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Southern cypress pine

Callitris gracilis has a host of common names, it is a native pine that occurs naturally in most states of Australia. In South Australia it is widespread mainly in the lower rainfall areas and is either called southern cypress pine, native pine or Murray pine. In Western Australia it is commonly referred to as Rottnest Island pine.

Callitris gracilis inhabits mostly sandy, rocky well drained soils often containing limestone and can appear in dense populations where it is the dominant tree. Depending on the natural rainfall native pine can vary from a tall stately single trunk conical shaped tree up to 15 metres high but in drier areas may attain 3-5 metres and have a bushy habit.

The trunk is a dark colour with rough bark and the foliage is a bright refreshing green and the small leaves are scale like in whorls. The dark green foliage is a welcome colour in a dry landscape making it a very distinctive attractive tree.

The fruit of the native pine is a small cone with the seed ripening in autumn. A trick we use at State Flora to germinate the seed is to stratify it, by placing the seed in the freezer of the fridge during August and then sow in the first week of September. This treatment emulates the conditions where the seed would have experienced a cold winter and then with some spring warmth and moisture is ready to germinate. The seed will germinate without this treatment; I find the stratification speeds up and evens out the germination process.

The native pine can be used as a shelter tree, for shade or a windbreak, for stabilisation of dune country or as an excellent feature tree for large gardens or parks. It is an important plant for food and shelter for many bird species.

Slow growing for the first few years the native pine will then put a spurt on and produce a formidable plant after 5-10 years. They are drought resistant tolerating annual rainfall probably as low as 300mms per annum.

The native pine is long lived, having soft but durable attractive fragrant timber, which is termite resistant so the wood was used extensively in years gone by for fence posts.

The native pine is one of South Australia’s gems and should be planted more widely.