, longer branches held at more regular and distant intervals on the stem. At maturity, A. heterophylla looks much different being much more open and much wider in crown.

The reason they are "multi-stemmed" is because the growers plant several together in the same pot for "Christmas trees" or houseplants and then they get planted outside as clumps of trees.

Growing conditions (especially light) greatly impact how cultivated trees look. The top photo looks like it has been in more shade and the bottom one looks like it has been in full sun.

    Bookmark   November 18, 2011 at 8:53AM
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eric_9b(z9b Orlando)

Also, the scales along the trunk of A. heterophylla point upwards and those on A. columnaris point downwards.

"true" A. heterophylla

A. columnaris (what is mistekenly sold as "Norfolk Island Pine")

    Bookmark   November 18, 2011 at 9:50AM
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eric_9b(z9b Orlando)

and here is a young A. heterophylla, the actual Norfolk Island Pine

    Bookmark   November 18, 2011 at 9:52AM
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NoVaPlantGuy_Z7b_8a(Alexandria, VA 7B/8A)

Thanks for all of the replies to this thread so far! While there is lots of helpful info here, I still am unsure of what I have.

eric_9b, the scales on the trunks of mine point both up and down. Just depending on the section of trunk they are on. So I'm not too sure how much of a key that feature of the plant is in its true ID. So it is still confusing as heck. On the plant in the second photo I posted there are many more pointing upwards than downwards, but the growth looks more like A. Columnaris to me, than in the one in the first photo I posted. On the plant in the second photo of mine, that one's growth habit looks more open like A. Heterophylla, however on that plant the scales are about evenly split between pointing up or down.

I guess really there is not much way to tell for sure on young plants. I just thought I might have one of each since the growth habits on two that I have are very different from one another. Again though, I suppose that could be due to different growing environments including light levels.

    Bookmark   November 24, 2011 at 2:32PM
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To clarify, the tree in the second pic was recently bought, and looked like that when you bought it? This new tree was probably grown outside in the sun and wind, which makes a difference. Out of the wind and direct sun the branches are weaker and more droopy, I believe with woody plants in general.

    Bookmark   November 24, 2011 at 8:25PM
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NoVaPlantGuy_Z7b_8a(Alexandria, VA 7B/8A)

Noki, yes, your clarification is correct. However I still don't think that the trunk needles or scales are a good key to positive ID given my reasons above.

    Bookmark   November 26, 2011 at 10:39AM
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"eric_9b, the scales on the trunks of mine point both up and down. Just depending on the section of trunk they are on. So I'm not too sure how much of a key that feature of the plant is in its true ID"

On Eric's pics, the A. heterophylla has all its needles pointing up, while his A. columnaris has a mix, most pointing down but some level, some pointing up. So if yours also has a mix, suggests it is more likely A. columnaris.


    Bookmark   November 26, 2011 at 10:56AM
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wandering_willow(6 NYC)

not sure if this has been suggested yet, but I just got a lovely one of these (Norfolk Island or I guess really Cook Island Pine) from Home Depot for $15 - on xmas sale :) Good luck!

    Bookmark   November 30, 2011 at 12:56AM
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