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Plant of the month November

Common Name: Cook Pine, New Caledonia Pine

Scientific Name: Araucaria columnaris (G.Forst.) Hook.

Family: Araucariacae



Araucaria - from the Araucani Indians of central Chile


columnaris - column-like, refers to the tall, slender form of the tree


Endemic to New Caledonia, occurs on the islands of Grande Terre (Province Sud), Isle of Pines and the Loyalty Islands.

Native Habitat

A littoral species that grows naturally within 100 metres of the coast. This is the only New Caledonian species of Araucaria to occur on calcareous substrate although not exclusively. On the Isle of Pines it often grows on dead coral.


A narrowly conical tree to 60 m tall. The rough, grey, resinous bark of the Cook Pine peels off in thin paper-like strips. The relatively short, mostly horizontal branches are in whorls around the slender, upright to slightly leaning trunk. The branches are lined with cord-like, horizontal branchlets. The branchlets are covered with small, green, incurved, point-tipped, spirally arranged, overlapping leaves. The young leaves are needle-like, while the broader adult leaves are triangular and scale-like.


Male and female cones (strobili) on the same tree. The female seed cones are scaly, egg-shaped, and 10–15 cm long by 7–11 cm. wide. The smaller, more numerous male pollen cones are at the tips of the branchlets and are scaly, foxtail-shaped, and 5 cm long.

Location in Garden

Rose Garden, below the Herb Garden and the Domain.


Well known to Melanesian and Polynesian people, who may have planted populations of the tree in New Caledonia before the arrival of Europeans. Trees were first described by Europeans, in September 1774, ‘from the sea’, during Captain James Cook’s second Pacific voyage (1772-1775). There was debate between Cook and his natural philosophers, Johann and son Georg Forster, as to whether they were trees or pillars of basalt. Cook was correct in recognising them as trees. They were later named and described scientifically by Georg Forster.

You will notice that Cook Pines in our garden have a distinct lean. Anecdotal evidence suggested this was true of planted Cook Pines in other locations. In 2017, Scientists studied 256 Cook Pines on five continents and concluded that they leaned on average 8.55 degrees, twice the tilt of the Leaning Tower of Pisa. They also demonstrated that trees in the southern hemisphere lean north and in the northern hemisphere lean south. In both hemispheres the size of the lean was greater further from the equator. Why the trees lean is still unclear but further study could help us better understand the way plants respond to environmental cues.

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