The Gymnosperm Database


Consensus tree for a combined analysis of nrITS1, NEEDLY intron 2, rbcL sequence, and morphological data for 103 Podocarpaceae and five outgroup species using Bayesian inference. Portions of the tree for genera other than Podocarpus not shown. Posterior probabilities >0.50 are indicated above branches; strict consensus jackknife frequencies >50% are indicated below branches; bar below branch indicates jackknife frequency <50%; asterisk indicates monophyletic group (redrawn from Knopf et al. 2011, Figure 4).


The female "cone" in Podocarpus is really a seed with, in most cases, a fleshy covering attractive to birds [R. Van Pelt, 2005.05].


Podocarpus elatus: Mature tree in Kitchener Park, Feilding, New Zealand [Trevor Hinchliffe]. Many podocarps are dominant trees in tropical or subtropical montane forests.


Podocarpus totara at Whangarei Falls, New Zealand [C.J. Earle, 2003.03.18].


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L'Heritier ex Persoon 1807

Common names

Yellowwood, brown or black pine.

Taxonomic notes

Syn: Podocarpus Labillardière 1806 (Stevenson 1991). Type species, Podocarpus elongatus. Podocarpus is one of the largest of all conifer genera, here treated in 104 species (scroll down to "Distribution and Ecology" for a species menu).

The genus has previously been visited in some depth by Buchholz and Gray (1948a, 1948b, 1948c; Gray 1956, Gray 1958) and by de Laubenfels (1969, 1985), and these authors did excellent work with access to only morphological data, but it was clear that formal cladistic analysis using morphological and molecular markers would be needed to resolve the structure of this large genus. That was finally produced by Knopf et al. (2011) in a landmark study that encompassed 80 Podocarpus taxa (and another 65 taxa of other Podocarpaceae genera) and examined 3 molecular markers, and a comprehensive array of foliar morphology traits. The latter point is particularly important because, as was well shown by Biffin et al. (2011), the evolution of the Podocarpaceae can basically be seen as an evolution of leaves, which in so much of the family look very unlike other conifers and largely account for the family's capacity to persist in warm, wet tropical forests dominated by angiosperm trees. These traits are especially relevant for Podocarpus.

The consensus trees generated by Knopf et al. (2011) vary widely in number of taxa addressed, because not all markers and morphological characters were scored for all species. The consensus trees all agree that species groups are organized primarily by geography, with separate clades for Africa, Australia/New Zealand, New Caledonia, Fiji, southern Malesia, Indochina, subtropical America, and tropical America. The exceptions to this pattern are three "taxonomic" subclades, one allied to the African clade containing P. nubigenus (Chile and Argentina), one allied to the Australian clade containing P. angustifolius (Cuba) and P. salignus (Chile), and the third allied to the southeast Asian subclades, containing a separate group of widely-distributed SE Asian taxa: P. neriifolius, P. subtropicalis, and P. thailandensis (the last I do not regard as a valid species). The analysis supports de Laubenfels' (1985) designation of two subgenera, Podocarpus and Foliolatus, with the former primarily containing African, Australian and American species and the latter primarily containing species of New Caledonia, Fiji, Malesia and Indochina. I have redrafted, from Knopf et al. (2011), the cladogram for Podocarpus which shows combined results for all molecular and morphological markers (shown at right), for 57 taxa.


"Evergreen shrubs or trees to 40 m. Leaves alternate, linear to ovate, usually with a single midvein and rarely with parallel veins. Plants dioecious, strobili axillary. Microsporangiate strobili cylindrical, solitary ans sessile or clustered on short sessile or long-pedunculate branches. Ovule-bearing structures axillary with naked peduncle; receptacle naked or composed of two or a multiple of two bracts; ovule solitary, inverted, terminal and enclosed by an epimatium except at micropyle. Mature seed green to purple with outer fleshy to coriaceous layer, middle stony layer, and inner papyraceous layer" (Stevenson 1991).

Keys to the species are provided by de Laubenfels (1985), Eckenwalder (2009), and Farjon (2010).

Distribution and Ecology

As discussed above, systematics and geography are closely related in Podocarpus. The following table groups species into the principal geographic regions occupied by the genus. One species, Podocarpus neriifolius, is even more widely distributed, occurring in India, Nepal, and Sikkim, as well as in several regions named in this table.

Geography Species
Indochina (including China: Hainan Is.) P. brevifolius (also in China & Malesia), P. chinensis (also in China & Japan), P. epiphyticus, P. neriifolius (the most widely distributed species: also in Malesia, India, Sikkim, Nepal, & South Pacific Islands), P. pilgeri (also in Malesia)
China, Japan, Taiwan P. brevifolius (also in Indochina & Malesia), P. chinensis (also in Myanmar), P. chingianus, P. fasciculus, P. macrophyllus, P. nakaii, P. rumphii (also in Philippines), P. subtropicalis
Malesia P. archboldii, P. atjehensis, P. borneensis, P. bracteatus, P. brassii, P. brevifolius (also in China & Indochina), P. confertus, P. costalis, P. crassigemmis, P. deflexus, P. gibbsii, P. glaucus, P. globulus, P. indonesiensis, P. insularis, P. laubenfelsii, P. ledermannii, P. levis, P. lophatus, P. macrocarpus, P. micropedunculatus, P. neriifolius (also in Indochina, India, Sikkim, Nepal, & South Pacific Islands), P. palawanensis, P. pilgeri (also in China & Indochina), P. polystachyus, P. pseudobracteatus, P. ridleyi, P. rotundus, P. rubens, P. rumphii (also in Taiwan), P. spathoides, P. teysmannii
South Pacific Islands P. affinis, P. degeneri, P. neriifolius (also in Malesia, India, Sikkim, Nepal, & Indochina), P. pallidus, P. salomoniensis
New Caledonia P. decumbens, P. gnidioides, P. longifoliolatus, P. lucienii, P. novae-caledoniae , P. polyspermus, P. sylvestris
Australia & New Zealand P. acutifolius, P. laetus, P. dispermus, P. drouynianus, P. elatus, P. grayae, P. lawrencei, P. nivalis , P. smithii, P. spinulosus, P. totara
Africa P. elongatus, P. henkelii, P. latifolius, P. milanjianus
Madagascar P. capuronii, P. humbertii, P. madagascariensis, P. perrieri, P. rostratus
Central America & Caribbean P. angustifolius, P. coriaceus, P. costaricensis, P. guatemalensis, P. hispaniolensis, P. matudae, P. oleifolius (also in S. America), P. purdieanus, P. trinitensis, P. urbanii
South America P. acuminatus, P. aracensis, P. barretoi, P. brasiliensis, P. buchholzii, P. celatus, P. glomeratus, P. lambertii, P. magnifolius, P. nubigenus, P. oleifolius (also in C. America), P. parlatorei, P. pendulifolius, P. roraimae, P. rusbyi, P. salicifolius, P. salignus, P. sellowii, P. sprucei, P. steyermarkii, P. tepuiensis, P. transiens

"Subgenus Podocarpus is associated with the antarctic forests of Tasmania, New Zealand, and Chile and extends into the tropical highlands of Africa and America, rarely penetrating into tropical lowlands. Two endemic highland species extend the range of this subgenus a short way into the Pacific tropics in northeastern Australia and New Caledonia where there is a slight geographic overlap with the other subgenus. Subgenus Foliolatus, on the other hand, is concentratedin the Asian and Pacific tropics and is by no means restricted to highland areas. Several of its species occur in subtropical parts of eastern Asia and of Australia" (de Laubenfels 1985).

The podocarps generally do not form extensive stands, instead occurring as individual forest trees (Stevenson 1991).

Big tree

The totara, Podocarpus totara.


A ring count on an unspecified South African species (probably P. latifolius or maybe Afrocarpus falcatus), 700 years (Palmer and Pitman 1972).



In reference to South African species (P. elongatus, P. henkelii, P. latifolius and Afrocarpus falcatus): "Yellowwoods played a very important role in the early life of the colony for their timber was the most generally useful of any found in the country. Although the wood does not weather well and has never, therefore, been much used for exterior doors and windows, it was once popular for indoor work, for ceilings and floors, and for furniture. Its fine yellow colour is now much admired. It did not, however, suit 19th century taste and during this period it was frequently painted. Today the wood is often used to make butchers' blocks because it is hard, without scent, and does not chip easily. Coffins were once often made of it, and sometimes still are. On account of their usefulness, yellowwoods have been some of our most heavily exploited trees" (Palmer and Pitman 1972).



"Podocarpus is derived from two Greek words pous= foot, and karpos= fruit, referring to the fleshy fruit stems" (ANBG [no date]).

In reference to South African species: "Seed is dispersed largely by birds. Among these are the brilliantly plumed Loerie of the forests and the Rameron Pigeon that scatter the seed of many kinds of trees and so play a vital part in the life of the forests. Yellowwoods largely control the distribution of a particularly interesting species of bird, the Cape parrot, Poisephalus robustus, in the eastern districts. These birds normally roost and nest in the highest mountain forests of the south east Cape, from where they visit the surrounding country in search of food, principally the kernels of the nuts of the yellowwood fruits" (Palmer and Pitman 1972).


[ANBG] Australian National Botanic Gardens. [no date]. Australian Conifers., accessed 2002.11.09.

See also

Last Modified 2017-12-29