Prumnopitys comprises nine species with a distribution in South and Central America (from Chile to Venezuela and Costa Rica), and the Pacific (northeast Australia, New Caledonia and New Zealand). They are densely branched, dioecious, evergreen trees or shrubs with an outward appearance not unlike that of Taxus. The leaves are small (< 2.5 cm long), linear, spirally arranged (though often appearing two-ranked), hypo stomatic, and with a distinct midrib. Male strobili are solitary or grouped, on short, axillary shoots; female cones subterminal, solitary or grouped along a leafy or scaly shoot. The cone is reduced to a single fertile scale with a single ovule; the receptacle does not enlarge, and the fleshy epimatium completely encloses the seed (Hill 1998).
The nomenclature of this genus is rather messy, most species having been formerly known as Podocarpus, often under different specific epithets, while the name Podocarpus spicatus has been used for both a New Zealand species, now considered to be Prumnopitys taxifolia, and the Chilean Prumnopitys andina (for which the combination Prumnopitys spicata (Poepp.) Molloy & Muñoz-Schick has also been published). The descriptions of Podocarpus spicatus in the standard literature refer to the New Zealand species Prumnopitys taxifolia, which remains a rare plant in our area, seen only in the mildest gardens (in Cornwall, for example, and in the Chelsea Physic Garden in London). The only Prumnopitys to have achieved relatively widespread cultivation is P. andina, which can form a substantial tree even away from mild maritime sites.