Number 43   July - August 2005


By Clair Martin

Agathis robusta
?Queensland Kauri Pine?

Agathis robusta is one of about 20 species of tall, evergreen, mostly monoecious trees, producing both pollen and seeds on the same plant, coniferous (cone bearing) trees. The family is an ancient remnant group of conifers native to the Philippines, Australia, and New Zealand. Fossil seed cones have been discovered which date back to the Triassic (dinosaur) period, 100 million years ago. This is most frequently planted species of the family in tropical and subtropical regions of the world.

Queensland Kauris are native to Northeastern Australia and have long been valued for their timber and resin. Producing a resin, similar to copal, sometimes called ?dammar? it provides a high quality varnish used on boats and for fine interior paneling.

The family is noted to have marked differences between juvenile and mature foliage with immature leaves being larger and having a different form. Kauri pines produce male catkins and female cones but do not have the usual type needles found on pine trees of the Northern Hemisphere. The shiny dark green leaves have fine paralleled veins and are unusually large and broad for a conifer. The leaves are really a modified version of the pine needle. Cones from the tree are ovoid in shape ranging in size from up to four inches long and two to four inches in diameter and may weigh several pounds when they are green, but dried, their weight is in ounces and usually shatter in the wind dispersing the seeds.

Queensland Kauri pines are tall, columnar trees often exceeding 80 feet in height. The new leaves are light green to pinkish copper and contrast smartly with the dark green mature needles. Seldom seen planted in gardens today these are moisture-loving trees that thrive with deep watering.

Our particular Agathis robusta was first planted in the 1890?s adjacent to the old Shorb home now the site of the Huntington Art Gallery. It was relocated to its current spot in the Rose Garden when construction began on the Huntington?s home.

According to William Hertrich in his book ?The Huntington Botanical Gardens?? ?During 1907 and 1908 we transplanted some of the largest of the trees already established on the ranch to make room for the new home, plans for which were taking shape at the time. These trees included a huge camphor; a very large Magnolia grandiflora with twin trunks; one of the magnificent Deodar cedars (Cedrus deodara); a tall Tasmanian Dammar pine (Agathis robusta)?. Each of these specimens weighed between fifteen and twenty tons. The agathis was about forty feet tall and presented a peculiar problem of transplanting: it had very few side roots but a long tap root seven inches in diameter. We were obliged to cut this tap root five feet below the ground?s surface, and then we seared the cut with a plumber?s blow-torch to stop the bleeding. I was skeptical about the success of moving this tree, but it turned out satisfactorily and is still growing.?

Guess what William, it is still alive and growing in 2005!

Clair Martin, E.L. and Ruth B. Shannon Curator of the Rose and Perennial Gardens

The above was first published in Subrosa Number 2, September-October 1998 authored by Martha Burkard, Rose/Shakespeare Gardens Docent

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