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Tree 20–60 m. Trunk usually straight, 1–2 m dbh, sometimes with massive spreading limbs. Bark flaking irregularly, greyish brown to dark brown. Branches spreading to ascending. Leaves opposite or loosely spiralled, 3–5 × 0.3–0.5 cm, linear to slightly falcate, sharply acute, tapering to base, hard and leathery, pale to dark green. Male cones axillary in small clusters, 10 × 3 mm. Female cones solitary, green when young, maturing to a ± globose single seed c.1.5 cm diameter, with thin yellowish flesh externally. Coates Palgrave 1990. Distribution MOZAMBIQUE: southern area; SOUTH AFRICA: Western Cape to Limpopo Province. Habitat Moist montane forests. USDA Hardiness Zone 9. Conservation status Lower Risk, but many forest areas now destroyed or with large trees having been selectively extracted. Illustration NT121, NT122. Cross-reference K255 (as Podocarpus falcatus). Taxonomic note Afrocarpus falcatus has frequently been conflated with A. gracilior (Pilg.) C.N. Page, from montane forests in tropical East and Northeast Africa, and the two are confused in the literature and probably in cultivation as well (both names are in circulation in the North American nursery trade). They are very similar, but A. gracilior has longer, more falcate leaves. As a juvenile plant A. gracilior is very tolerant of deep shade, and young specimens are sometimes used for interior decoration (as, for example, in the terminal buildings of Schiphol Airport, Amsterdam). It is conceivable that it might survive outside, if planted in sheltered places (see p. 6).
One of the most important timber species in South Africa, yielding a fine yellowish wood, Afrocarpus falcatus can be a large tree and dominant within the forest ecosystem. Its ecology has been extensively studied in the Knysna forest, South Africa by C.J. Geldenhuys (1993); he demonstrated that the seeds are largely dispersed by fruit bats, and that the seedlings germinate and establish in shade. The most magnificent specimen seen in research for the current work is a venerable tree with wide-spreading branches in the Old Company’s Garden in the heart of Cape Town, but there are good younger ones at Kirstenbosch. In the northern hemisphere there is a fine tree in the University of California Botanical Garden, Berkeley, and it is growing successfully both in Oregon and in southwestern England, where it seems to be hardier than might be imagined. Nicholas Wray (pers. comm. 2008) reports that at the University of Bristol Botanic Garden it has withstood being frozen in pots at –9 ºC for several days, and suffers damage to new growth only below –5 ºC. He believes that the best chance of success is to plant out specimens that are 4–5 years old and at least 1.5 m tall, when they will have attained a certain toughness. A warm site is indicated, however.
Addition, June 2021: Julien Gaillard, of Les Pépinières de St Meloir, near St. Malo, Bretagne, France, informs us that a 2 m plant of [Afrocarpus falcatus] in the open ground withstood –6°C and 15 cm of snow on three consecutive nights in the winter of 2021, with no damage.