Podocarpus spinulosus

Dwarf Plum Pine, Spiny-leaf Podocarp

Family: Podocarpaceae

A coniferous shrub or tree to potentially 5 metres high, with a narrow spread to a few metres – often seen as a low scrambling and ground-covering shrub in a lot of habitats. 

It has a mostly coastal occurrence in NSW, extending just into the central tablelands, as far south as Eden, then with disjunction to between Batemans Bay and Ulladulla and Jervis Bay, then commonly through the Sydney area – to about Wyong and around Katoomba. Further disjunctions are found along the Capertee River, near Glen Davis; as well as west of Broke on the Putty Road at Darkey Creek. Plants are then not found northward until between Coffs Harbour and Grafton, with scattered records towards Woodburn. It has also been found recently in My Kaputar National Park.

It then occurs between Gold Coast and Gympie in Queensland, including Stradbroke Island. Interesting disjunct occurrences are then found in inland Queensland south-east of Rolleston and further north on Blackdown Tableland (west of Rockhampton).

It is found in dry sclerophyll forest and woodland as well as heathland and shrubland, often on sandy and sandstone soils. 

Bark is thin and fibrous.

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.  

Podocarpus spp. have simple and alternate leaves. In this species, leaves are aromatic when rubbed, crowded, linear, to about 8 cm long and to 0.5 cm wide, glossy dark (old growth) to light green (new growth), tapering to a point – moderately prickly with a sharp point.

Male and female cones are produced generally on different plants, rarely on the same plant. Male cones are narrow-cylindrical, to about 5 mm long, appearing like catkins, produced in axillary clusters. Female  are generally solitary and consist of basically a seed which is attached to a larger and very fleshy appendage, The seed is round and green-blue (glaucous) to 10 mm in diameter, attached to a blue-black to purple fleshy appendage or stalk, to 15 mm long and to 10 mm in diameter. 

In the garden

This species is known to be cultivated but perhaps not as commonly as its sister species – Podocarpus elatus. 

In a garden situation it requires well-drained deep soil in a semi shaded position.

It is reported to be hardy, slow growing but long-lived and can tolerate coastal environments near the beach.

This species is dioecious, meaning you’ll need both male and female trees to produce fertile female cones, so best to plant a few to ensure a good crop of fruit.

The fleshy cone is actually a succulent, swollen, fruit-like stalk and can be eaten raw or cooked.

A tip: Mix with a jam made from the Native Currant (Leptomeria acida) makes a very good pudding.

This plant’s ability to grow well in poor sandy substrates near the sea and its layering habit would make it a useful stabilizer of drifting sand in warm temperate to subtropical climates.

Plants are available commercially.


From seed with any preparation but can be slow to germinate. Also from cuttings.

Other information

This species is unusual within the genus as it forms multiple lignotubers from which many stems can resprout. Layering in the wild is common. Such features allow this species to tolerate reasonably frequent fire. They do grow in fire prone environments. Trees may survive fire by reshooting from unburnt buds, lignotubers, as well as the seedbank.

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.

Podocarpus – comes 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.

spinulosusfrom Latin meaning with small spines, as in Woodwardia spinulosa (a small herb).

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

Plants of South Eastern New South Wales – (LUCID Online Plant Identification website / app) – Podocarpus spinulosus profile page https://apps.lucidcentral.org/plants_se_nsw/text/entities/podocarpus_spinulosus.htm

Useful temperate plants – Podocarpus spinulosus profile page http://temperate.theferns.info/plant/Podocarpus+spinulosus

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

By Dan Clarke and Jeff Howes.