Ewen's garden

A collection of columns, paintings and photographs about gardening on an offshore island in New Zealand.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Southern conifers

Recently a reader asked if I could identify a tree form a picture they sent to me. I am afraid I have been a little slow in responding! Well I can confirm the tree was a Norfolk Island pine, Araucaria heterophylla. These trees are sentinel in many coastal places in this country and instantly recognisable with their rigid and symmetrical form. The confusion for this reader was the branches and in particular the older ones, these were quite pendulous, almost weeping. I have noticed this in other older specimens of Norfolk pine. As with many trees the mature form is often different to the juvenile stage. This tree is also native to parts of the eastern Australian seaboard. Others in the Araucaria genus from Australia include the bunya bunya A. bidwillii. A grove of these stately trees can be found in the Auckland Domain, down the path that leaves Domain drive near Stanley Street. The trees are mature and their enormous trunks tower upwards to the dense canopy. The effect is quite eerie, like a set from Lord of the Rings. The red seed is borne in large cones and was once a delicacy of the Aborigines.
Yet another native of Australia in this genus is the hoop pine, A. cunninghamii. This tree has a rather spongy overall look to the canopy and is not so commonly seen.
From near by New Caledonia comes the Cook pine, A. columellaris. As the name suggests the form of the Cook pine is slender and upright. It is often grown in the villages and in avenues to the chief’s house in New Caledonia. A specimen of the Cook pine is growing near the front gate in the garden of my father’s cousin. It was usually considered to be an unusual form of the Norfolk pine, but now we know different.
From much further to the east, comes the monkey puzzle, A. araucana, native of South America, named for the Araucanian Indians. The monkey puzzle is found in alpine regions and so in 1795 when it was first brought into cultivation adapted to the climate of the British Isles with no problems. It swiftly became very popular especially during the Victorian era when people had a penchant for the odd and unusual. All the other species in this genus are too tender for the British climate.
Not of the same genus but in the same family lies our kauri tree, Agathis australis. This genus includes some fifteen species found throughout the Pacific and parts of South East Asia. There is some confusion however so to whether they are really all separate species or just variations of one single species, that is for the botanists I guess. The kauri, the mightiest tree in our forests, and arguably the longest lived, is surprisingly somewhat temperamental. The most important thing to remember is the susceptibility of their shallow root systems. The feeding roots are all very close to the surface, and so prone to damage from any interference, be it foot traffic of people or cars and excavations. So if planting one of these magnificent trees be careful where you place it, it may be here for generations, lets hope so.

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At 11:58 AM, Blogger Dan said...

I´ve got some pictures of both Norfolk and Cook pines in my tree-species.blogspot.com site if you are interested. I have spent a considerable amount of time learning to distinguish these two tree species as they are very common where I live in Southern Spain.


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