Stately pines for rural, urban greens
Published on: Monday, June 22, 2020
By: Eskay Ong
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OF THE many giant evergreen conifers in the world, only a very small number can actually be grown for ornamental or beautification purposes.  In their natural habitat in the cooler regions, these trees are huge and tall structures and can easily reach heights of 100 metres or more.  

But if carefully cultured and domesticated, their height and size can very much be reduced and controlled according to the needs of the situation.

Horticulturally, it is even possible to dwarf such trees to the extent that they can be brought indoors into offices or homes to enliven the surroundings with fresh greenery.  Indeed, this is quite commonly done and can often be seen in many towns and cities, including the rural communities where there is a great appreciation of the world of flora.

Fronds of Araucaria are spiky and prickly.

For indoor use, palms such as Licuala and Fan Palms are quite common, together with leafy members such as Scindapsus and Dieffenbachia.  Another wonderful plant that deserves attention is the Araucaria excels.  This is a very elegant plant that may grow to a height of 65 metres or more in its natural habitat, with a great spread of three to five metres at its base.  

Interestingly, this sounds like a deterrent to many plant lovers because of the unwieldy size of such plants which should actually be considered more as trees than anything else.

However, there is no need to fear because Araucarias are extremely flexible and can easily be adapted to grow to many different height levels and within all kinds of situations.  

If the plant is systematically and carefully started in some kind of container, the rate of growth may be considerably restrained and reduced so that it can be made to grow many years in a 30cm pot without achieving a height greater than 1.3 metres.  

And when the crown begins to grow bigger and heavier, it can be repotted into yet larger pots such as the egg jars.  

In such kinds of pots, the Araucaria can grow happily for another long period of time, which may run up to 12-18 years, or even longer without any need for another change of pot.

A young Araucaria tree planted on the ground in the outdoors.  


The Araucaria Pine

The Araucaria is an evergreen tree that belongs to the pine family. It is also known as the Norfolk Island Pine because it was first discovered about a couple of centuries ago on an island named as such that lies in the South Pacific Ocean between Australia and New Zealand.

The Araucaria resembles a true pine in that it is capable of growing woody cones within which the seeds are borne.  

It also has stiff though delicate needles or spines for its foliage, and on being injured, it produces a sticky, resinous sap.  It has branches that grow out horizontally from the central stem.  Such branches appear to be fern-like but they are actually the foliage part of the plant.

Araucarias grow upwards in a vertical manner and if they are bent or inclined, they should be supported and tied to a piece of stick or pole that is staked near to the central stem so as to encourage the desired growth pattern.  The growth of the plant is also very symmetrical, and as the plant increases in height, more and more branches or ‘fronds’ are produced.  

These fronds grow in tiers in increasing numbers as the central stem increases in height, with the youngest fronds at the top being the smallest and most tender, and the oldest and toughest at the bottom.  

It is seldom necessary to remove the older fronds from the lower part of the plant unless they have turned brown due to over-exposure to the elements such as ill-treatment, or perhaps even due to senescence.

The apex of an Araucaria is always softer and more tender despite the abundance of thorny spikes.  


Benefits of Araucarias

One of the reasons why the Araucaria is so popular is that its cultivation is really simple and the plant can be made to sit in a single pot for many years without repotting.  And when it has outgrown its pot, it can be repotted into yet larger ones, until finally, when it has grown too large to sit in a pot without toppling over, the plant can be shifted somewhere and grown on the ground.  

This is most suitable for gardens with spacious compounds, and once it is set on the ground, it can stay there comfortably for umpteen years without any further worry about its well-being.

As a pot-bound plant, the Araucaria can be moved about anywhere in the garden as well as within buildings.  It is also widely used during Christmas because it is cone-shaped when young and very well-formed symmetrically.  On such an occasion, a few blinking electric lights wrapped over the plant can really add to the joyous atmosphere.

Old trees of the Araucaria, if available, can be felled and its trunk can be made to serve a number of useful purposes.  The log can be sawn into smaller pieces to make beautiful garden stools, with the odd lengths being gainfully used as stands or pedestals for other potted plants, or even to place a few hot cuppas or several bottles of thirst-quenching beverage in the garden. 

The longer logs can be made into log-benches but care has to be taken to remove the hard dry spines to prevent an occasional tired butt from getting pricked.  

But to really enjoy such benefits of log-benches, stools and pot or coffee stands in the garden, it is necessary to wait out the long period of time before reasonably-sized logs can be obtained.

A young stem with green spikes.


Growing Araucarias

It is difficult to propagate Araucaria pines from branch, terminal or stem cuttings, but it is easiest to start the plants from seedlings.  These are readily available in many nurseries where they are sold in various sizes ranging from 20cm to 2.0 metres or taller.  

Normally, the bigger bucks can get taller and better plants which should be able to establish easily in pots or on the ground without much hassle.

In buying such a plant, do choose one that has a straight, vertically-growing central stem. Make sure it is firm and erect right up to the apex.  If it is sagging or drooping, it may spell problem for growth later on.  

Just imagine a person with a drooping neck due to a snapped cervical vertebrae or a negative bank account, and the picture is clear.  

The fronds should be of a beautiful, rich green colour without any brownish or yellowish parts, and should be well-distributed in an all-round radial spread.  Those with a slightly yellowish or pale green are still acceptable as they could be due to malnutrition or bleaching.  If placed under shade and applied with a dilute solution of booster, they should revert to their original rich green after a short period of time.

An older section of the stem shows plenty of dark brown spines. 

From the nursery and into a pot or on the ground is not a difficult thing to do when it comes to dealing with Araucarias.  

A 35cm diameter pot would do just fine if it is the tough and rugged type.  This means it does not crack or split easily after a number of years due to the roots exerting outward and downward pressure.  

A 60cm diameter pot should be able to last as long 10-20 years. As such, planting the Araucaria can mean rewarding the grower with plenty of relaxing time for many, many years into the future.

With ground-grown Araucarias, it is even easier. Just prepare a suitably-sized planting hole, mix in a good topsoil together with some manure and an NPK, and the planting can be completed within the next minute.  

Araucarias grown on the ground may be able to last for generations, and this therefore leaves the grower with even more time to jom kupi-kupi dulu bah!


A potted Araucaria sits nicely within the house.


Looking after Araucarias

Araucarias are easy to look after.  Nothing much is needed except to ensure that water is regularly applied, together with some dilute fertiliser solution.  

A little compound fertiliser and some manure dug into the soil and overspread with some compost is another beneficial deed that may sustain the Araucaria healthily. A quarterly or even thrice yearly application would suffice to keep the plant in tip-top condition.

Light is essential but over-exposure to strong sunshine coupled with hot and dry conditions, may result in the foliage turning yellow or just faintly bleached.  Therefore, a certain amount of shade is beneficial to the plant to keep its beautiful green.  

A 20-year-old tree.  


However, as the plant grows bigger and taller, this is of little consequence as it continues in its upward growth.

Repotting is quite unnecessary except after years of staying in the same pot, but pruning may be necessary to remove the badly drooping, dead or dried-up lower fronds of the much bigger and older plants.  

Seeds are set in this manner during the process of germination.

Araucaria seeds taken from a mature cone.


Those grown on the ground should be given some circle weeding especially when they are in the younger stage of development, but as they grow taller and firmer, little needs to be done unless such pines are grown in parks or gardens where maintenance must always be spick-and-span.

- The writer may be reached 


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December 20, 2014