The Living Christmas Tree

Sihouette of Norfolk Island Pine, Araucaria heterophylla
© Karen Netto (Andrews)

Silhouette and Cross

The silhouette of the Norfolk Island Pine is highly distinctive. The Christian cross at the top of the tree makes it an apt choice as a Christmas Tree. It is also an appropriate choice for the final Advent Sunday blog of 2018.

Classification and Origin

The Norfolk Island Pine is not a Pine tree at all. It is a member of the Kauri-tree family or Araucariaceae. This plant family is mainly found in the Southern Hemisphere and is more familiar for its Monkey Puzzles.

The Norfolk Island Pine dates back 200 million years ago to the Jurassic Period, when all the continents were a single land mass. The tree later developed in splendid isolation.

IUCN Red List Status

The tree is endemic to Norfolk Island and even features prominently on its flag. Today, it is classified with a Vulnerable Conservation Status on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Eighteen of the island’s other endemic species are considered Rare or Threatened.

Norfolk Island Pine
Source: Creative Commons via Pixaby

Location and History

Norfolk Island is a small island between Australia, New Zealand and New Caledonia. It has had an interesting and colourful history. It was uninhabited when spotted by Captain James Cook. It was chosen as a penal colony for its remoteness.

Map showing Norfolk Island in relation to Australia
Source: Wikimedia Creative Commons

HMS Bounty Descendants

The island became home to the Pitcairn descendants of Fletcher Christian and the HMS Bounty mutineers. Gravestones in the island’s cemetery testify to this history.


Norfolk Island has a warm climate. The temperature rarely falls below 10ºC or rises above 28ºC. The Norfolk Island Pine tolerates salt spray. There is only one place in the United Kingdom where the climate is suitable for this special tree: the Isles of Scilly.

Tresco’s Norfolk Island Pines

The following photographs of Norfolk Island Pines were taken during my visit to the Scilly Isles and Tresco Abbey Garden in August 2017.

View from the top of Tresco Abbey Garden, Isles of Scilly
© Karen Netto (Andrews)
Norfolk Island Pines at Tresco Abbey Garden, Isles of Scilly
© Karen Netto (Andrews)
Tresco Abbey Garden with Watsonia x ‘Tresco Hybrid’ and Norfolk Island Pine behind
© Karen Netto (Andrews)
Tresco Abbey Garden with Agapanthus in foreground and Norfolk Island Pine behind
© Karen Netto (Andrews)
Borders at Tresco Abbey Garden, Isles of Scilly
© Karen Netto (Andrews)
Walking towards a Norfolk Island Pine at Tresco Abbey Garden
© Karen Netto (Andrews)

Tresco Abbey Garden

Tresco Abbey Garden was created by Augustus Smith in the 19th century. It incorporates the remains of a Benedictine Abbey of 964 AD. Thousands of exotic plants flourish outdoors there. Those same plants would not survive 30 miles away on the Cornish coast.

August Smith created shelter belts to protect the gardens from the salty Atlantic gales. He corresponded with Sir William Hooker at Kew Gardens about his plant collection. Tresco Abbey Garden can grow plants outdoors that Kew has to keep inside in its large glasshouses.

A House Plant?

When you have seen large Norfolk Island Pines, it seems strange that they are considered house plants in the U.S.A. They are commonly sold as a small Christmas Trees there. This earns the Norfolk Island Pine the common name of the Living Christmas Tree.


Nelhams, M. 2016. Tresco Abbey Garden: The Garden Guide. Truran Books, St. Agnes, Cornwall, UK.

Thomas, P. 2011. Araucaria heterophyllaThe IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2011: e.T30497A9548582. Downloaded on 22 December 2018.

Copyright Note 

© Karen Netto (Andrews)

These pages illustrate my love of plants, botany, biodiversity, gardens and creative expression. There is always so much to learn about plant diversity. I love sharing. This blog is a showcase for my own photography, commentary on plants and wildlife, gardens and other places visited, horticulture and related topics.

© Karen Netto (Andrews) 2018 onwards. All rights reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Karen Netto (Andrews) and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. 

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