Shrub or small tree 3–6 m tall, rarely a large tree to 20 m × ~0.5 m dbh. Its ecological range takes in fire-prone areas; here burnt shrubs typically regenerate from root suckers and can spread over a large area (>10 m across). Bark thin, on oldest stems exfoliating in thin strips, pale brown, maturing grey. Branchlets spreading to assurgent, slender, finely grooved. Terminal buds 2–3 mm across with oblong, triangular outer scales, tips free. Leaves crowded toward ends of branchlets, spreading to assurgent, oblong-elliptic to linear, (1.5–)2.5–7 × 0.3–0.7 cm, to 12 cm long on vigorous epicormic shoots), base gradually tapering, petiolate, margins flat to just revolute, apex tapering more abruptly, acute, rarely obtuse; upper surface glaucous to grey green with a narrow, raised midrib in the lower half of the lamina (inconspicuous near the apex); lower surface pale grey to whitish green with a prominent midrib raised along the full length of the lamina with two broad stomatal bands either side of midrib (a few short or broken stomatal lines rarely occur on the upper surface). Pollen cones solitary or in clusters of 2–5, sessile or pedunculate, cylindrical, 30–40 × 3–5 mm at maturity. Seed cones solitary, on stiff peduncles 4–12 × 1 mm, with 2 bracts which fuse to become a swollen, fleshy receptacle, 9–15 × 10–15 mm, widest at the distal end, green at first, ripening scarlet. Seed including the epimatium ellipsoid-ovoid, glaucous-green, 7–12 mm long. (Farjon 2017).
Distribution Malawi South Africa Eastern, Northern, and Western Cape Provinces Zambia Zimbabwe
Habitat Rare throughout its range, usually found in moist sites such as ravines and in sparse vegetation along intermittent water courses.
USDA Hardiness Zone 8b-9
RHS Hardiness Rating H4
Conservation status Least concern (LC)
Native to riparian habitats from the Western Cape north to Zambia and Malawi, Podocarpus elongatus is rare throughout its range (Farjon 2017), but as the smallest of the indigenous South African podocarps this species has considerable potential as an ornamental plant (Auders & Spicer 2012). It received a fleeting mention in New Trees under the account for the rather similar P. latifolius, where its potential for cultivation beyond South Africa was highlighted (Grimshaw & Bayton 2009).
It has since become well established in gardens in Mediterranean zone areas, including parts of California and Australia, and is relatively available in the trade even in the temperate zone – it is regularly available in the UK from Burncoose Nurseries, for example, usually in the guise of the cultivar ‘Blue Chip’ (Burncoose Nurseries 2023). Native populations presumably contain a proportion of variably glaucous clones, for it is these forms that are most frequently met with in gardens. Two are discussed below, the aformentioned ‘Blue Chip’ and the rather similar ‘Monmal’ (ICEE BLUE™) which was raised in the US, while another is ‘Crystal Blue’. The history of these selections is obscure and it isn’t clear if a line can be drawn between any of them and the ‘excellent glaucous clone […] grown at Kirstenbosch’ (Grimshaw & Bayton 2009).
It seems likely that most cultivated stock is of South African provenance. Hardiness ratings in US catalogues are usually zone 9 (broadly equivalent in the UK to RHS H3) but British growers are more likely to give H4, based perhaps on their experience of growing ‘Blue Chip’ which would seem to be hardier than the species typical. A good winter will resolve the matter.
RHS Hardiness Rating: H4
This plant appears frequently in literature and catalogues, but it was not mentioned in the authoratative work on conifer cultivars by Auders & Spicer (2012). Quite how it differs from ‘Monmal’ is unclear, but the latest edition of The Hillier Manual (Edwards & Marshall 2019) rate it H4 on the RHS hardiness scale (USDA 8b–9a; hardy to –5 to –10°C); it could be that this cultivar is slightly hardier than ‘Monmal’ and the species typical, time will tell. It is widely sold in Europe and North America. A young tree at Caerhays, Cornwall, UK, was c. 3 m in 2022 (Tree Register 2023).
This cultivar was listed in the 2019 catalogue of Matsuda’s Nursery, California, with no further information (Matsuda’s Nursery 2019).
Synonyms / alternative names
Podocarpus elongatus ICEE BLUE™
USDA Hardiness Zone: 9
A small pyramidal tree ultimately to 5–10 m tall depending on environment (Hatch 2018–2020). The foliage is a good glaucous blue, the youngest growth rather pale icy blue, but sadly it is only hardy on the warmest fringes of our study area, to zone 9 in the US when grown in the open. Introduced to commerce by the Monrovia Nursery Co., California, c. 2003 (Auders & Spicer 2012). Whilst having all the appearances of a typo, the spelling of the trade designation ‘ICEE BLUE’ is correct.