University of Vermont
Department of Plant and Soil Science
EASY HOUSEPLANTS—NORFOLK ISLAND PINE
Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension Professor
University of Vermont
The Norfolk Island Pine is a houseplant that requires minimal care, and
because it grows slowly, will remain small and attractive for many years
indoors. Few pests bother it.
It is a houseplant you often find during the holidays, sometimes with
several small plants in a pot, either decorated or that you can buy bare and
decorate yourself. At my home we keep ours attractive year round, decorated
with ornaments for various seasons and holidays. Just make sure if
you’re decorating one, to use light-weight ornaments on the rather soft
branches. If using lights, use LED ones so not to burn the foliage, as
the heat may from incandescent lights.
The name is deceiving, as the Norfolk Island Pine (Araucaria heterophylla)
is not really a pine at all. It's a narrow-leaf evergreen plant with many
short, needle-like, dark green leaves arranged along the stems. The side
branches radiate from the central stem at a wide angle, giving the plant a
This coniferous (cone-bearing) evergreen is a native of Norfolk Island,
which is located between New Caledonia and Australia in the South Pacific.
It can be found growing on the cliffs on the northern shore, reaching a
height of 200 feet and a diameter of nine or ten feet. But don't
worry, it takes many years for it to achieve those dimensions in its native
habitat. In most interiors, it may reach five to eight feet over a
period of ten years or more. The Norfolk Pine, as it is often called,
was discovered in 1774 by Captain James Cook when he discovered this island.
For best growth and foliage quality, keep this plant in as much light as
possible, preferably a spot within four feet of a large south-, east-, or
west-facing window. The plant should receive about 200 foot candles of light
a day. (A foot candle is the amount of light given off from a candle when
measured from one foot away. For comparison, a reading lamp is
usually 40 to 60 foot candles.)
If you must keep your plants in a slightly darker location, compensate for
the lower light levels by keeping the room light on for longer periods of
time. Generally, 16 hours of light will be effective in keeping the plant in
good condition for several years. Turning plants weekly, especially if
near bright windows, will help keep them growing straight and upright.
Norfolk Island pines will be at home in most temperature ranges suitable for
people. Avoid extremes, both hot and cold. In the winter, a temperature of
50 to 55 degrees F at night is the minimum this plant can stand without
injury. However, it will grow better if night temperatures are about ten
degrees cooler than day temperatures.
As with many houseplants, this one prefers higher humidity than found in
most homes (such as about 50%), especially during winter months. Humidity
can be raised with a humidifier nearby, which will help you as well.
Fertilize as you would other houseplants, according to product label
directions, and when plants are putting on new growth. These plants
will survive with little, to almost no, fertilizer. Low fertility will keep
them shorter, growing more slowly.
Soil around the roots should be moist, but never wet. It should be well
drained, such as one with sand or peat moss, or both. Wet soil, as well as
age or low light, may cause the lower limbs to drop off. Soil
moisture, pot size, pot type, plant size, average room temperature, room
lighting, and humidity all will influence the amount and frequency of
watering required. As with most houseplants, if in doubt, don’t
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