Street Tree Rivalry: Norfolk Island Pine versus Hoop Pine

Street Tree Rivalry: Norfolk Island Pine versus Hoop Pine

By Ken Dorey.

Our coastal towns and villages are lined with stately Norfolk Island Pines. Their uniform size might be indicative of an organised tree planting program and, if so, why were our local Hoop Pines overlooked for the job?

It’s not that you could begrudge the Norfolk Island Pines. They are tolerant of salt, wind and sandy soils and they have performed brilliantly in shading and beautifying our beaches. They might be ‘exotic’ but Norfolk Island is an Australian protectorate so they are technically an Australian native too.

Apart from the Norfolk Island Pines many attributes it had another advantage – it was discovered and world famous before the Hoop Pine was even described!

Captain Cook was reputedly the first European to sight Norfolk Island Pines in 1774 and was so convinced of their suitability for ships masts that he ordered seedlings to be collected and planted along the Australian coast; according to Britannica, they were “introduced to cultivation shortly thereafter”. Elizabeth Macquarie planted a Norfolk Island Pine in the Royal Botanic Gardens Sydney in 1816, the famous Wishing Tree, and by 1828 an article in The Australian reported “the finest thing here (Sydney) is the Araucaria Excelsa, or Norfolk Island Pine – it is indeed beautiful and is seen in every direction”. 

The Norfolk Island Pine was known and appreciated by the world before our Hoop Pine was first collected by botanist and explorer Allan Cunningham in the 1820s. 

So, when did our coastal towns plant their Norfolk Island Pines? From the records it seems that it was in the 1930s. 

In 1932 landscape gardener, Harry Stokes, wrote in The Brisbane Courier, “Recently I was asked by a progress association of one of our seaside

resorts for advice about tree planting. What trees can we plant that will stand the strong seaside weather? My answer is Norfolk Island Pine. It will stand the heaviest gales, and is without exception the grandest and noblest of all trees. Who, having seen them, has not admired their impressive mass at Manly in Sydney. They can be planted singly or in formation. It is impossible to plant too many. If all seaside resorts would take my suggestion their tree planting problem would be solved and their towns would become gems of seaside beauty”. 

Perhaps the first local town to have Norfolk Island Pines was Yamba. In 1936 the Grafton Daily Examiner reported that seedlings were germinating in the Yamba Public School that these seedlings were being transplanted throughout Yamba’s streets – presumably Yamba had at least one mature tree prior to 1936.

Although 120 Norfolk Island Pines were planted in Byron Bay in Marvel and Tennyson Streets, and “on the esplanade” by 1936 they would have been just two years old when this report appeared in this 1938 Northern Star article; “Adequate shade near the beach is a big factor in the popularity of a seaside resort. Some Norfolk Island Pines and other trees have been planted at Byron Bay and there has been some spasmodic tree plantings at Brunswick Heads (whose) natural picnic ground on the water’s edge, however commonplace it may seem to those who see it daily, is not the least of its attractions to visitors. That resort is worth greater care than it receives at present. Byron Bay beach can boast an excellent surf, free from dangerous currents, but the lack of shade is a more serious deterrent to visitors”. Wow! How many visitors sit under Byron Bay’s Norfolk Island Pines now?