Some think of yew pine, or Podocarpus macrophyllus, as excellent large foyer plants, where they can form attractive and sometimes striking indoor topiary. But many people don't think of them at all as houseplants—and that's understandable.
These plants have the potential to become enormous, room-swallowing monsters up to 15 feet tall, requiring trimming to maintain their manicured shape. If they do flower, they bear tiny red berries that aren't the best thing for your floors and are mildly toxic. But the yew pine has another advantage: it's a lovely, compact plant with long, green foliage that can be shaped very easily into columns, triangles, or almost any shape. In fact, bonsai growers often use them. They withstand pruning very well, and when healthy, they grow vigorously.
- Light: Lots of bright light, even direct sunlight. They also do well in light shade, especially in the winter months when growth slows.
- Water: A well-drained soil is essential, especially during the winter when they are susceptible to root rot. Err on the side of too dry if an error must be made.
- Temperature: Moderate to cool. Especially in winter, the plant can withstand temperatures down to 40˚F, which is unlikely inside.
- Soil: A loose, very well-drained, rich potting mix.
- Fertilizer: Fertilize with a weak liquid fertilizer during the growing season. Their growth rates can be accelerated with ample feeding. During winter, reduce feeding.
They can be germinated by seed, but germination can take up to 24 months. Instead, use hardwood cuttings, which root readily in potting soil. Take cuttings in the spring, use a rooting hormone to increase the chances of success, then place them in a warm, humid place. Cuttings may take several weeks to sprout new growth, but you'll experience a high level of success with cuttings. Established plants will grow slowly at first.
Repot annually in the spring into a larger pot with fresh soil. Healthy plants have the potential to grow to fairly large specimens so that they can be accommodated in large pots. However, don't increase the pot size too rapidly or the plant's growth will slow down. The best idea is to go up one pot size every year. Enrich new soil with controlled-release fertilizer.
The P. macrophyllus is native to Asia, where it is an important plant in feng shui. Although there are many about 100 species of Podocarpus, the most common plant found in cultivation is the P. macrophyllus.
Although the yew pine is called a pine, the plant is technically not a pine at all, although it is a conifer. In general, these plants are subtropical conifers that grow in warm, but not necessarily wet, regions, with winters that are dry and can occasionally become cold (although they do not do well in freezing or near-freezing temperatures). These are the same conditions they like in a house: not too wet, with tolerance for cold, bright light, and are quite tough. Outside, they are even known for the ability to grow near the beach, where salt spray kills much less hardy plants.
The foliage of these plants is attractive, with long, narrow and tapering green foliage that will stay green despite any less-then-optimal conditions. The foliage is also excellent as cut foliage, which explains why it's often used in flower arrangements. Finally, the yew pine is very free from pests and disease, in large part because of its coniferous parentage. The caveat is its size: these are large plants that do not belong on desks. Instead, they do well in large, floor-standing pots.