Serving Larchmont Village, Hancock Park, and the Greater Wilshire neighborhoods of Los Angeles since 2011.

Meet This Tree: Afrocarpus falcatus – African fern pine

Afrocarpus falcatus – African fern pine is a very graceful and striking tree that grows in full sun or partial shade and thrives in many soil conditions. Photo of the allée of Podocarpus trees at The Huntington.

Calling this tree a pine or a fern is a misnomer as it is neither.

The tree belongs to the Podocarpaceae family, is native to Eastern Africa, and can be found growing in Ethiopia, Kenya Uganda, and Tanzania.

The name was changed to Afrocarpus falcatus when the tree was removed from its original genus of Podocarpus. You can still find this tree being sold at nurseries under the name of Podocarpus gracilior.

This is a medium to large evergreen tree with a rounded dense crown and a moderate growth habit reaching a height between 50 to 60 feet tall and 30 to 40 feet wide. It makes for an excellent shade tree. In its native African habitat, this tree is revered for its lumber.

The tree trunk is covered with a patchy multi-colored bark that tends to peel off.
The leaves are fern-like, soft, narrow, bright-green at first, turning dark gray-green as the tree matures.

The Podocarpus gracilior is dioecious which means it has 2 genders both male and female. The female trees produce a fleshy fruit that is half an inch in diameter, green at first turning yellow then purple when mature. The fruit can create a nuisance when it drops.

The Podocarpus gracilior is a though tree that does well in our harsh urban environment. It requires very little maintenance. If you need to do some pruning to encourage new growth, do it in late winter or early spring. It is also a good idea to thin out the dense canopy from time to time to avoid branch breakage during high winds.

When used as a street tree the lower branches have to be removed for pedestrian and vehicle clearance.

The Podocarpus gracilior can also be used as a screening hedge.

The tree performs better in full sun but can also grow in partial shade and thrives in many soil conditions. Avoid planting this tree in areas where frost is a problem.
The Podocarpus gracilior is sidewalk friendly with no known pests or diseases at the present.

When young, the tree requires regular watering becoming drought tolerant with maturity.
The Podocarpus gracilior is a very graceful and striking tree worthy of planting.

Editor’s Note: Emina Darakjy is a very knowledgeable tree enthusiast we are lucky to call a Buzz contributor. She introduces us to stunning climate-appropriate trees that we should plant in our gardens. When we started this feature, we had just reported on the latest loss of a mature street tree. We hope these columns will inspire readers to plant new trees. Planting a tree is a simple step we can all take to combat climate change and improve the quality of life in our neighborhoods. These magnificent trees will reward you for your efforts for years to come. Please feel free to email us at [email protected] if you have any tree questions for Emina!

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Emina Darakjy
Emina Darakjy
Emina Darakjy is a past president of Pasadena Beautiful and is its present Tree Program Chair. Darakjy says she has always had a passion for trees and that she is involved with several other tree organizations such as California Re-Leaf, the Arbor Day Foundation, and American Forests. She is a past president of Street Tree Seminar Inc. and the present president of the California Urban Forests Council.

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