African Fern Pine

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African Fern Pine is a conifer with long, narrow leaves, native to eastern Africa. In appropriate North American climates, it can be used as a moderately tall landscape tree, but it also accepts hard pruning and is sometimes used for a hedge plant.

Originally assigned the botanical name Podocarpus Gracilior, the fern pine has been reclassified as Afrocarpus Gracilior by some botanists. The fern pine is still generally sold under the name of Podocarpus Gracilior, and literature may still refers to it by the former scientific name.

The fern pine produces clusters of slender light green leaves that darken as they mature. The evergreen leaves are irregularly spaced and grow up to 4 inches in length at maturity. It is the airy, fern-like appearance of the foliage that makes this a desirable tree or hedge shrub. The flowers of this species are yellow and not conspicuous. Instead of a traditional cone, the tree produces a small fleshy fruit containing a single seed. The berry-like fruits are green in color, turning to yellow as they ripen.

Fern Pines develop a single upright trunk with a dense canopy that, when properly trimmed, produces a rounded or oval shape. When allowed to grow in tree form, it will eventually reach a height of up to 60 feet. Over time it will spread to a width of 25 to 35 feet, casting dense shade. The trunk will grow to a size of 2 feet or more in diameter. If kept as a shrub or hedge, the fern pine is usually clipped so it does not exceed a height of 20 feet. Young specimens have even been successfully trained as wall espaliers.

African Fern Pine has a moderate growth rate that will add 12 to 36 inches a year, and it can be quite long-lived, surviving up to 150 years.