With densely foliated lower limbs which reach the ground and neat, dark green, evergreen leaves, yew podocarpus is very popular as a dense screen or hedge. However, yew podocarpus can reach 30 to 40 feet in height when not sheared and is quite attractive as a tree with the lower branches removed, revealing the light brown, peeling bark. If space permits, leave the lower limbs on the tree for an almost spruce-like appearance. The tree grows in an open manner with large spaces between the branches creating a pleasing, irregular oval silhouette in middle and old age. The inconspicuous flowers are followed by fleshy, purple, small, edible fruits (though the similarly looking seeds are toxic, therefore it is best to avoid ingesting any part of this tree that resembles fruit) on female trees which are quite attractive to birds but not really messy on sidewalks or pavement.
Scientific name: Podocarpus macrophyllus
Pronunciation: poe-doe-KAR-pus mack-roe-FILL-us
Common name(s): Yew podocarpus, yew-pine, Japanese yew
USDA hardiness zones: 8B through 11 (Figure 3)
Origin: native to southern China and Japan
UF/IFAS Invasive Assessment Status: not considered a problem species at this time, may be recommended (North, Central, South)
Uses: highway median; screen; street without sidewalk; specimen; shade; hedge; reclamation; espalier; deck or patio; parking lot island < 100 sq ft; parking lot island 100-200 sq ft; parking lot island > 200 sq ft; sidewalk cutout (tree pit); tree lawn 3-4 feet wide; tree lawn 4-6 feet wide; tree lawn > 6 ft wide; urban tolerant; trained as a standard; indoors
Height: 30 to 40 feet
Spread: 20 to 25 feet
Crown uniformity: irregular
Crown shape: round
Crown density: moderate
Growth rate: slow
Leaf arrangement: whorled
Leaf type: simple
Leaf margin: entire
Leaf shape: linear
Leaf venation: parallel
Leaf type and persistence: evergreen
Leaf blade length: 1 to 5 inches
Leaf color: dark green on top, grayish underneath
Fall color: no color change
Fall characteristic: not showy
Flower color: yellow
Flower characteristics: not showy
Fruit shape: irregular, round, oval
Fruit length: ½ inch
Fruit covering: fleshy, drupe-like aril
Fruit color: reddish purple or blue
Fruit characteristics: attracts birds; not showy; fruit/leaves not a litter problem
Trunk and Branches
Trunk/branches: branches don't droop; not showy; typically one trunk; no thorns
Bark: reddish brown, shredding, and turns gray with age
Pruning requirement: little required
Current year twig color: green
Current year twig thickness: medium, thick
Wood specific gravity: unknown
Light requirement: full sun to partial shade
Soil tolerances: clay; sand; loam; alkaline; acidic; well-drained
Drought tolerance: high
Aerosol salt tolerance: high
Roots: not a problem
Winter interest: no
Outstanding tree: yes
Ozone sensitivity: unknown
Verticillium wilt susceptibility: unknown
Pest resistance: resistant to pests/diseases
Use and Management
This is one of a few trees which can be pruned into a nice hedge. The dark green foliage and dense growth creates a formal mass. It looks better when pruned with a hand pruner, not sheared with a hedge trimmer.
Showing best growth and form in full sun, yew podocarpus will grow more slowly and have a looser appearance when grown in shade. It will grow on the north side of a tall building with little or no direct sun. It will tolerate a wide variety of well-drained, acidic soils. Don't plant on wet soils. This is a tough tree, adaptable to urban conditions and should be used much more extensively as a street tree. It should be used more in areas of poor soils and restricted rooting space. Unfortunately, most people choose to trim the tree into a column or hedge, so not many have seen the true beauty of the tree. It will make an attractive specimen, street or parking lot tree, even for the smallest soil space in a downtown planting pit. Roots are not a problem in restricted-soil planting areas and usually do not lift sidewalks.
Many varieties are available for selection of habit, leaf form, color, etc. Podocarpus macrophyllus var. angustifolius is a narrow, columnar tree with curved leaves, 2 to 4.5 inches long; Podocarpus macrophyllus var. appressus is a low shrub with short leaves; Podocarpus macrophyllus var. maki has erect branches, columnar form, 1.5 to 3-inch-long leaves.
Propagation is by seeds or cuttings. Hardwood cuttings root easily. Cutting propagation would ensure more uniform trees than seedlings. Nursery operators should be encouraged to grow Yew Podocarpus in the single-trunked tree form for planting in urban landscapes.
Pests and Diseases
No pests or diseases are of major concern. Occasionally bothered by scale, mites, and sooty mold but not seriously. Some magnesium-deficiency on sandy soil, which is easily corrected with magnesium sulfate.
Koeser, A. K., Hasing, G., Friedman, M. H., and Irving, R. B. 2015. Trees: North & Central Florida. University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.
Koeser, A.K., Friedman, M.H., Hasing, G., Finley, H., Schelb, J. 2017. Trees: South Florida and the Keys. University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.