Down the road, the staff at the Witkoppen Wildflowers Nursery can barely conceal their distaste for the species Mr. Kirsten sells. “We’re a solely indigenous nursery,” said Andrea Hepplewhite, an owner.
Their Christmas tree is a Podocarpus henkelii, or yellowwood, austerely decorated with the gilded seedpods of other indigenous species: mahogany, kiaat, rasblaar (“noisy leaf” in Afrikaans) and another pod whose name no one can remember, but it resembles a snake that has swallowed three billiard balls.
The yellowwood, from the forests of the Indian Ocean coast, has a perfect Christmasy shape and holds decorations nicely. But its “needles” are thin, rather droopy leaves, like those on a rubber plant in a Manhattan office. Nonetheless, it is technically a pine tree, said Barry Duncker, a retired engineer and salesman, who dug up the proof in the nursery’s library. “Oh, pines have leaves,” he assured a skeptic who had recently arrived from the same hemisphere that Santa is said to inhabit. “They simply have leaves that resemble needles. They have cones, too, though you might not recognize them as cones. But they’re all the gymnosperm family.”
Miss Hepplewhite thinks there is only one reason Northerners want balsam-fir look-alikes: brainwashing. “Your perception of a Christmas tree is programmed,” she said. “I’ve used a six-foot baobab. An olive, or even a thorn tree, makes a great Christmas tree.”
- Top 10: Iconic African trees
- Weeping Podocarpus – a good plant in the wrong place
- Press Releases
- What Is A Fern Pine: Learn About African Fern Pine Care
- Fern Pine Information
- How to Grow Fern Pines
Top 10: Iconic African trees
It’s all about trees in our South African home base this week as the country celebrates Arbor Week. To mark the occasion, we’re dedicating this Top 10 to our favourite trees from across the African continent, from iconic baobabs to eerily beautiful fever trees.
Fever tree (Vachellia xanthophloea)
This tall tree is one of our favourites! It’s one of the few trees where photosynthesis takes place in the bark, giving it a stunning yellow-and-green colouration. The fever tree gets its name from its tendency to grow near swampy areas – early European settlers in the region noted that malarial fever was often contracted in areas where these trees grew (of course, we now know this was a mosquito-related mistake!). These beautiful trees are a favourite in gardens and their feathery foliage is a choice home for birds, but they’re not revered everywhere. Fast-growing and short-lived, they can stage a quick takeover on other plant species – in Australia, a fever tree cousin (Acacia nilotica) costs the grazing industry over $3 million annually! (Image: Steve Garvie, Flickr)
Upside-down giants with record-breaking lifespans, baobabs are the continent’s (and possibly the planet’s) most iconic and outlandish trees. Add to that their towering bulk, fire-resistant bark and extraordinary drought resistance, and you’ve got yourself one truly epic tree. Perhaps the best place to feast your eyes on them is on the island of Madagascar (home to six native species), along the famous Avenue des Baobabs (pictured), where the 30-metre giants stand sentry along a dusty track. (Image: Ralph Kränzlein, Flickr)
Saugage tree (Kigelia africana)
It’s not hard to figure out where the sausage tree gets its name. Weighing in at 5-10kgs, its hefty sausage-shaped fruit can make pretty dangerous projectiles for unwary passers-by or carelessly parked cars. That same fruit also makes the sausage tree a favourite with the local wildlife, from bush pigs and baboons to hippos and elephants (the animals kindly return the favour by dispersing the trees’ seeds in their dung). Humans have also found uses for the fruit, from the medicinal to the intoxicating (the fermented fruit makes a great addition to traditional African brews). (Image: Lindsey Elliott, Flickr)
Quiver tree (Aloe dichotoma)
Because of its distinctive beauty, the quiver tree has been named one of Namibia’s national plants. The thick tree is actually a giant aloe in disguise, and has soft pulpy tissue in the trunk and branches rather than actual wood. Its name comes from the indigenous San people’s tradition of hollowing out the tubular branches to make quivers for their arrows. But the tree allegedly has even more ingenious uses – dead quiver tree trunks are sometimes hollowed out and used as ‘natural’ refrigerators. (Image: Martin Heigan, Flickr.)
Leadwood (Combretum imberbe)
As the name suggests, this is one strong and hardy species – in fact, its wood is so dense, it actually sinks in water. That density also makes the tree incredibly resistant to termites, which is why leadwood skeletons (like the one pictured) remain dotted across the African landscape long after the original trees have died. You can also identify this tree, one of the largest in Africa, by its distinctive rectangular bark pattern. (Image: krugergirl26, Flickr)
Marula tree (Sclerocarya birrea)
Indigenous to southern Africa (and parts of West Africa and Madagascar), the marula tree is known for its sweet, yellow fruit – and local lore says that same fruit becomes ‘elephant alcohol’ once it’s fallen to the ground and fermented. Although scientists debunked the drunk elephant myth back in 2005, the alcohol association is not really surprising as the fruit is used to produce Amarula, the second-best-selling cream liqueur in the world. Traditionally the tree is used for everything from malaria cures to insecticide, not to mention as a food source – even more so in the summer months when the branches are often decorated with brightly coloured mopane worms, themselves an important source of protein for millions of people in southern Africa. (Image: Steven Tan, Flickr.)
Whistling thorn (Vachellia drepanolobium)
Ever heard a tree whistle? With the help of several ant species that bore holes into the thorns of Vachellia drepanolobius, these spiky appendages are transformed into natural whistles that come alive when the wind blows. And the ants aren’t just useful for making music, they have a symbiotic relationship with the whistling thorn tree. In exchange for shelter and a bit of nectar, the ants are believed to defend the whistling thorn against hungry herbivores like elephants and giraffes. (Image: Mike LaBarbera, Flickr.)
Mopane tree (Colophosphermum mopane)
Here’s one with some serious African roots – you won’t find the mopane or ‘butterfly tree’ anywhere else on the planet! To beat the heat in its hot, dry habitat, the tree has developed butterfly-shaped leaves that open and close to control moisture loss. These leaves also give the tree its name: ‘mopane’ is the Shona word for butterfly. Hardy and heavy, mopane wood is termite resistant, but not all bugs have abandoned this tree. Mopane worms (the larvae of the emperor moth) hatch on the mopane after the rainy season and these tasty grubs are a staple snack in many African cultures. (Image: krugergirl26, Flickr)
Sycamore fig (Ficus sycomorus)
As far as trees go, the sycamore fig has a pretty impressive résumé. These lofty characters get several mentions in the Bible, and their timber, fruit and even twigs have been found in ancient Egyptian tombs, where the sycamore fig is believed to have been a kind of Tree of Life. And that’s a pretty fitting title. The sycamore fig provides food for a greater variety of animals than any other tree in Africa. Its marble-sized fruit is also a vital first home for a species of wasp that lays its eggs inside the figs, triggering the start of a pollination process that results from this fascinating symbiotic relationship. (Image: Bernard DUPONT, Flickr.)
Dragon blood tree (Dracaena cinnabari)
Before we set off any geographic alarms, we’re going to come right out and admit that, yes, the dragon blood tree falls outside the African realm. The slow-growing evergreens occur on the Indian Ocean island of Socotra, which is officially part of Yemen – but with just a handful of miles separating the island from the Horn of Africa, we’re claiming it for this countdown anyway. Besides, who can resist a tree so strange-looking and so shrouded in myth … and one that’s named for its (highly prized) blood-like resin. Sadly, the species is now listed as ‘Vulnerable’ by the IUCN, and is facing threats linked to human development. (Image: Rod Waddington, Flickr.)
Top header image: Danie van der Merwe, Flickr
Weeping Podocarpus – a good plant in the wrong place
It was the right plant in the wrong place. It would take 20 years to discover that.
Recently I read an ad by a favorite nursery for weeping Podocarpus for sale and I remembered my son’s joy in landscaping his new home they had just built 30 years ago in Sarasota. I had never heard of a weeping Podocarpus, but loved the regular Podocarpus. I used its stems for design arrangements. Evergreen, straight, tall and columnar in its growth would make it an excellent accent plant for the garage.
He heeded my admonition of planting this weeping specimen at least 3 feet from the house at the corner of his garage. One of the first lessons I learned from long time growers was – plant at least three to four feet from the house, one foot for space to get behind it, one and a half feet for each side of the shrub to fill out, (that comes to 4 feet). I was unfamiliar with the plant and assumed it would grow straight and columnar, with its lovely soft dark green ferny foliage and light green new foliage that drooped at its tips, giving it a soft, desirable appearance.
Slowly, it did indeed grow full and upward, with its droopy leaves touching the ground, looking like a stack of foliage emerging from the ground. My son kept it clipped into a sort of columnar shape, trying to keep it away from the garage. As it aged, the shape got away from him, with a 12-inch trunk that strained to grow an oval and round top. Fighting it was too much and he eliminated it. I mourned the loss of such an outstanding plant. Little did we realize its potential.
Research now has led me to understand the problem. Weeping Podocarpus gracilior, sometimes called the fern rree, can slowly grow into a tree 30 to 40 feet high, which is fine if it grew columnar, but it wanted to fill out into a lollipop. If you use it as a tree, the lower branches that droop towards the ground need to be clipped out to give it a trunk. With its soft, elegant, dense billowy crown, it provides wonderful deep shade.
There a four types of Podocarpus found on the market. P. gracilior, or fern podocarpus, grows into a tree but can be espaliered or turned into a topiary; P. macrophylia has short stubby leaves, great columnar shrub or hedge; P. m. Maki only grows to about eight feet and is good in small places. Used in Bonsai along with the macrophylia; P. henkelii with lusher leaves and seldom reaches 30 feet tall. All are slow growers.
Podocarpus are native to Japan and China, and known as “Buddhist Pine.” We call them “China Yew” or “Southern Yew.” Not being native to North America makes fern Podocarus hardy only up to Orlando or, if protected, higher. Good until 20 degree weather comes.
Grown in full sun or partial shade with well drained soil, needing no irrigation once established, this is a tough tree that slowly grows to have a 2-foot in diameter trunk. Its roots are no problem and rarely lift concrete, so they are safe near driveways. Since surface roots are no problem, you only need to come 6 to 8 feet from walkways, (as long as it is minus its lower limbs). Keep a 10 to 15-foot space from the house. Fertilize three times a year – summer, spring and fall – with quality fertilizer. Their canopy is 25 to 35 feet. With a small yellow not showy bloom and red berries, there are male and female trees. Pollen comes from male trees and can cause allergy problems; females produce no pollen. Propagation is best done by layering or cuttings. The only real requirement in pruning is to remove the lower branches that reduce visibility and ability to walk underneath it. Being shady, underplanting can be lantana (non-invasive), vinca or bush daisy.
Now you can understand why it was a good plant in the wrong place. Being such a slow grower, it was beautiful for 20 years, with a lot of work. That was long enough to raise his family and not worry about landscaping. Then he took to revamping the landscape to sell it.
Listed as definitely non-invasive, weeping Podocarpus is not considered a problem species with a “go” for good to grow in Florida. An outstanding tree. Being evergreen, when trained as a standard, it is urban tolerant, wonderfully shady, good for screening problem areas and a magnificent showy specimen, even espaliered or topiary. It shapes wonderfully with its soft ferny leaves. IFAS notes describe it as, “almost appearing like a large, soft, green cloud.”
This past week I had a problem with my small leaf version of a tropical almond tree. My tall, huge leaf topical almond that turned beautiful colors of red in the fall was totally toppled by “Charley.” The giant circular masses of roots were upended, leaving me a 10-foot ball of roots. It was not a deep rooted tree. I live in the Veterans Parkway, Country Club to Del Prado area and at 2:30 Tuesday, a 5-minute storm hit briefly in my area, knocking out power. My grandson called it ” high winds blowing a small vortex thing-a-ma-jiggy.” I needed to take my daughter to work and couldn’t back out of the driveway. My key focal tree to the planting area in my circular driveway, a small leaf tropical almond, with all the wonderful fall colorings, cracked in half, about 11 feet up in the air, blocking my driveway. My great-grandson pulled it over to the swale when he arrived home from school. Needing to get out, I drove over the mess and back into the garage. I will leave it for my wonderful son-in-law to chop up at his convenience.
Remember to thank a tree for taking in the bad air, carbon dioxide, and giving us good air, oxygen, and if we sit under it for 10 minutes, re-energize us.
Joyce Comingore is a Master Gardener, hibiscus enthusiast and member of the Garden Club of Cape Coral.
Common Name: Fern Pine
Scientific Name: Afrocarpus gracilior
Full view of Fern Pine, University of Redlands Campus
Habit: The Fern Pine grows upright without the need for added support and requires a large space in which to grow. The trunk is rounded and the tree itself can reach a maximum size of between 50 and 65 feet vertically and 2 to 3 feet in diameter. The tree’s foliage is classified as evergreen. While the leaves may vary in shade, their color will remain green. The tree is taller than wide and has a dense foliage of thin spear-shaped leaves.
Leaves: The leaves of the Fern Pine grow in clusters and have an irregular growth pattern, each leaf can grow up to 4 inches in length.
Close view of Fern Pine leaves
Twigs & Bark: The bark is fine and scaly, starting out a reddish brown that turns to light grey as the tree matures. The twigs of the tree are long and skinny, droop at the tip, and produce small pointed buds.
Close view of tree trunk
Close view of Fern Pine branch
Flowers and Fruits: The flowers are not easy to spot. The male flowers are yellow and cone-shaped in the range of 1 inch long while the “female flowers only occur solitary from the leaf axis.”(Seiler Jensen Niemiera, 2017) The fruit is round and fleshy unlike most evergreens, which produce cones, and goes through several colors including green, yellow, and red when ripe. The fruit usually passes on its seeds when it is ingested and then later defecated by monkeys and birds.
Fern Pine fruit
Where it is From
Native Range: The Fern Pine was originally native to Eastern Africa. The tree is better suited to grow in warmer climates although it can resist temperatures as low as 15 degrees Fahrenheit, “It grows best in USDA zones 9-11” (Myers, 2017).
Ecological Notes: The Fern Pine is also a very resistant tree in terms of ecological factors, the tree has a good drought resistance and can live in environments were smog is produced, making it popular for urban landscapes. The tree does best when exposed to direct sunlight or in light shade. To do best the tree should be planted in conditions, which will protect it from frost even though it is tolerant to lower temperatures. Although the tree is resistant to smog, it does not have the same resistance to aerosol salt, therefore to thrive it should not be planted in areas that receive spray or mist from oceans. While the tree is resistant to most pests and diseases, it is susceptible to damage from aphids, scale, and sooty mold. The tree should be pruned at a young age the desired shape, after which pruning is not necessary. While the Fern Pine is young it should be hydrated with 15-20 gallons of water per week, but as it matures it is acceptable to water with the same amount every other week as it is drought resistant under-watering is not a large concern.
Its mixture of smog resistance, low maintenance, and large temperature range, as well as its ability to survive in acidic soil, make it easy to grow in an environment like sidewalks, along highways and porches. In addition, the tree very rarely lifts sidewalks (an important factor when being grown in close proximity to streets and sidewalks). When growing in containers the best sizes to accommodate root growth are #5, #15, and either a 24 or 36inch box. The growth rate of the Fern Pine usually ranges within 12-36inches per year and in general has a longevity of around 150 years. The tree is also best grown on the north side of buildings to protect from heat at a young age.
What we use it for
In East Africa (where it originates) the tree is used for carpentry, paneling, and flooring, as it is a hardy wood. It is more commonly used in the United States as a decorative plant (depending on how it is pruned it can be used as a bush or a tree) and finds its home in many urban and suburban areas as houseplants or decoration for streets and sidewalks. In addition to being used for decoration, the Fern Pine is commonly used as a privacy shrubbery as it can be pruned to take a hedge-like shape it is often used on properties that are very close to each other as a border.
All pictures were taken by Dustin VanOverbeke on the University of Redlands campus.
Biographer: Elijah Bacher ’21 BIOL 238 Evolution, Ecology, and Behavior, Fall 2017
I see the city’s planting some podocarps along Dwight Way just east of Shattuck Avenue. I don’t see that often as a street tree; the plant is more likely to be in a lobby or courtyard, or next to some institutional doorway. As it generally gets used, it’s kind of a 1960s Sunset décor plant, with a poolside aura. It looks natural—which is to say, not quite natural at all—next to an Eames chair or one of those round plastic tables that look like exaggerated hourglasses.
In fact, the foliage of this tree, sometimes called African fern pine, has an oddly plastic look. Maybe that’s because it’s fairly uniform, all its needly leaves about the same size and color except for the newest growth. That’s paler green, tender and a bit smaller; it gives the tree a sprightly fresh look in spring.
On the street, though, it looks good—what landscapers call a “clean” look goes well there. Maybe the less sheltered life agrees with it, or maybe those on Dwight Way are just young trees, loose and airy in habit, and not pruned into stiffness yet. The tree does tolerate heavy pruning, which can make it denser for better or worse. I know this because it’s one species that my tree teacher set me on when he was hoping I’d make a new mistake for a change, by pruning too heavily. I did, and the tree is just fine, healthy and handsome now nevertheless.
I’m not sure whether it’s about having been a good Catholic girl or having been a scholarship student who needed good grades (and was sternly notified of this at about grade six) but making mistakes has always been the scary part of schooling to me. I don’t think I ever really grasped the concept of creative screw-ups until I studied with Dennis Makishima, and I was nearly 40 then. The closest I came before that was that my father had taught me to deliver a good straight-line for a bad joke. Hey kids! Here’s my advice: Screw up now, while you can. And enjoy it!
Podocarpus gracilior’s English name isn’t quite a mistake, confusing as it is. It’s from east Africa, and though it only looks ferny, it has something real in common with pines: It’s a gymnosperm. Gymnosperms are “primitive” flowering plants—in a sense in which “primitive” means “basal”—that is, basic, a big, senior limb on the tree of life. They include all the conifers, like pines, firs, redwood; and some more stereotypically ancient taxa like cycads, ginkgo, araucarias, ephedra (our own desert tea) and that oddest of desert plants, Welwitschia. (You can see one of those at the UC Bot Garden.)
You can see araucarias around town, too—the Norfolk Island pines, bunya-bunyas, and monkey puzzle trees that the Victorians were so fond of, and planted in their gardens. Like them, podocarps are plants of ancient Gondwanaland, one of the ur-continents of really ancient Earth. This makes them an odd inhabitant indeed of magazine gardens and decorator lobbies, a souvenir of a time not only before Martha Stewart but before Mrs. Beeton or Eve or even Lilith’s favorite aesthetic daemon. Far from being plastic, it’s not far from being a component of some of the petroleum deposits from which plastic was made… or at least of brown coal.
Podocarps are semitropical in origin, so one might wonder how they’ll do in the next freeze. Will they be as wimpy as, say, the jacarandas over on Gilman Street, who stagger back from every hard frost just barely able to look gorgeous next flowering season? Podocarps, like jacarandas, are more common as street trees in Los Angeles—maybe the Berkeley tree folks are anticipating global warming.
But I know a few big ones around town that have soldiered on through the last 25 years or so, and look as good as the necessities of building maintenance and the exigencies of awkward siting could allow. What the hey, they’ve survived continental drift, a few ice ages, the slings and arrows of outrageous landscaping. I like the idea of giving them a crack at surviving Berkeley in the early 21st century.›
What Is A Fern Pine: Learn About African Fern Pine Care
Few areas in the U.S. are warm enough to grow a fern pine, but if you are in zones 10 or 11 consider adding this beautiful tree to your garden. Fern pine trees are weeping evergreens that can grow quite tall, be trimmed and shaped, grow in tough conditions, and provide pretty greenery and plenty of shade.
Fern Pine Information
What is a Fern pine? The fern pine (Podocarpus gracilior) is native to Africa but is now common in USDA zones 10 and 11, especially in urban and suburban areas. This evergreen rainforest tree has skinny green leaves that grow 2 to 4 inches (5 to 10 cm.) in length, giving the overall appearance of feathers or ferns. The effect is a billowy green cloud that is very attractive in gardens and yards.
Fern pines will grow to between 30 and 50 feet (9 to 15 m.) in height, with a spread out to 25 or 35 feet (7.6 to 10.6 m.). The lower branches droop in a weeping style, and these can be left alone or trimmed to shape the tree and provide accessible shade. The tree will grow flowers and small fruits, but these are largely inconspicuous.
How to Grow Fern Pines
There are a lot of ways to use this versatile tree. It can be espaliered, trimmed into a hedge, used for screening, or grown as a shade tree. As a tree, you can trim the lower branches to shape it, or you can let it grow naturally, and the branches will droop and make it look more like a large shrub. If you need something to grow in an urban setting with little soil and a lot of concrete, this is your tree.
Fern pine care is very easy once you get the tree established. It can tolerate a variety of conditions from poor or compact soil to a lot of shade. It will also grow well in full sun. You should water your fern pine in the first growing season, but after that it shouldn’t need any regular care other than trimming if you choose to shape or espalier it.
Versatile plants grown for their good-looking foliage and interesting form. They are adaptable to many climates and have many uses. Make good screens and background plants. Foliage generally resembles that of related yews (Taxus), but leaves of the better-known species are longer, broader, and lighter in color. If a male plant is growing nearby, female plants bear fruit after many years, producing small, fleshy fruit rather than cones. Grow well (if slowly) in most soils but may develop chlorosis (yellow leaves with green veins) where soil is alkaline. Tolerate salt spray and resist pests. Not browsed by deer.
- For plants sold under this name, see Podocarpus gracilior
Method of propagation determines growth habit. If grown from seed, plants are upright even when young (and stay that way); these plants are usually sold as Podocarpus gracilior. In youth, they have branches set somewhat sparsely with glossy, dark green leaves 24 inches long, inches wide. With age, they produce 1- to 2 inches., soft grayish green to bluish green leaves that are more closely spaced on branches. Stake seedling plants until a strong trunk develops.
If grown from cuttings or grafts of a mature tree, plants have the smaller, more closely set leaves just described, but they have very limber branches and are often reluctant to make strong vertical growth. These more willowy plants, suitable for espalier, hanging pots, or growing as vines along fences, are often sold as Podocarpus elongatus. Given staking and tying, Podocarpus elongatus types eventually become upright trees, though their foliage mass persists in drooping for some time. An exception is Podocarpus ‘Icee Blue’, which has striking blue-gray foliage and shrubby, upright growth to 25 feet tall and wide.
- Shrub or tree.
- Zones LS, CS, TS; USDA 8-11.
- Native to eastern China, Japan.
- Generally narrow and upright; to 1550 feet tall, 615 feet wide.
- Bright green leaves 4 inches long, inches wide.
- Good as a street or lawn tree, screen, or large shrub; limber enough to espalier.
- Easily pruned as clipped hedge or topiary.
- Does well in containers.
- Very heat tolerant.
- SHRUBBY YEW PINE.
- Slower growing and smaller than the species, reaching just 815 feet tall, 24 feet wide.
- Dense and upright, with leaves to 3 inches long, inches wide.
- A choice shrub; one of the best container plants for outdoor or indoor use.
- Excellent as a hedge.
podocarpus nagi (Nageia nagi)
- Zones CS, TS; USDA 9-11.
- From Japan, where it reaches 8090 feet tall.
- In the South, more commonly seen at 1520 feet tall, 68 feet wide.
- Pendulous branchlets; leathery, smooth, dark green, sharp-pointed leaves to 13 inches long, 1 inches wide.
- Grows upright in youth without staking; plant in groves for slender sapling effect.
- Makes a decorative foliage pattern against wood or masonry background.
- Excellent tall screen, hedge, accent or container plant.
All podocarpus plants are members of the Podocarpaceae family. All are evergreen conifers that grow in tropical or subtropical locations. Though the different species are similar in appearance, their differences are worth noting if you are thinking of adding podocarpus to your landscape.
All podocarpus plants are members of the Podocarpaceae family. All are evergreen conifers that grow in tropical or subtropical locations. Though the different species are similar in appearance, their differences are worth noting if you are thinking of adding podocarpus to your landscape.
Driving around Kona, you can see newly planted, as well as mature podocarpus plants, in many different forms and uses. Podocarpus can be grown singularly as tall, upright trees with an attractive shape or used in a group as a windbreak or privacy screen. They can also be maintained as a hedge or cultivated as attractive potted plants. Podocarpus is also a popular bonsai plant. The plant’s lovely fine textured foliage and its resistance to diseases and pest attacks as well as its versatility make it well worth consideration for Hawaiian landscapes.
Two species are readily available here. The weeping podocarpus, which was formerly known as Podocarpus gracilior, was recently reclassified as Nageia falcatus. This species is native to Eastern Africa where it is known as East African yellowwood. In Africa, it is often grown and used for construction. The tree is moderately fast growing with a somewhat weeping growth habit. It can get very large and the lower branches can begin to droop as the tree ages. If it is planted in an area with foot or vehicular traffic, it may be necessary to remove the lower branches when this occurs. When mature and without lower branches it makes an excellent shade tree.
Podocarpus macrophyllus “maki” also known as the shrubby yew pine is slower growing and usually remains smaller than the N. falcatus. The macrophyllus is native to southern China and Japan. This variety is especially suited to use as part of a short hedge and can even be used in a partially shady location. The leaves of the “maki” are longer, which gives this variety a very graceful appearance.
The long thin leaves of all the podocarpus varieties have a pointed tip giving a fine textural appearance to the foliage, overall. The thin leaves are similar to bee still or bamboo, but are actually closer in appearance to plants in the Taxus genus which are known as yews. Though single podocarpus trees can grow up to 40 feet, in Kona most are trimmed and used for hedging. Though the plants tolerate pruning and shaping very well, they can also be allowed to grow tall for windbreaks or privacy screens. If left alone for many years, podocarpus can also spread to nearly 20 feet wide and live for 150 years.
Podocarpus plants are either male or female. Periodically, the male plants will produce inch and a half long catkin-like “cones” containing yellow pollen. If female plants are nearby, the pollen can be carried to them on the wind. Once pollination occurs, a fleshy reddish-purple fruit that holds the seed begins to form. Birds often eat the fruit and spread the seeds. Though the fruit is also edible for us, the seed can be toxic.
Growing podocarpus from seed is a bit difficult. Seeds are somewhat rare and can take up to a year to germinate. Some sources recommend soaking in saturated salt water for 48 hours to scarify the seed. Cornell University Extension Service recommends placing the seeds in moist sphagnum moss enclosed in a plastic bag and refrigerated for the 60 or more days it may take to germinate.
Though propagating from cuttings may be quicker, following specific instructions will improve the results. It is recommended that cuttings be taken in the summer when the weather is warm and growth is active. Remove a soft wood cutting about 6 inches long from a leader branch (a section of the tree that is growing vertically). Cuttings from branches growing horizontally tend to develop weak trunks and are apt to become prostrate rather than upright plants.
The best medium for cuttings is a mix of half vermiculite and half perlite, kept moist (not wet) by misting daily. Try growing a few to be sure to get a strong upright result.
Podocarpus will do best in an area that gets sun most of the day, but they can also survive partial sun. When planting as a hedge, be sure to leave plenty of distance (about 6 to 8 feet) between plants to allow space for the plants to spread. Most soil types will work for this plant as long as it drains well. Though the plants are somewhat sensitive to salt spray, they can tolerate strong winds and some drought once established. Light fertilization two or three times a year can be helpful though not necessary. They can tolerate pruning as long as it is not more than one third of the foliage at a time. Diseases and pest attacks are rare if the plant is healthy. Keep it so by mulching and occasional fertilizing.
In addition to being an attractive and versatile outdoor plant, podocarpus can also be grown indoors in a sunny spot. Known in Asia as Buddhist Pine, the trees are often used in feng shui to redirect energy in a home. For this reason, they have a high commercial value in China and Japan.
Sunrise Nursery currently has both of these podocarpus varieties in stock but you may find them elsewhere as well. Call around to check availability.
Diana Duff is a plant adviser, educator and consultant living in a dryland forest north of Kailua-Kona.
Friday &Saturday: “Ma’ona Community Market,” 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. both days at 84-5097 Keala o Keawe Road off Route #160 (Puuhonua o Honaunau Road) on the left just before Painted Church Road (on the right). Check it out on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/maonacommunitygarden/. More information by contacting [email protected] or Bridget and Leisha at 808-430-8568 or 808-989-4780 or Chantal: 808-937-9800.
Saturday: “Work Day at Amy Greenwell Garden” from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Meet at the Garden Visitor Center across from the Manago Hotel in Captain Cook. Volunteers will be able to help with garden maintenance and are invited to bring a brown bag lunch. Water and snacks provided. Call Peter at 323-3318 for more information.
Farmer Direct Markets
Wednesday: “Sunset Farmers Market,” 2 p.m. to sunset at the north makai corner of the Kmart parking lot
Wednesday and Friday: “Hooulu Farmers Market,” 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Sheraton Kona Resort and Spa
Friday: “Pure Kona Market,” 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Amy Greenwell Garden in Captain Cook
Saturday: “Keauhou Farmers Market,” 8 a.m. to noon at Keauhou Shopping Center
“Kamuela Farmer’s Market,” 7 a.m. to noon at Pukalani Stables
Sunday: “Pure Kona Green Market.” 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Amy Greenwell Garden in Captain Cook
Tuesday through Saturday: “U-Pick greens and produce,” 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tropical Edibles Nursery, Captain Cook.
Plant Advice Lines
Anytime: [email protected]
Tuesdays and Thursdays: 9 a.m. to noon at UH-CES in Kainaliu, 322-4892
Mondays, Tuesdays and Fridays: 9 a.m. to noon at UH CES at Komohana in Hilo, 981-5199 or [email protected]