Tag Archives: norfolk island pine

Moody Gardens in January – 2

Moody Gardens

Making the nearly five-hour drive between Dallas and Galveston, two discrepancies make themselves readily apparent. The first is going through the town of Ennis, where apparently the city ordinances don’t allow its local strip clubs to advertise themselves as featuring nude entertainment, leaving a whole line of establishments promoting “fabric-free cabarets”. The other is that while the Houston area has a paucity of naturally growing palm trees in the area, I suspect that local ordinances require every restaurant and retail establishment to plant at least one palm out front. The closer you get to Galveston, the more palms line the sides of Highway I-45 until you actually get to the Gulf coast. The coast then goes to salt marsh and flats, and the palms start up again after crossing the bridge from the mainland to Galveston Island.

Moody Gardens

Out at Moody Gardens, that theme continues, as the climate is perfect for several species. It’s also perfect for cycads, philodendrons, and, interestingly enough, roses, and they’re planted lushly and profusely around the Moody Gardens hotel grounds. The palms, though, dominate everything, with plenty of ferns, epiphyte orchids, and other flora growing in the crowns, and the attendant flora comes with fauna. Birds are the most obvious, and it was a little too cold to see amphibians, but a few reptiles were still around, and those will be featured shortly.

Norfolk Island pine

One of the best surprises, though, was discovering how well Araucaria heterophylla, the Norfolk Island pine, does on Galveston Island. Under Dallas conditions, they won’t survive our occasional but brutal freezes, and without a high-humidity environment, they won’t grow to be more than the Charlie Brown Christmas tree that time forgot. With Galveston’s balmy climate and high humidity, they grow to full trees with remarkably lush foliage. Combine this with the cycads, and all the surrounding gardens need are a few life-sized dinosaur figures to make the place resemble a recreation of the Arlington Archosaur Site during its heyday. After years of only seeing seedling Norfolk Island pines, seeing a full-sized tree was a very welcome sight, and the Gardens are loaded with them in various sizes.

Norfolk Island pine

Norfolk Island pine

Norfolk Island pine

More to follow…

Things to do in Carrollton when you’re dead

Oh, my miniature garden enthusiast friends are going to laugh at me. Laugh. Laugh and snort and giggle and hiccup and possibly go incontinent. I don’t mind any of this, except for the incontinence, and that I’ll tolerate if they clean up their messes. It’s just that I know that I am Right, and I am Correct, and I Know Of What I Speak. Giving them all the particulars on an essential miniature garden accessory resource makes it all worth my effort.

I’ve joked for a while that I’m sufficiently far enough along in some of my horticultural researches that any book answering some of my current questions will be one that I write myself. (And no, I am not wanting to write a book, at least not for the next five years or so. That’ll be about the time necessary for the fallout from E-books and the collapse of Borders to trickle into the publishing water table and stop producing giant mutant cockroaches.) It’s much the same situation with particular accessories desired for garden arrangements. After a while, you want to give up looking for that perfect slate walkway tile and just make your own.

Miniature garden arrangements are a bit more problematic, mostly because they need to be sufficiently durable to handle being left outside or in a bright window. The obvious source for a lot of miniature garden accessories is a dollhouse furniture retailer, but a lot of those items aren’t intended to be exposed to wind, rain, frosts, and high levels of ultraviolet. More retailers specializing in accessories and ornaments specifically for miniature gardens, such as Two Green Thumbs, are available, but they also may not scratch the creative itch. If your imagination is fixed on something really odd, then it’s usually something you’ll have to make yourself.

This is why I’m sending you all in the direction of Squadron.com, a stalwart resource for model builders for decades. This isn’t just because it’s a great source for parts from existing models that can be converted to new uses. Back in the days before CGI, hobby shops were a necessary source of parts for miniatures for movie and television productions, and that’s the same case for hobbyists as well as professionals. No, it’s because Squadron also carries a lot of items for scratchbuilding items, and many of these are perfect for miniature gardening. Look into Milliput superfine epoxy putty for making your own sculptures, for instance.

The other reason why I bring this up is because Squadron’s annual modelbuilding event, EagleQuest XXI (PDF), runs this coming June 21 through the 23rd, and one of the perks of membership in EagleQuest is a 40 percent discount on purchases from Squadron’s main warehouse. Seeing as how this is the only time of the year where average customers are allowed into said warehouse, there’s no telling what you might find, and unorthodox gardeners might find it worth their time to visit. And I don’t know about you, but I’m sorely tempted to enter a diorama entry involving a classic model from the Seventies with live Norfolk Island pines and other Cretaceous flora.

Introducing Araucaria heterophylla

Norfolk Island pine with dinosaurs

It shouldn’t be any surprise by now that I love oddball plants, and my favorite oddballs are the ones that hide in plain sight. Every Christmas season, garden centers and grocery stores are full of live trees for folks who don’t have the room for a full-sized Christmas tree, or who want a live tree to enjoy after the season, or who just want something different with a touch of green in an otherwise dreary winter. You can find actual fir saplings available for sale, or rosemary pots shaped to look like a tree. The best one, though, is sold as the “Norfolk Island Pine”. This bushy little tree, Araucaria heterophylla, isn’t just a great live tree that looks good throughout the year, and that does remarkably well indoors. It’s also the most accessible link to a group of plants that were the dominant trees for a fair portion of the reign of the dinosaurs.

Norfolk Island pine

A. heterophylla is a member of the Araucariaceae, a group of now widely separated species of conifer that include the kauris (including the giant kauris of New Zealand), the monkey puzzle tree of Argentina and New Caledonia, and the Wollemi pine of Australia. Although increasingly endangered on Norfolk Island itself, these trees acclimate well, and are now found throughout the world. In that sense, they’re only returning to their former range, as the Araucariaceae used to be the dominant tree form through most of the Southern Hemisphere back when the southern continents were jammed together as Gondwana. Norfolk Island pines have a rather prehistoric appearance, which isn’t surprising since the group has been hanging around for nearly 200 million years.

As such, A. heterophylla is probably the only araucarid most folks in Texas will ever see: monkey puzzle trees need cool temperatures and high humidity to grow (which is why they do rather well in Portland), and Wollemi pine distribution to the US stopped shortly after they started. The Norfolk Island pine isn’t exactly suited for outside life in North Texas, either, as it does best with humidity of at least 50 percent. Seedlings and saplings also don’t do well with North Texas-level summer sun, although they thrive when given a good dose of morning sun and good indirect light for the rest of the day. The biggest issue with raising them involves moisture, because seedlings and saplings have a very particular Goldilocks zone of soil moisture. As most gardeners already know, the symptoms of too much water and too little are almost identical, and a tree in a completely dried-out soil mix is indistinguishable from one with terminal root rot from sitting in mud. Norfolk Island pines tend to do well in a very well-draining mix, but also one that stays moist. After the tree is at least a meter tall, that’s much less of a concern. (If a few branches go dull and dry out, this isn’t as much of a concern. If all of the tree goes dull green and brown, though, it very rarely recovers.)

Oh, and that’s another bit of fun concerning the species. Several araucarids qualify as some of the largest trees on the planet today, including the magnificent Tane Mahuta kauri of New Zealand. Norfolk Island pines don’t get quite that big, but given the right conditions, they can reach heights of 200 feet (60.96 meters). As stated before, they won’t reach those heights in North Texas, but they have no problems with reaching sizes too large for a windowsill if regularly fertilized. Kept under lower-light conditions and fertilized twice per year, though, they get wonderfully bushy, adding to the prehistoric effect.

And that’s where I’m going with this. Considering the amount of interest in prehistoric miniature gardens, you can’t get much more authentic than A. heterophylla for Jurassic and Cretaceous-themed miniature gardens. Keep them under the same light, heat, and humidity as most ferns, and you have a very resilient and attractive addition to the floral palette. Even in a standard pot, A. heterophylla is a preferable option to firs and other conifers for indoor plants. And if you live in a place where one would do well outdoors…don’t tell me about it, unless you want to hear the sound of my teeth grinding in impotent jealousy.