A polymorphic species, usually a decumbent or low shrub 0.1 to several meters tall, rarely a shrubby tree, or exceptionally a forest tree to 30 m × 0.75 m dbh. Bark thin, smooth, light brown, grey with age, becoming stringy on large stems. Branches spreading to assurgent, with leaves densely at intervals forming tufts of foliage. Terminal buds on leading shoots 3–5 mm across, broadly ovoid with an abrupt, slender-pointed apex; outer scales spreading, triangular. Leaves of juvenile plants linear-lanceolate, acute or short-apiculate, 2.5–4 × 0.5–0.75 cm; leaves of adult plants oval to elliptic-oblong, 0.5–2.5 × 0.3–7 cm, coriaceous, densely set on shoots, apex obtuse, margins revolute, base abruptly tapering (or gradually tapering on longer leaves) to a petiolate base; midrib raised on both sides of the leaf, upper surface dull dark green, pale or glaucous green below with irregular lines of very small stomata; new leaves often flushing pinkish. Pollen cones solitary or rarely in pairs, sessile, c. 40 × 3–8 mm at anthesis. Seed cones borne on short peduncles near the ends of branchlets, axillary, expanding to 15 mm long and dark purple to black at maturity, subtended by two bracts 3–4 mm. (Farjon 2017).
Distribution Indonesia Western New Guinea Papua New Guinea
Habitat A high altitude species of montane evergreen forest, subalpine mossy forests, and the margins of alpine meadows. From c. 2500–3600 m asl (var. humilis de Laub.) and c. (2700–)3000–4000 m asl (var. brassii). Associates include Araucaria cunninghamii, Dacrycarpus compactus, Podocarpus pilgeri, and Rhododendron spp..
USDA Hardiness Zone 8b-9a
RHS Hardiness Rating H2
Conservation status Least concern (LC)
Podocarpus brassii is native to montane to sub-alpine habitats in New Guinea (Farjon 2017). It has a very limited presence in cultivation in the northern temperate zone based on collections sourced from high altitude, in an attempt to introduce an element of winter-hardiness. Even so, within our area it remains confined to very mild gardens and the only plants seen during research for this account are those at Tregrehan, Cornwall, UK, traceable to collections made above 3500 m asl (Smith & Hudson 2017). These plants were seen during research for New Trees when they were ‘about 1 m tall’ (Grimshaw & Bayton 2009) but were killed after being hit by a harsh and early frost of –7°C on 30th November 2009 when still in active growth (Smith & Hudson 2017). The hardiness data presented here is inferred from this experience. Fortunately these plants had already been propagated and when the ‘second attempt’ plants were seen in 2022 they were once again about 1 m tall (pers. obs.). Introductions from Papua New Guinea are maintained under glass in the extensive tropical conifer collection at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh 2023) and the species is cultivated at Atlanta Botanical Gardens in the USA (Knopf et al. 2011).