podocarpus

The street tree outside the Gordon Biersch restaurant in Palo Alto is the sturdy and reliable Podocarpus (or Afrocarpus) gracilior or “fern pine” (though it’s not a pine and is only fancifully similar to ferns). As a street tree:

and in a close-up, showing the leaves and the seeds (which are sometimes called nuts):

 

From Wikipedia on the genus, with the etymology of the name:

Podocarpus (… from the Greek, podos, meaning “foot”, and karpos, meaning “fruit” [OED: “with reference to the thickened base (stalk) of the fruit.”] is a genus of conifers, the most numerous and widely distributed of the podocarp family Podocarpaceae. The 105 species of Podocarpus are evergreen shrubs or trees from 1-25 m (rarely to 40 m) in height. The leaves are 0.5-15 cm long, lanceolate to oblong, falcate (sickle-shaped) in some species, with a distinct midrib, and are arranged spirally, though in some species twisted to appear in two horizontal ranks. The cones have two to five fused scales, of which only one, rarely two, are fertile, each fertile scale with one apical seed. At maturity, the scales become berry-like, swollen, brightly coloured red to purple and fleshy, and are eaten by birds which then disperse the seeds in their droppings. The male (pollen) cones are 5-20 mm long, often clustered several together.

And with a fascinating account of its geological history:

Podocarpus and the Podocarpaceae were endemic to the ancient supercontinent of Gondwana, which broke up into Africa, South America, India, Australia-New Guinea, New Zealand, and New Caledonia between 105 and 45 million years ago. Podocarpus is a characteristic tree of the Antarctic flora, which originated in the cool, moist climate of southern Gondwana, and elements of the flora survive in the humid temperate regions of the former supercontinent. As the continents drifted north and became drier and hotter, Podocarps and other members of the Antarctic flora generally retreated to humid regions, especially in Australia, where sclerophyll genera like Acacia and Eucalyptus became predominant, and the old Antarctic flora retreated to pockets that presently cover only 2% of the continent. As Australia drifted north toward Asia, the collision pushed up the Indonesian archipelago and the mountains of New Guinea, which allowed podocarp species to hop across the narrow straits into humid Asia, with P. macrophyllus reaching north to southern China and Japan. The flora of Malesia, which includes the Malay peninsula, Indonesia, the Philippines, and New Guinea, is generally derived from Asia but includes many elements of the old Gondwana flora, including several other genera in the Podocarpaceae (Dacrycarpus, Dacrydium, Falcatifolium, Nageia, Phyllocladus, and the Malesian endemic Sundacarpus), and also Agathis in the Araucariaceae.

P. gracilior ended up in Africa:

Afrocarpus gracilior… ; syn. Podocarpus gracilior) is an evergreen coniferous tree native to the Afromontane forests of Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda, growing at 1,800-2,400 m altitude.

It is a medium-sized tree, growing 20–40 m tall, rarely to 50 m, with a trunk diameter of 50–80 cm. The leaves are spirally arranged, lanceolate, 2–6 cm long and 3–5 mm broad on mature trees, larger, to 10 cm (4 in) long and 6 mm broad on vigorous young trees. The seed cones are highly modified, with a single 2 cm (1 in) diameter seed with a thin fleshy coating borne on a short peduncle. The mature seed is purple, and is dispersed by birds and monkeys which eat the fleshy coating. The pollen cones are solitary or in clusters of two or three on a short stem. (link)

It’s a sturdy and handsome street tree, requiring relatively little pruning; it provides good shade, and is largely self-limiting in height. It does drop the seeds prolifically when they’re yellow and nut-like; GB has to sweep them up daily in season. I would have thought that squirrels would love them, but I’ve never seen a squirrel eating one or carrying it off (and the neighborhood is rich in squirrels, though extremely poor in monkeys).

 

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