Podocarpus elatus

Plum Pine / Brown Pine / Illawarra Plum

Family: Podocarpaceae

A medium to large and slow growing tree, to 35 m tall (usually up to 15 m tall in cultivation) with a round spreading canopy to several metres wide, often with horizontal branches. 

It is native to NSW and Queensland, with a coastal distribution, growing as far south as Jervis Bay, extending north along the coastal divisions, very commonly into Queensland up to the Gladstone-area and then with some disjunct patches north of Rockhampton, then Mackay, then Cairns and then as far north as Coen on Cape York Peninsula. 

It grows in littoral, dry and sub-tropical rainforests, often on enriched soils but can also be found in sandstone environments.

Podocarpus are conifers within the plant group of gymnosperms. Hence, they do not have flowers but produce seed-bearing cones which have an atypical fleshy appendage. They are descended from an ancient Gondwanan-lineage of pre-flowering plants. They do look very different to the average pine-tree. 

The bark is a dark brown colour, often fissured. 

Podocarpus spp. have simple and alternate leaves. In this species, leaves are aromatic when rubbed, alternate, crowded, to about 20 cm long and to 2 cm wide, tips pointed or blunt, dark green and with an almost plastic to artificial texture. 

Male and female cones are on different plants (dioecious). Male cones are narrow-cylindrical, to about 30 mm long, appearing like catkins, produced in axillary clusters. Female “cones” consist of basically a seed which is attached to a larger and very fleshy appendage. The seed is round and green, ripening to blue-black in colour and waxy to 15 mm in diameter, with the attached blue-black or purple fleshy stalk to 25 mm long by 20 mm in diameter. Female cones ripen in March to July.

In the garden

This is a very attractive tree with attractive foliage and a dense form. Branches tend to be mostly horizontal which gives trees an architectural-look. 

Illawarra Plum is a widely planted species that has been grown for over 100 years and will grow readily in both full sun and part shade. It tolerates a wide range of soils and grows best in a rich, moist soil that drains well. Large specimens can often be seen in botanic gardens around Australia as well as larger parks. 

They have been used successfully as a street tree. They do need some room to spread out. 

This species is dioecious, meaning you’ll need both male and female trees to produce seeds. To increase your chances of pollination, it is best planting several plants or use them as a hedge.

The fleshy part of the female seed-cone is edible raw but is best used in condiments. It is a recognised ‘bush tucker’ species.

It may suffer in heavy frost-areas. 

Fruit is attractive to birds.

Plants are usually available easily at most nurseries.


From Seed, ripening March – July, or from cuttings.

Other information

The timber of this species was prized for furniture, joinery, table-making boat planking, lining and piles in salt water.

There are approximately 94 species of Podocarpus in the world. They are widespread in the southern hemisphere as well as southern Asia.

Australia has 7 species occurring in Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and Tasmania. New South Wales currently recognises 3 species. The lineage of the genus dates back to Gondwana and fossils of the family have been found in Antarctica. It would have once being a much more widespread genus and family. 

The fleshy stems of the seeds were eaten by First Nations people in some parts of Australia.

They do grow in fire prone environments. Trees may survive fire by reshooting from unburnt buds as well as the seedbank. 

Podocarpuscomes from Greek podos (ποδός) which comes from poús (πούς) meaning “foot”) and karpós (καρπός) – referring to “fruit” – capturing the swollen appendages attached to the seeds.

elatusfrom Latin meaning “tall”.

This species is not considered to be at risk of extinction in the wild. 

‘Australian Rainforest Plants for Your Garden.’ Darren Mansfield. Simon and Schuster 1992. Page 89.

Lucidcentral identification mobile app for Podocarpus elatus https://apps.lucidcentral.org/plants_se_nsw/text/entities/podocarpus_elatus.htm

Wrigley, J.W. & Fagg, M.I. (2001). Australian Native Plants – Propagation, cultivation and use in landscaping. 4th edition. New Holland Publishers, Pty. Ltd. Australia.

Wikipedia profile page for genus Podocarpus https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Podocarpus

Wikipedia profile page for Podocarpus elatus https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Podocarpus_elatus

By Jeff Howes. Editing and additional text by Dan Clarke