Garden Inventory: Podocarpus

Podocarpus (pron.: /ˌpoʊdəˈkɑrpəs/;[1] from the Greek, podos, meaning “foot”, and karpos, meaning “fruit”) is a genus of conifers, the most numerous and widely distributed of the podocarp family Podocarpaceae. The 105 species of Podocarpus are evergreen shrubs or trees from 1-25 m (rarely to 40 m) in height. The leaves are 0.5-15 cm long, lanceolate to oblong, falcate (sickle-shaped) in some species, with a distinct midrib, and are arranged spirally, though in some species twisted to appear in two horizontal ranks. The cones have two to five fused scales, of which only one, rarely two, are fertile, each fertile scale with one apical seed. At maturity, the scales become berry-like, swollen, brightly coloured red to purple and fleshy, and are eaten by birds which then disperse the seeds in their droppings. The male (pollen) cones are 5-20 mm long, often clustered several together. Many species, though not all, are dioecious. —

Several of these trees are planted along our northern wall. I often see podocarpus used here in the San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles as privacy trees, although my particular trees aren’t very useful for this. I would guess that due to pruning all their foliage is atop a large, bare, trunk. It could also be a property of the particular variety of podocarpus, which I have not been able to discern.

These are not my favorite trees on the property and had I been willing to spend the money, I probably would have removed them long ago. They were planted to close to both the house and wall, they are, frankly, ugly in their shape — probably due to years of bad pruning — and they drop a tremendous amount of leaves that cover our roof and seem to get everywhere. I can see a future plan of removing these and placing some more decorative shrubs in the area.

Podocarpus seems to be a huge genus with lots of variety in growth habit, leaves and bark. They are listed as conifers, which surprises me, and some varieties look much more like a yew or fir than my specimens. I would probably be happier with a variety with those properties. 

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Photos of Podocarpus with closeups of  leaves,  bark, and growing habit.

More information on Podocarpus:

Previously on Garden Inventory:

Garden Inventory is a series where I begin an inventory of all the plants and trees in my garden. Along with some of my own pictures, I will link to various sources of information about each plant and tree so we can learn a little more together.

I would also like to highlight your special plants and tress. Pass along your favorite plants in the comments and I will use them for future Garden Inventory posts. — Douglas