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Cook’s Gondwana Pine

The wonders of Cook’s Gondwana Pine - why it thrives in all gardens

The wonders of Cook’s Gondwana Pine

Cook’s Gondwana Pine (Araucaria columnaris) is an ancient, unique and very handsome species of tree. It is very distinctive in its narrow, conical form, with short branches that wrap the tree in whorls and the green foliage contrasts beautifully with textural flaky bark. 

Heronswood’s magnificent Cook's Gondwana Pine (Araucaria columnaris) stands like a vertical sentinel at the bottom of the garden. The 120 year old tree is listed by the National Trust on the register of significant trees of Victoria. This ancient tree predates dinosaurs by 50 million years, eucalypts by 160 million years and thrived at the time of gingkos, horsetails, cycads and ferns. 

A.columnaris was first discovered to Europeans on Captain Cook’s second voyage, where it was found covering New Caledonia and due to their large numbers, the voyagers named it the Isle of Pines. Narrow and conical, it can reach 60 metres tall in its local forests hence the species name A. columnaris referring to its column-like form. 

It’s not only striking for its beauty and size, but it has a quirky characteristic in that the entire tree leans from the base to the crown. This interesting characteristic has been observed by scientists and they discovered a bizarre pattern to their tilt: they lean south in their northern range and north in the southern range. 

It was found that all trees in this species lean to the equator and the further away from it the greater the lean. The reason they do this is not exactly clear but could be an artefact of its genetics or it could be an adaption to catch more sunlight at various latitudes. 

Cook's Gondwana Pine is a gardener's choice, with its narrow diameter and short branches it takes up less space (ground width) than any tree except a palm (just 10m2). It is extremely versatile in the various climates in which it can grow- it is happy in tropics, subtropics and temperate regions (A. columnaris thrives in every mainland capital in Australia). Maintenance for this species is very low, it has pest and disease resistance, and has the ability to tolerate most soils (it doesn’t like poorly-drained soils)- all these qualities mount up to a dream tree for gardeners. 

This majestic tree is a tree for our future, being barely flammable, can survive dry periods and also produces delicious cooling shade. Just as the Italian Cypress is iconic in Tuscany, the Cook's Gondwana Pine will undoubtedly become Australia's signature tree.

The iconic Cypress trees in Tuscany

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Clive Blazey

Clive is the founder of The Diggers Club, a pioneer in the rescue of heirloom vegetable and fruit varieties and author of seven books on flower, vegetable and fruit gardening.

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