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Five Holiday Plants That Aren't Poinsettias or Christmas Cactuses -- Norfolk Island Pines

By: Sandra Nelson; Images Sandy DeFoe

Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love both poinsettias and Christmas Cactus; it just wouldn’t be a festive holiday season without them adorning my mantel. But this year I decided it was time to bring some variety to my decorating life. After a lot of serious in-store study, these are the five plants I brought home this year (and two poinsettias…and one very small Christmas cactus that called out to me as I was checking out). 

Norfolk Pine





Each of these five brings something unique and meaningful to my holiday decorations that I’d like to share with you, our readers. So join me today as we begin learning about Norfolk Island Pines.

Norfolk Pine


Norfolk Island PineImage by Bohuslav Jelen

After years of relative obscurity, Norfolk PInes are coming into fashion again. Touted as the perfect living Christmas tree, these lovely plants are being carried out of stores in droves. What many people don’t realize however, is that their miniature Christmas tree is not a pine tree at all, instead it is actually a member of the diverse Araucariaceae family of conifers found only in the forested regions of the Southern Hemisphere.      Norfolk IslandThe Araucaria heterophylla, or the Norfolk Island Pine, was discovered in 1774 by Captain James Cook on the small South Pacific Norfolk Island. His ship the Resolution desperately needed repairs and when Cook sited the 200 foot tall conifers on the island, he mistakenly thought that he had found the familiar pine trees he needed. Although pine is a misnomer, the name stuck.

While they genuinely look like Christmas trees and their branches can easily support small, lightweight decorations and lights during the holiday season, to extend the life of the plant it is important to treat a Norfolk Island Pine as a tropical houseplant. Keep it out of drafts  –  both hot and cold. Make sure that it gets at least 6 hours of bright, indirect sunlight. South facing windows often offer the best light. Rotate the plant weekly to help keep it growing upright and straight. Water thoroughly when the soil is dry to the touch, but be careful not to   overwater.  humidity trayMaintain high humidity around the plant. This is easily done by filling a tray   filled with one inch pebbles, adding water to just under the top of the pebbles and   setting the plant in the center of the tray. Check the water level daily and refill as   needed. Once any electric lights and decorations are removed, then lightly mist the   Norfolk Island Pine weekly.

One other caution before you bring home your Norfolk Island Pine. I’ve noticed that many of our local retailers are selling plants that have been sprayed with glitter paint and decorated with multiple strands of lights. I would avoid purchasing those plants because the glitter/spray paint can interfere with photosynthesis and dramatically reduce the plant’s life expectancy. A healthy, well-cared for Norfolk Island Pine can easily last a decade or more in your home. While growth is slow, you can expect your Norfolk Island Pine to eventually reach 5 to 6 feet in height.

Join us tomorrow for hints for keeping your Rosemary tree happy and healthy .