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Tree 20–30 m, occasionally shrubby in exposed sites. Trunk straight, to 3 m dbh, becoming fluted and twisted with age. Bark dark grey, smooth when young, becoming fissured and peeling with age. Branches spreading to ascending. Leaves nearly opposite or spiralled in tufts on the branchlets, erect, 4–6 0.6–0.8 cm, longer when young, broadly linear to narrowly elliptic, apex acute, glossy dark green above, paler and dull below, sometimes more glaucous; stomatal lines only on the underside. Male cones to 5 0.5 cm, pink. Female cones green, 1 cm long, developing into a purple-red receptacle 8–14 mm long and wide, and a rounded green to dark violet seed, c.1 cm diameter. Coates Palgrave 1990. Distribution SOUTH AFRICA: Eastern Cape north to Limpopo Province, Western Cape. Habitat Moist montane and coastal forests. USDA Hardiness Zone 9. Conservation status Lower Risk. Illustration Coates Palgrave 1990; NT122, NT642. Cross-reference K258.
Podocarpus latifolius as currently defined is restricted to South Africa, where it has been an extremely important timber source and is now the national tree. It was formerly united with P. milanjianus from tropical Africa, and many references treat the two together. The South African tree is certainly very distinct from that seen in East Africa, with shorter, more erect leaves, and the separation seems warranted. Podocarpus latifolius lacks the elegance of P. henkelii and P. milanjianus, but is regarded as a valuable ornamental in South Africa and is probably tolerant of somewhat drier conditions than the others. Coates Palgrave (1990) notes that the fruiting tree covered in red receptacles is particularly attractive.
Podocarpus latifolius is in cultivation in the United States, in the warmer parts at least; it appears to be infrequent even there, although it should be well suited to southern and coastal California. In the United Kingdom it is grown in Cornwall, but the online catalogue of Firma C. Esveld of the Netherlands can only recommend it for bonsai in Europe! At Tregrehan the new shoots are apt to be frosted in spring, but growth catches up later in the year (T. Hudson, pers. comm. 2005). The similar species P. elongatus (Aiton) L’Hér. ex Pers. (Breede River Yellowwood) from the Western Cape is cultivated in South Africa and could be tried elsewhere. The main difference is the presence in P. elongatus of stomatal lines on both leaf surfaces. An excellent glaucous clone of P. elongatus is grown at Kirstenbosch.