Shrub or small tree to 12 m, densely branched from close to base, or occasionally to 20 m with a clear bole in dense forest. Bark thin, smooth and pale brown in young trees, with age scaly, fissured, brownish-grey. Branches ascending, spreading; crown of mature trees broad. Branchlets slender, ascending to assurgent, finely grooved between slightly raised leaf bases. Terminal buds subglobose, 4–6 × 4–6 mm with many apiculate scales, with denticulate margins and free tips giving a bristly appearance. Leaves of established trees leathery, thin, narrowly linear to falcate, more or less assurgent, (2.5–)4–9 × 0.2–0.3 cm (on juvenile plants to 12 × 0.5 cm), straight to slightly curved, base tapering, short-petiolate, apex very gradually tapering to an acute-pungent apex; upper surface mid-green with midrib a narrow central groove often fading in the upper part of the leaf; lower surface pale green, midrib slightly raised forming a narrow ridge at least in the basal half of the lamina, with two dull stomatal bands either side. Pollen cones in clusters of (3–)4–6 due to corymbose branching of a common peduncle 5–15 mm long, cylindrical, 5–10 × 1.5–2 mm. Seed cones appearing with new leaves, solitary, on short peduncles 3–8 mm long, with two or three bracts which fuse to become a swollen, fleshy receptacle 4–5 mm long and red at maturity. Seed including the epimatium broad-ovoid, 5–6 × 4–5 mm. (Farjon 2017).
Distribution Argentina NW, in Catamarca, Corrientes, Jujuy, Salta, and Tucumán Provinces Bolivia Chuquisaca, Cochabamba, Potosí, Santa Cruz and Tarija Departments Peru (?)
Habitat Montane forests and scrubland, from c. 1000 m asl to the tree line (>3000 m) in some parts of its range, forming a tree at lower elevations but reduced to a shrub at altitude. Myrtaceae are common associates.
RHS Hardiness Rating H4
Conservation status Near threatened (NT)
Of all the ‘new’ podocarps treated here, Podocarpus parlatorei is one of the most exciting, with considerable untapped potential as an ornamental plant. It is a long lived pioneer species of montane forests, distributed on the eastern side of the Andes in northwestern Argentina and adjacent Bolivia. It closely resembles P. salignus, distributed further south in Chile’s temperate rainforests, but the range of P. parlatorei is typically drier and this species is probably better adapted to warmer and drier conditions. With all his extensive experience of the genus Tom Hudson named this species, along with P. henkelii and P. matudae, as one of his top three worthy of wider planting and testing (Smith & Hudson 2017). It is easy to see why: at Tregrehan a tree planted in 2004 has made a handsome single-stemmed plant, broadly pyramidal in outline and c. 6 m tall with a 15 cm dbh in 2022; undamaged by successive winters, the handsome foliage is similar to that of the familiar P. salignus but more prickly and lighter in colour, and the growth is not so dense, the effect being just as elegant as P. salignus but lighter and airier (pers. obs. 2022). In recent years it has been planted in numerous National Trust gardens in the UK, including Bodnant, Dyffryn, and Plas Newydd in Wales, where the climatic regime ought to suit it well. It will be interesting to monitor its progress in colder, inland gardens, such as Powis Castle, where one plant planted in 2017 is alive but proving slow to establish; in early 2023 it was approximately 1 m tall (D. Swanton pers. comm. 2023).
One of the barriers between this species and greater horticultural appreciation is its status as a CITES I listed plant, a designation which has strictly controlled the international trade in P. parlatorei and any of its parts since 1975. This listing is something of an anomaly, however: CITES I listed plants are usually threatened, and Podocarpus parlatorei is not. Certainly it has a long history of local use within its native range, mainly in rural areas, and by the very nature of its ecology it has a fragmented distribution, but there is little evidence to suggest is has ever suffered a dramatic decline. For many years its IUCN conservation status was Data Deficient; this was recently upgraded to Near Threatened based on new assessments, but there is still insufficient evidence to place it into any of the threatened categories (Thomas 2023). This situation was not lost on the Argentinian authorities who recently applied to have P. parlatorei’s CITES listing downgraded to Appendix II, but CITES denied the application (Thomas 2023). Until such time as further introductions might be possible horticulturists must satisfy themselves with the limited material that has long been circulating in gardens descended from cultivated stock, much as is the case with more familiar CITES listed plants such as Araucaria araucana.