The Hardware Store Houseplant That Makes a Perfect Small Space Christmas Tree

updated May 3, 2019
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(Image credit: Adrienne Breaux)

I’m both unwilling to store artificial christmas tree supplies, as well as insecure about going out to buy a live tree. Past years, I’ve either foregone holiday decorating, or DIYed some sort of makeshift faux tree. While those choices may work for some folks, it’s always left me wanting. That’s why when I came across this houseplant at the hardware store a couple of years ago, I knew it would be the perfect “Christmas tree” for me and my small space.

→ It’s a Norfolk Island Pine (Araucaria heterophylla)

The Norfolk Pine is not — as you may reasonably assume — an actual pine tree. Though used by some as Christmas decor (since it resembles a Christmas tree nicely), ironically the Norfolk Island Pine is actually a tropical houseplant that doesn’t like cold weather at all. But, you can purchase it from just about any hardware store year-round (and most especially around the holidays) and it often comes in a nice compact size that’s just right for small spaces. (It’s not toxic to pets, either.)

(Image credit: bjphotographs)

Why the Norfolk Island Pine might be the right choice for your Christmas tree this year:

You hate artificial trees but don’t want to fiddle or fuss with the hassle of a live tree.

I bought it for $20, brought it home in my car’s backseat, put it on a bench in my living room and I was done. (Save for ornaments and light strings, of course.)

Your pets love drinking Christmas tree water

I’ve heard tales of cats and dogs who love slurping up the easily accessible, pine-flavored water that can be found in the tree stand. Word is that it’s not toxic to pets, but it’s probably annoying if you’re trying to keep a tree healthy and presents under it dry.

You don’t like poking yourself on a live tree’s sharp needles

The Norfolk Island Pine is soft and pleasant.

You don’t like having to vacuum up dry needles throughout December

If you take care of your Norfolk Pine properly, nothing will turn brown or fall off.

You don’t want to have to deal with figuring out how to recycle a live tree after the holidays

Why haul a live tree out of your home, litter a trail of dry needles and contribute to a depressing line of sad dead trees out on the curb?

You don’t have the room to store an artificial tree

Or, if you’re like me, you just don’t want to find room to store an artificial tree.

(Image credit: Adrienne Breaux)

Why the Norfolk Island Pine might not be the right choice for your Christmas tree this year:

You have a particularly dark, dry or drafty home.

Though some websites (like the Costa Farms website) will describe the Norfolk Island Pine as not being a finicky plant, I have to admit the one I bought last Christmas didn’t make it to this year. All the other plants in my home are pretty tolerant to my random watering schedule, but this guy needs a moist, humid environment…that’s not cold and is full of indirect light. Some online guides (like the one on SFGATE) make keeping these trees happy sound kind of complicated, but I have high hopes that a more regular water schedule will help mine last beyond the holidays (and until next year!).

You don’t particularly have room for another houseplant to stick around after the holidays

Even if they do make cute Christmas trees and houseplants, if you don’t want another green thing sticking around (or don’t want the stress of keeping another plant alive), this isn’t for you.

You need the smell of a real Christmas tree

As far as my senses can tell, the Norfolk Island Pine smells like nothing at all. (Easier for my scented candle habit to flourish.)

You have extremely heavy ornaments

Even the cheap-y mini ornaments I have on my “tree” make the branches dip a little lower than I like, so those with sentimental attachments to very heavy or big ornaments may get frustrated with their Norfolk Island Pine’s small ornament load capability.

Share your Norfolk Island Pine tips and thoughts:

Using one of these guys as a Christmas tree is a relatively new phenomenon in my life, but it’s a common practice for others (and precisely why they’re so easy to find in stores around this time of year). So if you use a Norfolk Island Pine for your small space Christmas tree, let me know in the comments below! Tell me how you keep yours alive and happy, and perhaps even share where you purchased yours (and how much you spent) in case this is just the right small space holiday idea for someone else!