Gymnostoma australianum – Daintree Christmas tree


Gymnostoma australianum - Daintree Christmas Tree

Gymnostoma (jim-no-STO-ma) australianum (os-TRAY-li-ar-num) L.A.S. Johnson 1980

Common names : Daintree Christmas Tree / Oak

From the Greek gymnos – naked; stoma – mouth; a reference to the exposed pores along the twigs. australianum = from Australia.

Family : Casuarianaceae.

Most Australians would readily recognise Casuarinas or She-oaks as they are a prominent feature of our coastal forest communities. They often present as a tortured, windswept small tree with gnarled branches that are covered in what appear to be “pine needles”.

These pretend pine needles are in fact branchlets that support tiny, scale-like leaves that are arranged in whorls of four.

The “Daintree Christmas Tree” as it is often labelled in local nurseries, does not grow in windswept environments but prefers the moist rainforests that grow along streams as part of the riparian species mix.


Gymnostoma australianum cone-like fruit

The plants distribution is extremely limited in that they occur predominantly along Noah Creek into the uplands and along Roaring Meg Creek towards the Bloomfield River.

The flowers are separate male and female on the same plant. Once fertilised the female flower develops into a cone-like fruit that when ripe sheds small winged seeds. Perhaps the wind dispersion of this plant species in some way explains the reason that they have not been able to escape the refugia that they inhabit. (Noah Creek is regarded as one of four significant plant refugia in the Daintree. The others being Oliver Creek, Cooper Creek and Hutchinsons Creek all of which occur between the Daintree River and Cape Tribulation).

Having now grown several of these plants over the years I understand why they are promoted as Christmas Tree substitutes.

Gymnostoma australianum leaves on branchlets

Gymnostoma australianum leaves on branchlets

They seem to grow into very well shaped small trees with a conifer-like habit, although quite slow growing compared to other rainforest trees.

While purists may argue that this rare plant belongs in its very limited refugia and should not be spread about into other areas. Few would argue that it should not  be protected in its natural environment, it is however a very “polite” plant that doesn’t appear to encroach on its neighbors and is certainly not showing any weediness. Perhaps it deserves a chance to explore other soil types and a greater climatic range.

32 responses to “Gymnostoma australianum – Daintree Christmas tree

  1. A very interesting blog – way out of my territory so it’s good to learn about other areas of Australia.

  2. Interesting plant – so unlike the normal Sheoaks.

  3. Yes Denis a bit different from the Sheoaks and such a tiny distribution… Allen

  4. I bought one of these at a nursery here in Fremantle WA and have been enjoying it as my Christmas tree.
    They must be being cultivated for the nursery trade.
    Since Fremantle must beabout as far from Daintree in distance and habitat as it could be I am wondering how the tree will survive the hot dry Mediterranean summers. Should I keep it in the shade?

  5. Hi Gabby, Gymnostoma are related to Casuarinas and may well tolerate much the same range of conditions. Perhaps a bit a extra water in dryer times would be judicious while they are still young
    Regards Allen

  6. Nice article folks. re Gabby’s question. This plant does very well as far south as Coffs Harbour and Grafton. Grafton experiences temperature ranges from minus 3 on the coldest days of the year through to plus 40’s on the hottest days each year. Rainfall is mainly in Autumn. In Coffs harbour it is growing on an ex Council fecycling station as they like to call them now, and in Grafton they are on alluvial flats and at my place it is growing on decomposed red and yellow sandstone with added water, mulch and orgainic fertilizers only. Hope this helps.

  7. Sorry I forgot my question Barbara when is the flowering season?
    Thanks andi

  8. Hello,

    I bought a Daintree Pine as a Christmas tree last year and must have kept it inside for too long over the period (I think it got too warm and over watered as well), once I took it outside again it was apparent that over half the tree appeared dead (or dying).

    It is now 8 months on, I still have been caring for it with regular fertilizing and water etc but it is making a very slow recovery. There are visible shoots off the main trunk and off some of the dead branches but the crown still looks pretty much dead. Initially I did not want to re-pot as it would cause extra stress on the tree but now (with Christmas only 5 months away and having made very little progress so far I am considering re-potting it into a larger pot and wanted some advice on what types of potting mix and fertilizers I should use to give it the best chance at life.

    I live in Brisbane and the tree is about 5 ft and lives on my balcony, it gets some morning sun, but is not in full sun all day as I know it prefers. I would appreciate some advice about the tree as many people have told me it wont come back or it wont ever be the correct shape again but I would really like to save it if I can, advice. Basically, I dont know what I am doing and would appreciate some advice! Thank you!

    • Kaili, Its difficult for me to give advice as our plant is growing outside in the ground. I haven’t had experience in growing Gymostoma further south, sorry I can’t be of any further help.

  9. Wondering what kind of root system this lovely pine has? Vertical or horizontal? Thanks for any information you can provide.

  10. Thanks for the article. What are it’s full growth dimensions? Where can I purchase one? I live at Lennox Head between Byron Bay and Ballina.

    • Hi Fay it grows into a small tree much like the other casuarinas in its family but perhaps a bit neater in habit. The only place that I know of that you can purchase them would be Yuruga Plant Nursery at Walkamin on the Atherton Tablelands.

      • Thank you, Barbara for your prompt and helpful reply. I just emailed Yurunga Plant Nursery so hope for good news! Cheers.

  11. I planted one today in nth NSW that I picked up at Bunnings!

  12. Matt Robertson

    I can tell you they are very susceptible to collar rot.i have planted many on my front strip .watch for grass or mulch buildup .also they are painfully slow .

    • Hi Matt, Not many trees,particularly tropical ones, like an excessive build up of organic material around their base. In their natural habitat these plants are often found growing on the edge of rapidly flowing water with a gravel based soil surface. Quite a colony of them grow on a small island in Noah Creek a few meters above sea level.

  13. christine gilmore

    I, too, have had a Daintree pine as a Christmas tree and the lower branches have been faling off with the foliage at their ends going quite grey. I’ve taken off all the dead and dying and put it outside (I live in Mareeba). It will get full sun from about 10-3. will fertilize (wil ring nursery and check) and hope for the best. cheers, Chris

    • Hi I live in Brisbane. I had a similar problem with the plant changing to a smokey type colour. I was advised to lift it and check the root system. (Mine had been in a smaller pot and had been root bound it was actually solid. Which I didn’t think as much when I bought it. So I soaked it for quite some time and loosened as much feeder roots as I could. I then checked the foliage and found a plague of little green grasshoppers which are small enough if you don’t have a good look they resemble new foliage. So with the good soak and a spray of Pyrethein from Coles and new pot. The tree has jumped back to life and powering on.

  14. can these grow in pots

  15. We bought a little one at Masters here in the ACT and at present it is in our loungeroom still with the Xmas lights and baubles on it, these are coming off today. So question: a) when can I repot it into a larger pot, and (b) when do I take it outside as I am not sure if it will like the airconditioned room when it is on.

    • Jo-Anne – Gymnostoma australianum is endemic to a small area north of the Daintree river in far north Queensland. It is highly unlikely to survive the Canberra winter regardless of the size of pot in which it is growing.

  16. Hi Jo-Anne,
    I believe they will survive the ACT winter. Sold at all Masters stores in Melbourne. Around the surrounds of the Melbourne Zoo there are plenty which are thriving. Be positive and give a little care.
    Take care

  17. I have recently bought one in Brisbane….and have just discovered the interior branches have started to die back…..I don’t want to loose this gorgeous plant, what has happened to make it die back like this??

    It has been living outdoors in semi shaded positions. It is in the large pot I bought it in a few weeks back.
    Could it have just needed more watering?

    • HI Sandi,
      It sounds like you have the plant in a good position but the plant probably does need daily watering, so long as the potting mix is freely draining. I have been concerned about my own potted Gymnostoma which I have been watering daily. However, I think it suffered in the recent extreme heat we experienced and is also dropping lots of leaves. I bought it last year and it’s looked great until the last couple of weeks so I think I’ll stick to using a potted Ficus species they are much more forgiving!

  18. Hi Allen. I’m about to plant my lively little tubestock Daintree Pine. Im thinking of placing it I. My front yard where it would receive full sun all day. Have you planted any in full sun? How do you think it might go? Also when you say slow growing, what kind of height have your trees achieved in a year or five years or ten years?

    • Hi Donna, I’m not sure that your Daintree Pine will be happy in full sun. It does depend on where you are and how low the humidity will get on hot days. They are slow growing with one I planted over 10 years ago only growing to about 4 meters so far. We have had one in a pot as a living Christmas Tree for quite a few years not that we have only just planted out.

  19. can i bring my daintree pine in the house for 4 weeks as my christmas tree and take outside when christmas is over

  20. Gary Brown we used one of ours in a pot for a couple of years as our living christmas tree making sure that it was regularly watered and it had no ill effects.

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