The Mimic: Australian Pine

By Katy Roberts

Reprinted from The Understory, Jun.–Jul. 2002

Looking tall and stately, the dark green Australian pine (Casuarina equisetifolia) is an enemy invader in attractive BDUs (battle dress uniforms). Another Australian import, this pine-like plant has become too at home here in Florida. With no natural enemies, and seed dispersed aerially, the Australian escaped from cultivation and is taking over natural Florida areas.

Originally touted as a beach and erosion control plant, the Australian pine is, in reality, a shallow-rooted plant prone to tipping over in high winds. I hope your house is not under one. Storms can really knock over these plants. Combine the shallow roots with heavy leaf litter suspected of chemically suppressing other plants, and the Australian pine contributes to erosion while suppressing the real erosion-controlling understory plants. Aussie pines discourage the biodiversity, so necessary to wildlife and human habitation. Biodiversity also provides aesthetic appeal, which is why we plant a variety of plants around our homes. Wildlife value is low, not for food, but perhaps, for shelter. It provides a resting perch for birds and not much more. The cones are nasty, messy and prickly to step on.

How can you get rid of the Australian pine? One method is to cut them down, especially if you have a fireplace. They make a first-rate firewood. If you don't have a fireplace, they make good fence posts. Some foresters use Garlon and let the tree die. However, the wood becomes so hard that a chain saw will bounce off. If you don't have a fireplace (or need fence posts) you can call your local certified tree guy to remove the tree and grind the stump.

So now you have a bare spot? You can replant with native pines, or if you are in a high salt situation use southern red cedar. For wet spots, plant pond pine and spruce pine. For medium to high-and-dry, plant longleaf and southern slash pines, and for very dry areas plant and pines. Pines and red cedars provide food and shelter for the birds, mulch for gardeners, and decorative pine cones or berries.

Published on  07.30.2012