Few things get you in the holiday spirit faster than the soft needles and piney fragrance of a fresh cut Christmas tree decorated with lights and ornaments. What’s not to enjoy about the star-topped glory of a tree ringed with presents waiting for Christmas morning- other than the fantastic mess it will make as you haul the brittle, dried-out boughs out the door a few weeks later. For this reason, many folks have move to artificial trees, missing out on the feeling of a fresh tree standing bright inside the living room on these cold, winter nights. A perfect compromise is the Norfolk Island Pine. This soft-needled evergreen is a wonderful and easy-to-grow houseplant that looks gorgeous growing all year long, but is especially lovely all lit up with lights and tinsel during the holiday season. The best part of all- you can have a fresh tree to trim every December without every having to toss it out in January.
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The Norfolk Island Pine is not actually a true pine tree, being instead from the older and less populous genus Araucaria, which is native to many small islands and areas around the South Pacific. It gets its common name from the small Norfolk Island, located between New Zealand and Australia, and from the fact that it resembles the symmetrical shape and sweeping branches of the more common pine tree. It is often called the living Christmas tree or star pine and has become quite a popular Christmas tree alternative over the last few years. Often sold at garden centers, florists and even grocery stores around December in one to five gallon containers, proper care will allow this affordable plant to grow about one foot per year, usually topping off around 5 to 7 feet- just right for a few strands of light and a star on top come Christmas time.
When selecting a Norfolk Island Pine, be sure to look closely at the branches. Many places will spray the entire plant with a glitter that looks lovely in the light, but that will ultimately block the stomata, small pores that allow the plant to exchange gases and transpire water. This causes them to eventually die within several months. For this reason, many people who have previously purchased this plant might feel that they are hard to care for, which could not be further from the case. Indirect, bright light such as that from a room with a sunny window and a little bit of fertilizer a couple of times each year are all you really need (aside from regular watering) to keep the plant healthy and alive between Yuletides. A bit of extra moisture in a dry climate from a spray bottle with water will keep the needles soft and green all seasons of the year.