Can Pine Trees Grow in the Tropics?

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Pine trees grow in many climate zones.
Image Credit: Ayoub Bouabdallah/iStock/GettyImages

There are approximately 120 species of true pines (Pinus spp.), which are one of many different types of conifers – evergreen trees with needlelike leaves that produce pine cones. With one notable exception, true pine trees grow in temperate and subtropical regions in the Northern Hemisphere rather than in the tropics. However, some conifers known colloquially as "pines'' do occur naturally in tropical regions. Some pine trees can grow in the tropics and have been introduced in places such as Hawaii, where they are now invasive.

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Sumatran Pine Trees

The only species of pine that occurs naturally below the equator is the Sumatran pine (Pinus merkusii, zones 10-12), which is native to Southeast Asia. While its common name refers to the Indonesian island of Sumatra, this tree's native range also encompasses parts of Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. The Sumatran pine has a typical height between 100 and 165 feet. The pine tree's cone shape often becomes more rounded over time. The wood of the Sumatran pine is used in construction and to build furniture.

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Hawaiian Pine Trees

There are no native pine trees in Hawaii. All of the pine trees you encounter on the Hawaiian archipelago have been introduced. Some of these non-native pine trees have become invasive in the Hawaii Islands and other parts of the world. They include the Mexican weeping pine (Pinus patula, zones 8-10), which is native to eastern Mexico; the Monterey pine, native to the coast of Southern California; and the maritime pine (Pinus pinaster, zones 8-10), which is native to Italy, France, Spain, Portugal and other European countries. All three of these pines are known to spread aggressively.

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Araucaria and Casuarina Trees

The 19 conifer species in the genus Araucaria are native to tropical regions and are often referred to as pine trees because of their appearance. However, they are only distantly related to true pines. Examples of trees in this genus include the Norfolk Island pine (Araucaria heterophylla, zones 9-10), which is native to the island of the same name off the coast of Australia. The shape of this tree ranges from pyramidal to columnlike. Though it can grow to be 100 feet tall in its native habitat, it is widely sold in the U.S. in containers and is particularly popular around the holidays.

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Also in this genus Araucaria is the cook pine, also known as New Caledonian pine (Araucaria columnaris, zones 10-11), another massive tree native to New Caledonia that can be grown indoors in containers. This tree has a narrow, columnlike form with a height of up to 200 feet and spreads of 30 to 50 feet in the wild. Other Araucaria species are native to the Americas, specifically Brazil, Chile and Argentina.

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Another species that is commonly referred to as a pine but is not a true pine is the Australian pine (Casuarina equisetifolia, zones 9-11), which is native to Southeast Asia, French Polynesia and Australia. The Australian pine has become invasive in many places around the world, including the state of Florida, where planting this species is prohibited.

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