An Araucaria Resource Guide

By: Wayne P Armstrong, amended by editor

Wayne Armstrong is a retired professor in the Life Sciences Department of Palomar College, San Marcos, California, and author of…

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The ancient araucaria family (Araucariaceae) contains three genera (Araucaria, Agathis and Wollemia) and forty-one species of cone-bearing trees native to forested regions of the Southern Hemisphere, including South America, Malesia, Australia, New Zealand, and New Caledonia. During the Jurassic Period, the family had an extensive distribution in both hemispheres, extending as far north as England, Greenland, and Sweden. In majestic size and beauty, araucariads rival the grander members of the pine family (Pinaceae); both families are conifers (Pinophyta). Fossil evidence indicates that ancient araucaria forests resembling present-day species date back to the age of dinosaurs. Today, araucaria forests are limited to the Southern Hemisphere and are considered a counterpart to the pine and spruce forests of the Northern Hemisphere.

Today, various members of the Araucariaceae appear in gardens and public landscapes up and down the length of the West Coast. Generally large trees, most are ill suited for the small private garden. Some, such as the species of Araucaria and Agathis from New Zealand, Australia, and New Caledonia, thrive in the relative warmth of California; others, such as monkey puzzle tree (Araucaria araucana), prefer regions with a distinct winter chill as found in the Pacific Northwest. The recently discovered Wollemi pine (Wollemia nobilis) has been planted in gardens from Vancouver to San Diego; time will tell the real adaptability of this intriguing, prehistoric tree.

Relevant today for their practical uses and their distinctive character in the landscape, members of the araucaria family resonate for us through time. A walk along shaded pathways lined with araucariads reveals a view deep into the geologic past. Having changed little during the past 180 million years, these living fossils are resilient, successful, cone-bearing trees that link us to a time when dinosaurs ruled the earth.

As a companion to Wayne’s article, The Araucaria Family: Past & Present, in the January 2010 issue of Pacific Horticulture, we offer this additional information, including public gardens where members of the family can be seen and nurseries where they can be obtained.

A New Look at Conifer Families

Unlike other conifer families that have been consolidated or revised in recent years, the taxonomic integrity of the araucaria family (Araucariaceae) has held up well under the scrutiny of molecular biologists. Evidence from chloroplast DNA and cladistical analysis indicates that the ancestral conifer division Pinophyta (Coniferophyta) has two main branches (clades) in the hypothetical phylogenetic tree of plant evolution (Figure 1). One branch leads to the pine family (Pinaceae) with all our familiar genera such as pines (Pinus), spruce (Picea), hemlock (Tsuga) and fir (Abies). The other branch is further subdivided into six additional families, including the Araucariaceae. The araucaria family and podocarpus family (Podocarpaceae), both of which have their greatest diversity in the Southern Hemisphere, are monophyletic and occur side-by-side on sister clades. Often referred to as the “southern conifers,” they evolved from a common ancestor. Of course, computer generated phylogenetic relationships are not agreed upon by everyone, and are under constant scrutiny by botanists. Traditional plant families are being consolidated as molecular biologists create phylogenetic trees based on consistent monophyletic groupings. For example, the redwood family (Taxodiaceae) will be included within the cypress family (Cupressaceae). Cycads and Ginkgo, however, are still maintained in their respective divisions, the Cycadophyta and Ginkgophyta.

Distribution of the Araucariaceae through History

Fossil evidence indicates that the aracauria family reached its maximum diversity during the Jurassic and Cretaceous periods, between 200 and 65 million years ago, with worldwide distributions. At the end of the Cretaceous, when dinosaurs became extinct, so did the Araucariaceae in the northern hemisphere. Until about 135 million years ago, trees of the Araucariaceae grew in forests of the ancient southern supercontinent called Gondwana, when South America and Africa were connected with each other and with Antarctica, India, and Australia. By 65 million years ago, the continents had drifted into positions resembling their present-day configuration. The scientific theory of plate tectonics and continental drift also explains the widespread distribution of other ancient gymnosperms, such as the three major families of cycads in Australia, South Africa, Malesia and the Americas.

Four configurations of the continents during the past 200 million years and representative species of the Araucariaceae that lived during each time period. According to the Theory of Continental Drift, large plates of the earth’s crust have gradually moved along major fault zones into their current locations on the planet.

Public Gardens

One or more members of the araucaria family can be seen at the following public gardens. An asterisk (*) denotes gardens that have recently added wollemi pines (Wollemia nobilis) to their collections.

Hoyt Arboretum
4000 SW Fairview Blvd
Portland, OR 97221
503/865-8733
www.hoytarboretum.org

*Huntington Botanical Gardens
1151 Oxford Road
San Marino, CA 91108
626/405-2100
www.huntington.org

Los Angeles County Arboretum & Botanic Garden
301 North Baldwin Avenue
Arcadia, CA 91007
626/821-3222
www.arboretum.org

*Leach Botanical Garden
6704 SE 122nd Avenue
Portland, OR 97236
503/823-9503
www.leachgarden.org

Lotusland
695 Ashley Road
Santa Barbara, CA 93108
805/969-9990 (reservations required)
www.lotusland.org

Palomar College Arboretum
1140 West Mission Road
San Marcos, CA 92069
760/744-1150
www.palomar.edu/arboretum

San Diego Zoo
2920 Zoo Drive
Balboa Park
San Diego, CA 92112
619/231-1515
www.sandiegozoo.org

*San Diego Botanical Garden
230 Quail Gardens Drive
Encinitas, CA 92024
760/436-3036
www.qbgardens.org

San Francisco Botanical Garden at Strybing Arboretum
Golden Gate Park

9th Avenue at Lincoln Way
San Francisco, CA 94122
415/661-1316
www.sfbotanicalgarden.org

*University of British Columbia Botanical Garden
6804 SW Marine Drive
Vancouver, BC V6T 1Z4
604/822-9666
www.ubcbotanicalgarden.org

*UC Botanical Garden at Berkeley

200 Centennial Drive
Berkeley, CA 94720
510/643-2755
www.botanicalgarden.berkeley.edu

UC Santa Cruz Arboretum
1156 High Street
Santa Cruz, CA 95064
831/427-2998
http://arboretum.ucsc.edu

VanDusen Botanical Garden
5251 Oak Street
Vancouver, BC V6M 4H1
Canada
604/878-9274
www.vandusen.org

Washington Park Arboretum
2300 Arboretum Drive E
Seattle, WA 98112
206/543-8800
depts.washington.edu/wpa

Nursery Sources

* denotes a source offering only Wollemi pines (Wollemia nobilis); all others offer wollemi pines and one or more other members of the araucaria family.

Buchholz & Buchholz Nursery
41840 SW Vandehey Road
Gaston, OR 97119
503/985-3253
www.buchholznursery.com
Online catalog, wholesale only

Fraser’s Thimble Farms
175 Arbutus Road
Salt Spring Island, BC V8K 1A3
Canada
www.thimblefarms.com
Online catalog, mail order, and walk-in

Jurassic Plants Nursery
11269 Sunset Cove Road
Halfmoon Bay, BC V0N 1Y2
Canada
604/883-0079
www.jurassicplantsnursery.com
Online catalog, mail order; walk-in by appointment only

*Plant Delights
9241 Sauls Road
Raleigh, NC 27603
919/772-4794
www.plantdelights.com
Online catalog, mail-order only; walk-in by appointment only

San Marcos Growers
Santa Barbara, CA
805/683-1561
www.smgrowers.com
Online catalog, wholesale only

*Wollemi Pine North America
www.ancientpine.com
Mail-order

Please be sure to mention Pacific Horticulture when contacting any of these vendors.

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