Bunya-Bunya, Bunya Pine, False Monkey Puzzle (Norfolk Island Pine Family)
Araucaria bidwillii (Araucariaceae)
Origin: Australian rain forests
The bunya-bunya at Selby Gardens is a State Champion -- it is the largest of its kind in Florida. Trees are measured in diameter at breast height, or “DBH,” and our tree was just recorded at 113 cm (44 in.), over a meter wide and 26 meters (85 ft.) tall. Located across the street from the Gardens proper on South Palm Avenue, it looks almost silver now because it’s “blooming.” Really, we should say “coning.”
Some Botany 101: the two main groups of the plants that produce seed are angiosperms and gymnosperms, or “covered seed” and “naked seed.” The angiosperms are newer, evolutionarily, and include the flowering plants. The gymnosperms include conifers and cycads; they are non-flowering plants, usually producing cones, and often pollinated by wind. Most gymnosperms have separate male and female cones, which we sometimes call “pollen cones” and “seed cones;” the male cones are usually the smaller of the two. Right now the bunya-bunya is loaded with male cones, which when viewed from the ground, resemble silver needles. We can only assume there are some female cones deeper in the tree. Female bunya-bunya cones are borne close to the main stem and can be lethal if you are standing in the wrong place at the wrong time: a fertilized cone is covered with broad-based, stout spines which can reach the size of a gallon jug and weigh up to 10 kilograms (22 lbs.).
Pollinated cones often fall to the ground intact; they need someone or something to bust them open and spread the seeds around. It is theorized that the original dispersal mechanism may have been a now-extinct animal. The two major bunya-bunya populations left in Australia have been steadily declining as their locale becomes drier; and, the germination of seed follows a bizarre process, sometimes taking a couple of years to produce anything above the ground. The trees were sacred to Aboriginal peoples and a valuable food source.
Text by David Troxell