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Pygmy Pine from Alpine Zone

This article was first published on 13 Jul 2011.

Pygmy Pine

Pygmy Pine

The majesty of New Zealand conifers cannot be understated. Even when young they are beautiful trees, either as specimens or nestled in their natural forest habitat. But not all conifers are forest giants.

Consider the alpine zone. The environment dictates the habit of alpine plants, low growing to escape the extremes. New Zealand has three conifers that reach the alpine zone and one of these, Lepidothamnus laxifolius, is thought to be the smallest pine in the world. A member of the Podocarpaceae family, it is a close relative of rimu and is commonly known as mountain rimu or pygmy pine.

Lepidothamnus laxifolius is an attractive sprawling shrub with trailing stems up to 1m long. It forms patches that seldom get taller than 30cm and in the wild there have been fruiting specimens observed no bigger than 8cm. The foliage is often glaucous (blue-green) but can also be olive-green or brown; the different colour forms often present in the same population. The pygmy pine typically grows in the wetter areas of montane and sub alpine scrub of North and South Island and will grow at lower altitudes on Stewart Island.

In cultivation give pygmy pine plenty of light in an area of your garden that doesn’t dry out. A specimen can be seen in the north bed of the Alpine Scree garden of the New Zealand Native Plant Collection at Dunedin Botanic Garden.

Shirley Stuart is curator of the NZ native plant collection at Dunedin Botanic Garden.