Norfolk pine outside in summer

Merced County Events

No one is quite sure how the trees were first established at that site. Web blogger Duane Hall researched the topic a few years ago and lamented the scarcity of definitive history about it by writing,

“There is an abysmal lack of information on the birth of the palm and the pine.”

It’s believed the original trees were planted in the 1920s to represent the midpoint of the state between the Mexico and Oregon borders. In the 1980s, the state’s transportation planning agency CalTrans rolled out plans to bring the highway up to new standards. These plans called for the destruction of the trees. There was a public outcry, CalTrans redrew the plans, and the trees remained.

That is until 2005 when a storm toppled the pine tree. It was replaced in 2007. The median is under control of CalTrans and it appears the palm and the pine will remain there under the care of the transportation agency for years to come.

The trees may not be entrenched in popular culture, but the phrase “where the palm meets the pine” has been immortalized in a country song performed by singer/songwriter Danny O’Keefe. O’Keefe wrote a number of country tunes in the 1970s including a song Elvis Presley recorded called Good Time Charlie’s Got the Blues.

Even in a country song

In the song In Northern California (Where the Palm Tree Meets the Pine) from the album American Roulette, O’Keefe opines about a relationship between an older woman and a much younger man:

She’d thrown away her crutches But I knew that I’d need mine In Northern California Where the palm tree meets the pine

You can see the two trees just south of Avenue 11 in Madera County on highway 99.

Unfortunately, there is no way for anyone to legally stop, get out of the car, and take a closer look at this site. And that seems to be a missed opportunity. One can imagine cars stopping off the highway, people having their picture taken in front of the trees, and families making memories of the Central Valley of the Golden State.

But highway extras such as scenic overlooks and rest stops cost money. No one is calling out for anything such as this, so it appears the two trees will remain just one of those quirky things people see while driving along highway 99.

Until someone comes up with a plan that might allow the public to safely stop and view the trees while absorbing the symbolism of the palm meeting the pine, we’ll continue to see the natural monument to California’s geographic center right where it is: at 65 miles per hour.

Don’t blink.

To listen to the song In Northern California (Where the Palm Tree Meets the Pine)

Growing Norfolk Island Pine Trees – Norfolk Island Pine Care Tips

Norfolk Island pine trees (Araucaria heterophylla) are commonly used as those cute, little houseplant Christmas trees that you can buy around the holidays, but then the holidays end and you are left with a seasonally dated, living plant. Just because your Norfolk pine is no longer needed as a holiday plant doesn’t mean that you need to abandon it in the trash. These plants make wonderful houseplants. This leads people to ask how to care for a Norfolk Island pine houseplant.

Care of a Norfolk Island Pine Plant

Growing a Norfolk Island pine as a houseplant starts with realizing a few important things about Norfolk pines. While they may share the name and even resemble a pine tree, they are not true pines at all, nor are they as hardy as the standard pine tree that people are accustomed to. In terms of proper Norfolk pine tree care, they are more like a gardenia or orchid than a pine tree.

First thing to keep in mind with the care of Norfolk pines is that they are not cold hardy. They are a tropical plant and cannot tolerate temperatures below 35 F. (1 C.). For many parts of the country, the Norfolk Island pine tree cannot be planted outside year round. It also needs to be kept away from cold drafts.

The second thing to understand about Norfolk pine care indoors is that, being a tropical plant, they need high humidity. Paying attention to humidity is very important in the winter when indoor humidity normally falls significantly. Keeping humidity high around the tree will help it thrive. This can be done by either using a pebble tray with water, using a humidifier in the room or weekly misting of the tree.

Another part of care of a Norfolk Island pine plant is to make sure that the plant get enough light. Norfolk pine trees prefer several hours of direct, bright light, such as the type of light that can be found in a south-facing window, but they will also tolerate full indirect, bright light as well.

Water your Norfolk Island pine when the top of the soil feels dry to the touch. Fertilize your Norfolk pine in the spring and summer with a water soluble balanced fertilizer, but you do not need to fertilize in the fall or winter.

It is normal for Norfolk Island pine trees to have some browning on the bottom branches. But, if the brown branches seem to be high on the plant or if they can be found all over the tree, this is a sign that the plant is either overwatered, underwatered or is not getting enough humidity.

How to Take Care of Norfolk Island Pines

As winter holidays approach, small Norfolk Island pines pop up in all sorts of retail establishments, from neighborhood markets to fine floral shops. Usually bedecked with red ribbons and miniature ornaments, these tabletop trees add living winter cheer to homes. Though holiday activities can take a toll on them, potted Norfolks flourish for years as healthy, hearty houseplants with proper care. With a little TLC, Norfolk Island pines provide year-round beauty — and holiday decoration — for years to come.

Recognizing Norfolk Potential

Despite their undeserved reputation as disposable décor, Norfolk Island pines are naturally long-lived. Though not true pines, they’re part of a plant family that dates back to prehistoric times. In modern home landscapes, where frost-free climates or protected locations allow, Norfolks are known to live 150 years or more.1

Along parts of the California Coast, Norfolk Island pines grow 100 feet or taller, stretching up to 60 feet wide and growing up to 2 feet per year.1 On their native Norfolk Island, east of Australia, they’re known to grow twice as tall.2 It’s a far cry from their tiny footprint on holiday tables. Given time and proper care — and tall ceilings — your potted Norfolk may grow 20 feet tall indoors.3

Taking Care Cues from Island Shores

When caring for indoor Norfolk Island pines, understanding their native environment helps ensure success. Imagine rocky soil and sandy shores with excellent drainage and full sun, and you’ve zeroed in on important Norfolk care. Keeping these trees healthy and happy for the long run requires good light and proper potting soil.

Give indoor Norfolks bright natural light — as much as your home allows. This encourages strong, healthy, horizontal branches with the graceful symmetry for which Norfolks are known. Normal indoor home temperatures are fine for this plant, but avoid placing them in drafty areas or near heating or cooling ducts. Whenever you move the plant, do so gradually. Let it acclimate to the new spot or it may drop its lowest branches. Dropped branches won’t grow back.

Adaptable Norfolk pines aren’t particular about soil pH, as long as they get good drainage. Their slow-growing root systems don’t require repotting until roots peek through the container’s bottom. When repotting time comes, choose a deep container with good drainage holes, and then fill it with coarse, fast-draining potting mix reminiscent of its home island soil.

A commercial potting mix designed for succulents works well, or you can mix your own. The New York Botanical Garden recommends equal parts of sterilized potting soil, peat moss and sand or perlite, with 1 tablespoon of added bone meal.3 A bone meal such as Lilly Miller Bone Meal 6-12-0 offers more original, natural nutrition than highly processed products. Add a gentle, complete, slow-release, fish-based fertilizer such as Alaska by Pennington All Purpose Dry Fertilizer 6-4-6 into the potting soil, according to label instructions for the size of your container and your tree, to give repotted trees a healthy nutritional foundation.

Norfolk Island Pines are Easy Care Houseplants

By Jodi Torpey

“Mighty oaks from little acorns grow” is a saying I’ve heard for many years, but it didn’t hit home until earlier this year. That’s when I saw the heights my little Norfolk Island pine could reach.

In their natural subtropical habitat, like Sydney, Australia, these trees can grow to more than 80-feet tall. They’ve had a long history as landmark and ceremonial plantings since Captain James Cook first made record of them in 1774.

The little pine in my dining room would be surprised to learn it’s actually a member of the Monkey Puzzle family, a small group of ancient conifers found in the southern hemisphere.

This is the time of year when retailers dress up Norfolk Island pines with shiny ornaments and a sprinkling of glitter to sell as miniature Christmas trees. The tiny one I bought several years ago is now an attractive 2-foot-tall houseplant. I still decorate it at holiday time with lightweight ornaments made of wood, glass and felt.

If you fall for this tender evergreen conifer like I did, give it a special place in your home. With a little TLC, your Araucaria heterophylla can live for many years and grow from houseplant to decorative indoor tree.

If your tree’s container is wrapped with foil, either remove the wrapping or poke holes in the bottom and set it on a plant saucer to drain. Enjoy the decorations through New Year’s Day and then remove and store for next season.

Place your Norfolk Island pine tree in a cool spot, away from heating vents and drafts. The needles are delicate, so keep branches from touching windows and walls. The tree appreciates a little sun in winter, but average light works well the rest of the year. If you move your plant outside for summer, place in a sheltered, shaded place.

Keep the soil moist, but make sure not to overwater—the reason most houseplants meet an untimely demise. If you’re unsure when to add water, allow the upper one inch of soil to dry before watering again. Discard any excess water that drains into the saucer.

Hold back on fertilizer during winter. When plant growth resumes in spring, feed with a natural organic soil amendment, such as Buckaroo Worm Castings. Just add 1 inch of worm castings at the beginning of the spring, summer and fall.

When it’s time to repot your tree, select a container that’s slightly wider and deeper. Fill with a high-quality potting soil (like Empire Builder) to keep your Norfolk Island pine tree growing strong.

Can A Norfolk Island Pine Grow Outdoors – Planting Norfolk Pines In The Landscape

You’re far more likely to see Norfolk Island pine in the living room than a Norfolk Island pine in the garden. Young trees are often sold as miniature indoor Christmas trees or used as indoor houseplants. Can a Norfolk Island pine grow outdoors? It can in the correct climate. Read on to learn about Norfolk Island pine cold tolerance and tips on caring for outdoor Norfolk Island pines.

Can Norfolk Pines Grow Outdoors?

Can Norfolk pines grow outdoors? Captain James Cook spotted Norfolk Island pines in 1774 in the South Pacific. They were not the small potted plants you may purchase by that name today, but 200-foot giants. That is their original habitat and they grow much taller when planted in the ground of warm climes like this.

In fact, outdoor Norfolk Island pines easily grow into mighty trees in the warmer regions of the world. However, in some hurricane-prone areas like South Florida, planting Norfolk pines in the landscape can be a problem. That’s because the trees snap in high winds. In those areas, and in colder regions, your best bet is to grow the trees as container plants indoors. Outdoor Norfolk Island pines will die in chilly regions.

Norfolk Island Pine Cold Tolerance

Norfolk Island pine cold tolerance is not great. The trees thrive outside in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 10 and 11. In these warm zones, you can grow Norfolk Island pine in the garden. Before planting the trees outdoors, however, you’ll want to understand the growing conditions the trees need to thrive.

If you want Norfolk Pines in the landscape near your home, plant them in an open, bright location. But don’t site them in full sun. Norfolk pine in the garden accept low light as well, but more light means denser growth.

The trees’ native soil is sandy, so outdoor Norfolk Island pines are also happy in any well-drained soil. Acidic is best but the tree tolerates slightly alkaline soil too.

When the trees grow outside, rainfall meets most of their water needs. During dry spells and droughts, you’ll need to irrigate them. But forget the fertilizer. Landscape grown Norfolk Island pines do just fine without fertilizer, even in poor soils.

Q: I have a large, four year-old Norfolk pine in a pot. Can I plant it in my yard? The trunk is more than an inch thick and it’s over six feet tall. It’s big and beautiful but it needs a bigger place in which to grow.

A: Along with dawn redwood and ginkgo trees, Norfolk Island pine is considered by some botanists to be among the most primitive living plants still with us. This common indoor plant has been found in fossils nearly sixty million years old. Further, it is not a pine but a tropical plant found originally on Norfolk Island, near Australia. In the wild, it can grow to a whopping 200 feet tall!

The Chinafir tree, Cunninghamia lanceolata is first cousin to the Norfolk Pine and is sometimes successfully grown outdoors in Atlanta in a warm, protected spot. Your plant, though, must be kept indoors in winter.

As a houseplant, the Norfolk pine can live happily in a home for many years. A common problem is lower branches which turn brown and fall off. Prevention is to provide plenty of light – a sunny bay window is an excellent placement. The plant won’t do well in the corner of a dark room. In addition, cool temperatures (around 65 degrees) will contribute to long life. Although the plant can grow in dry-ish soil, keeping the roots slightly moist is much better.

Tags For This Article: pine, Winter

Norfolk Island pines can be a great houseplant with a little attention to available light, humidity and water.

This post includes affiliate links for your shopping convenience.

If you happened to buy or receive a Norfolk Island Pine this holiday season, you might wonder– is there a Norfolk Island? Yes, Virginia, there is a Norfolk Island. It’s located in the South Pacific between Australia, New Zealand, and New Caledonia. It’s an Australian territory, and its flag prominently features the Norfolk Island pine.
In my years as an Extension educator, I received lots of questions, not just from Illinois but from all over the world since my articles have always been online. A reader from Australia e-mailed me to ask about his Norfolk Island Pine. It sounded like a typical question until I looked at the attached picture and realized the tree was growing in his landscape, not a potted houseplant!

Norfolk Island pine near an Australian reader’s home.

He explained it had been a wet winter and the tree had begun to lean. This was especially worrisome since it was also growing on a slope above his house. He wanted to know what I thought. I urged him to consult with a local tree service that could see the tree in person, considering I was half a world away!

In its native island habitat, the Norfolk Island pine bears little resemblance to the potted plants offered for sale here in Illinois. They are slow growers, but at maturity, they can be 150 or even 200 feet tall, with trunks up to 10 feet in diameter!

Norfolk Island pines are very tolerant of soil with high salt concentrations. This trait is essential for it to survive in the coastal regions of Norfolk Island. It also grows well in very sandy soil, again an advantage in coastal areas.

High salt tolerance turns out to be a benefit for growing as a houseplant. The Norfolk Island pine should tolerate salt buildup from fertilizers quite well. This doesn’t mean you should over-fertilize, or let these salts build up on purpose. The tolerable window is a bit larger for the Norfolk Island pine, giving us more time to correct growing conditions than with some other plants. I love forgiving plants!

Norfolk Island pines are used for timber, but their wood is relatively weak. Hawaiians use it for woodturning, a decorative art which carves wood turned on a lathe. The fact that Norfolk Island pines tend to grow with very straight trunks is probably one reason they are used for this craft.

As a landscape tree, Norfolk Island pines are generally very resilient in the face of high winds. However, they are severely sensitive to frost, and frost damage will weaken the tree. A tree weakened by frost produces multiple weak trunks which cannot tolerate high winds. In hurricane-prone locations, some towns have limited or prohibited the use of Norfolk Island pines in the landscape.

Interestingly, hurricane-prone South Florida is also the major producer of Norfolk Island pine seedlings for the houseplant industry. The trees are commonly sold spray painted to make them extra-green and decorated as holiday trees. To some, these are “disposable plants” to throw away after the holidays—but with a little TLC, they don’t have to be.

A little attention to available light, humidity, and watering will keep your Norfolk Island pine looking good for many years to come.


Available light is critical for successfully growing Norfolk Island pine. They need as much bright indirect light as possible. While they can tolerate lower light levels, they need to adjust to lower levels over time. A sudden change in lighting all at once may cause entire branches to die and drop from the plant. A change many of us don’t think about is the lighting change from a greenhouse or bright store to our relatively darker homes can be enough to cause some branches to drop.


Norfolk Island pines typically grow in coastal regions, which are by nature very humid environments. Unfortunately, most of our homes are way too dry for Norfolk Island Pines—they need some extra humidity.

Increase humidity by filling a saucer with water and rocks or gravel, and place the plant on top without the pot touching the water. This creates a microclimate of higher humidity around the plant. For a larger group of plants, consider using a humidifier. The Norfolk Island pine and the rest of your houseplants will appreciate the effort.

High humidity also discourages spider mite, a common houseplant pest. As the name spider mite suggests, the mites slowly engulf the plant in a webby material. While spider mites can be treated with a variety of insecticidal soaps and other treatments indoors, increasing humidity is a relatively simple way to prevent problems with this pest.


Though Norfolk Island pines love humidity, this doesn’t mean we should water them more. They do not tolerate wet feet. In their native land, they thrive in sandy soil, which by nature drains well and doesn’t stay wet for very long.

A typical symptom of a Norfolk Island pine in distress is loss of the lower branches. Some loss of lower branches happens as the tree matures, but an excessive loss is a red flag. Unfortunately, the branches won’t grow back. If this is happening to your tree, check the growing conditions. Most likely the problem lies in too little available light, too much or too little moisture.

Helpful Supplies for Norfolk Island Pines

  • Lighting— Dim lighting indoors will cause branches to drop from Norfolk Island Pines. My favorite compact LED grow light for table or countertops is this one with multiple goosenecks. As your tree gets bigger, you’ll want to switch to larger LED light sources and bulbs to provide enough light for your tree.
  • Plant Caddy/Cart— Norfolk Island Pines can get huge indoors– and tough to move. Invest in a plant caddy or cart to make moving your plant easier on your back!
  • Humidifier— Using either a room or whole-house humidifier makes it easier to provide the high humidity Norfolk Island Pines prefer. We bought this whole-house humidifier a few years ago and love it.
  • Fertilizer— Pick a general purpose fertilizer and use it throughout the summer. Liquid, water-soluble powder, or solid spike formulas are all great. Also, fertilizing in winter without adequate light can lead to weak growth susceptible to pests and disease.
  • Spider Mite Control— At my house, preventing spider mites is a lot easier than eliminating them once they show up. Increasing humidity with a humidifier will go a long way in preventing spider mite infestation. If they do show up, using insecticidal soap with added pyrethrin and/or neem oil is your best defense. The insecticidal soap and pyrethrin kill adult spider mites on contact, and neem oil kills the eggs and larvae.

Can You Prune a Norfolk Island Pine?

To quote a favorite professor of mine, “It depends”. You can prune any plant. The better question is “should you prune a Norfolk Island pine?”

This Norfolk Island pine is outgrowing its living arrangements in a basement under grow lights.

In extreme cases, I’ve seen Norfolk Island pines with long snaking main trunks bare except for a tuft of new growth at the top. While you can cut back a plant that has lost its lower branches, realize this will permanently distort the plant, and will likely result in a multi-stemmed plant.

Several years ago, a reader sent me the picture on the right and asked what could be done to prune this Norfolk Island pine. It was clearly outgrowing the space it was in, and it had a lot of sentimental value to the reader.

Many of you are probably familiar with the idea of removing the tip of a branch or stem to stimulate lateral buds along the branch or stem to grow. This phenomenon does not happen with the Norfolk Island pine, so I told the reader that they could prune some of the branches back a bit to reduce the tree’s width without stimulating growth.

The tricky part is what to do about the height. The growing point for a Norfolk Island pine is at the top. Reducing the height by removing any part of the growing point on top will stimulate multiple new growing points making the tree appear to have multiple stems from the cut portion upwards. While it won’t kill the tree, it does destroy the symmetry and form of the tree that draws most people to the tree in the first place.

The thing to keep in mind if you are contemplating pruning your Norfolk Island pine is the fact that you are fighting against the tree’s natural programming to be over 100 feet tall! In all honesty most people don’t keep Norfolk Island pines alive and healthy long enough to worry about them hitting the ceiling.

I had one that got to be more than five feet tall, but it got so ragged looking it just wasn’t pleasant to have around anymore. Some of this was normal for a maturing tree, but a good portion of its ragged appearance was caused when I moved and didn’t have adequate light available anymore. But for the previous years that I had the tree, it was really a fun plant to decorate during the holidays, and it needed relatively little care and attention the rest of the year as long as it had adequate light and moisture.

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