Tall podocarpus trees (Podocarpus spp.), with their evergreen branches and dramatic, upright growth habit, make a lovely addition to the garden. Fern pine (Podocarpus gracilior) and bigleaf podocarp (Podocarpus macrophyllus), while different from one another in several ways, are both good specimens for home landscapes.
The bigleaf podocarp, sometimes also known simply called podocarpus, is also known as the Buddhist pine, pointing to its origin in mountain areas of China and Japan. Its other names include Japanese yew, yew pine, southern yew and yew podocarpus. Bigleaf podocarp also has soft, shiny foliage, and looks similar to a yew, which accounts for a number of its common names. The fern pine is so called for its fine-textured, fern-like foliage, and is also referred to as weeping podocarpus and the fern podocarpus.
Bigleaf podocarp is a conical tree growing to between 20 and 40 feet, with a spread of between 10 and 20 feet. It is winter hardy in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 7 through 9, and can be grown either outdoors or inside as a smaller container plant. Fern pine is adapted to warmer areas, winter hardy in USDA zones 10a through 11. It is slightly taller than the bigleaf podocarp, growing to between 30 and 50 feet and gaining an eventual canopy spread of 25 to 35 feet.
The bigleaf podocarp is adapted to full sun and partial shade sites, though it may grow better in partial shade. It will grow in moist soil types, though it may develop yellowed foliaged when grown on highly alkaline soil. Although it prefers a medium amount of water, it is drought tolerant once established. When growing bigleaf podocarp in containers, protect them from full sun both indoors and outdoors. Fern pine displays similar tolerances, growing in a wide range of light conditions and soil types. It too is highly drought tolerant, and also displays a high aerosol salt tolerance, so can be grown by the seashore.
Both trees work well as accent pieces or lawn trees grown on large areas. The bigleaf podocarp does well as a screen or hedge, as it takes well to clipping. This also makes it suited to use as a smaller foundation specimen or container plant, especially as it can tolerate low light. Soft-leaved fern pine grows well near water features or areas where people gather, such as patios. Its soft, unique foliage also works well grown near a reflective surface, such as a large window.