Tree to 50(–70) m with straight stem, to 3.5 m dbh. Bark grey-brown, peeling in small scales. Branches in widely spaced whorls, especially in young trees, ascending, often becoming ragged-looking with age when the attractive conical shape is lost. Leaves dimorphic; those on juvenile growth soft, needle-shaped, to 1.2 cm and spreading away from the stem, light to mid-green; mature leaves dark green, hard to the touch, narrow, densely placed and overlapping, 4–5 mm long and incurved at apex, but broader and imbricated on fertile shoots. Male strobili pendulous, clustered, 4 cm long. Female cones 10–12 7.5 cm, with triangular scales and long-pointed incurved tips. Seeds to 3 1.2 cm, winged. Dallimore et al. 1966, Silba 1986, Hill 1998. Distribution NORFOLK ISLAND. Habitat Lowland forest. USDA Hardiness Zone 9–10. Conservation status Vulnerable. Illustration NT153. Cross-reference K54.
The symmetry and shape of the Norfolk Island Pine as a young tree are extremely attractive, earning it a place in many tropical gardens, but as it matures it can look very raddled and in smaller gardens should be replaced regularly. Owen Johnson (2007) has commented that it is ‘so spectacular that gardeners are always going to try to grow it – though I know of no trees in central London, where it ought to thrive, and no old ones on the coasts of Cork and Kerry, where it could have done.’ The largest recorded in the British Isles was a 25 m (74 cm dbh) specimen at Tresco Abbey, killed by frost in 1987. Replacements there are doing well (Johnson 2007), but on the mainland the story is less rosy with most trees, even in the classic coastal and Cornish sites, struggling along to only a few metres high. An interesting exception is a 2.5 m specimen doing well in a garden in Ipswich, Suffolk (Johnson 2007, reported by D. Sanford). As the species is sold in huge numbers in the juvenile phase as a houseplant it would not be surprising if there were other such individuals growing in sheltered urban localities.