When the night temperatures began to fall, we knew it was time to starting bringing all the indoor plants back inside.
Years ago I started collecting indoor plants again after a several year lull after devoting myself to outside gardens. But I began to miss the greenery over the winter and when a particular plant caught my attention, I started thinking about putting it somewhere in my house.
Over time, these plants grew larger, from small 10 or 12-inch containers to mammoth decorative pots. Not only did the plants and their containers grow, but the effort to put them in an out each season grew as well. It's getting to be quite a chore.
The largest of the indoor plants is the Norfolk Island Pine, or Araucaria heterophylla. This plant, believed to have originated from Norfolk Island, a small island situation in the Pacific Ocean between Australia and New Zealand.
The tree is a conifer that produces cones filled with seeds. In its native habitat, Norfolk Island Pine's cones mature in about 18 months and the seeds are edible with a nutty flavor. But in my living room, there are no cones, or at least there haven't been yet, as my tree is only about six feet tall.
While six feet is tall for a house plant, on its Pacific Island, this tree can get up to 50 feet tall or more. Not many North American conifers will do well as indoor plants, but this tree is quite adaptable growing in a container. It's pyramidal shape and evergreen branches make this tree a nice large plant for indoor decorating.
The nickname, Norfolk Island Pine is a misnomer as this tree is not a true pine. The Norfolk Island Pine doesn't have what we would call needles, but instead has pliable short leaves that aren't sharp or painful to handle.
True pines hold their needles in bundles and depending on the species of pine, the number of needles per bundle can vary. Some varieties only have two to three needles per bundle while others have between five and seven.
Historical accounts state that the Norfolk Island Pine was first discovered by explorer Captain James Cook in 1774. At that time, the trees caught his attention because of their tall, straight trunk, which he thought would be suitable for use as masts on ships. But the trunks of this tree are not sturdy enough to be used that way so that plan was soon abandoned.
Some companies later attempted to use the lumber from this tree to make plywood, but that didn't work either. Because it is a softwood, however, it is used instead as a turning wood for crafters who work on a lathe.
Because it is from the South Pacific, this tree will not withstand our freezing winters outdoors. It is a house plant and is not fond of direct sunlight.
In summer, we take the tree outside and put it under a larger tree where it gets diffused sunlight. It can be top heavy and we often have to upright the container after a rainstorm or on a particularly windy day.
Now that the plant has come indoors, possibly for the season because it is too much effort to take it in and out while we wait for consistent weather, the problem is finding a place to put it. What was once a moderately sized houseplant has grown not just tall, but wide as well as the older branches fan out about six feet in all directions.
We don't decorate this tree for the holidays, although it can be tempting, because the Norfolk Island Pine is sensitive to too much touching. Leaves will turn brown and entire branches will fall off if it is handled too much.
Although it is easy to grow and maintain, it can be challenge to keep around due to its size.