An excerpt from ‘A Place for Angles and Eagles’ – by Brian Hubber.
The Norfolk Island Pine (Araucaria heterophylla) is, in fact, not a pine tree. It is an Araucaria and is closely related to the Cook Pine of New Caledonia, the Monkey Puzzle Tree of South America and the Hoop and Bunya Pines of Australia. Araucaria evolved during the Triassic Era (250–200 million years ago). Given that Norfolk Island is only three million years old, it is assumed that Araucaria seed floated to the island, perhaps from New Caledonia to the north. The plant has since developed into its own species.
When Captain James Cook discovered Norfolk Island in 1774, he was immediately attracted by the qualities of the Norfolk Island Pine, thinking they were similar to Baltic Pine and so would make good masts and spars for ships.
In February 1788 Lieutenant Philip Gidley King was instructed to establish a settlement on Norfolk Island and to exploit the natural resources, such as the flax and timber. A couple of years later, Captain Hunter, while marooned on the island after the wreck of the HMS Sirius, decided to test the qualities of the local pine.
These trees, from their immense height, have a very noble appearance, being in general very straight, and free from branches, to forty, sometimes sixty feet, above the ground; they have been by some thought fit for masts […] I employed the carpenters of the Sirius while here, to cut down a few sticks, which it was intended should be sent home by the first opportunity, in order for trial in His Majesty’s dock-yards […] In providing […] seven sticks, thirty-four trees were cut down, twenty-seven of which were found defective.
While the Norfolk Island Pine wasn’t much good for ship’s masts, it has become one of the great ornamental trees of the world. It is found on every continent, often in long avenues bordering beaches and seaside parks. Individual trees have also become famous. In 1874, the largest specimen in the United Kingdom was said to be in the Royal Gardens at Kew, first introduced by Governor Phillip. A stately pine planted in the 1830s still overlooks the Waitangi Treaty Grounds in New Zealand. And there was also the famous Wishing Tree in the Sydney Botanic Gardens, first planted by Mrs Macquarie in 1816 – a delight to thousands of children until replaced by a younger pine in 1945. The Norfolk Island Pine is a symbol of Norfolk Island, adorning the island’s flag and still cloaking the islands hills and gullies as it has done for three million years.
Image Credit: Robin Nisbet
A Place for Angels and Eagles is available from Norfolk Island Museum
Article content disclaimer: Article first published in 2899 Magazine V1 Iss1, 2008. Please note that details of specific travel, accommodation and touring options may be outdated. References to people, places and businesses, including operating days and times may be have changed. References to Government structure and Government businesses/entities may no longer be applicable. Please check directly with businesses and/or Government websites directly rather than relying on any information contained in this article before you make travel arrangements.