Name: Podocarpus gracilior
Common Names: fern pine, weeping podocarpus, podocarpus
USDA Hardiness: (9) 10-11
Mature Height: 50 to 60 feet
Mature Spread: 25 to 30 feet
Classification: Evergreen Tree
Landscape Use: Specimen tree, Accent planting, screen, hedge
Ornamental Characteristics: Fine texture, dense luxurious foliage, orange fruits
Podocarpus gracilior, the fern pine, is native to East Africa and grows in most climates in Hawaii with the exception of extreme elevations where the temperatures may drop below freezing. It thrives in full sun to part shade. If left alone, the tree will grow to 50 feet or more tall with a 25 to 30 foot spread.
Be sure new plantings are well watered, but, once established, podocarpus is very drought tolerant. Do not allow it to sit in consistently wet soil as it will quickly show signs of over watering with wilting branches and leaf drop. Established trees are tolerant of lightly brackish water but will burn if in direct contact with salt spray from ocean-side planting. Young trees need fresh water. There are no significant pests or diseases.
P. gracilior is an awkward looking youngster but several years after planting, the handsome oval crown of the tree forms. Branches gracefully arch towards the ground, giving it the “weeping” look for which it is named. The billowy, evergreen foliage first appears gray-green, then lime green and finally turns a lustrous, deep green. When foliage does drop, it is hardly noticeable in the landscape. The bark has no particularly striking features. I have also found the foliage to be an excellent filler foliage in floral arrangements, lasting 2 weeks without losing its color or texture.
Podocarpus gracilior is, without a doubt, one of the most diverse trees I have seen and used in landscapes. The first time I saw fern pine, it was planted in a grove at the entry to a neighbor’s property. The cluster of trees created a wonderful, relaxing screen from neighbors and roads. The wind trickles through groves of these trees creating in a soothing, meditative place. Weeping podocarpus thrives in well-tended landscapes but can also withstand tough urban environments, making it an excellent choice for street tree planting in areas where space is available for its height. One of the best features is the ability to withstand heavy trimming. Left alone, the branches will reach the ground but trim the lower branches off for street trees. If you begin while the tree is still young, it can be trimmed into a thick, low maintenance hedge. Though it will never take on the tight silhouettes of boxwood, have fun in your landscape and trim it into a variety of loose shapes and forms reminiscent of topiary.
Propagation is typically from green or brown wood cuttings, though layering is also possible. Seeds may also be used. Flowers are insignificant. Mature trees produce fruit the size of grapes, which begin gray-green and transform to orange, providing a nice ornamental flair. I have yet to find any documentation of problems with potential invasiveness of this tree — a point of great concern in all climates across the country.
Podocarpus gracilior gives the most effect and diverse usage for the least effort in any landscape.