Plant 279

Podocarpus salignus (Podocarpaceae)

Willow-leaf podocarp

Podocarpus salignus was discovered by Joseph Dombey, a French botanist who accompanied the Spanish botanists Hipolito Ruiz and Jose Antonio Pavon for part of their mission to Peru and Chile between 1777 and 1787. The tree was introduced into British gardens about the year 1849. Cornish specimens were apparently collected in Chile by Richard Pearce in 1845.

Endemic to Chile, occurring in the Andes and the Coastal Cordillera, Podocarpus salignus is by far the most distinct and elegant of all the podocarps that can be successfully grown in the UK. Although its date of introduction to Europe is uncertain, it has been grown very successfully in large gardens and parks, as well as formal plant collections such as Harcourt Arboretum.

Thriving on most soils, it grows best in most aspects and with a degree of shelter. Forming a medium-sized tree of bushy, upright growth, its leaves are spirally arranged, which may be linear or narrowly spear-shaped; where male and female trees grow together, female seed-cones are produced. Subtended by a fleshy, succulent deep violet-red aril, the egg-shaped fruits are solitary or in pairs on a stalk up to two centimetres long and stand out at right angles. Male pollen-cones are solitary or grouped and stalkless, often from flushing leaves. In its natural range, fruits mature from January to May.

In the Mediterranean climate at north of its natural range, Podocarpus salignus thrives along watercourses in the Roble-Hualo forest type. In wetter areas at higher altitudes, and away from watercourses, it can form pure stands and is a minor component of Nothofagus obliqua forests.

Conversion form natural to plantation forest has seen a substantial decline in the population size and distribution of Podocarpus salignus. Habitat degradation is the most widespread threat to this species' survival, which does not react well to the opening up of forest cover and subsequent dehydration in summer months. In addition, harvesting for firewood has contributed to Podocarpus salignus being assessed on the IUCN Red List as Vulnerable, making it as threatened as the hippopotamus. Podocarpus salignus is protected in the Coastal Cordillera, where it is most threatened, within the Reserve Nacional Los Ruiles and the Parque Oncol, as well as one location in the Andes, the Reserva Forestal Malleco.

There are significant, well documented, ex situ collections in Britain and Ireland that have important research and conservation value; some of which are located at Harcourt Arboretum.

Further reading

Gardner M 2006. Threatened plants of Central and South Chile: distribution, conservation and propagation. Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh.

Farjon A and Filer DF 2013. An atlas of the world's conifers. Brill.

Allnutt TR et al. 2008. Genetic variation in wild Chilean and cultivated British populations of Podocarpus salignus D.Don (Podocarpaceae). Edinburgh Journal of Botany 58: 459-473.

Ben Jones