December’s Tree of the Month: Podocarpus Guatemalensis

In many parts of the world, Christmas is not complete without the family Christmas tree, traditionally some type of pine, fir, or spruce. And so, in the spirit of the holidays, we have chosen for December’s Tree of the Month the Podocarpus guatemalensis, a conifer native to the neotropics, and one of the few species of conifer found in humid environments at low elevation.

A Podocarpus guatemalensis sapling c. INBio
A Podocarpus guatemalensis sapling c. INBio

The Podocarpus is commonly found throughout Central and South America, from as far south as Ecuador to as far north as the states of Oaxaca and Veracruz in Mexico. The tree is known to be abundant in certain locations on Isla Coiba, an island on the Pacific coast of Panamá.

Podocarpus guatemalensis thrives in a variety of different environments. It has been known to grow in savanna type vegetation at low elevations, being found alongside other species of pine such as Pinus caribeae. It is also found in tropical rainforest climes, where it is a successful canopy tree.

The trunk of the Podocarpus guatemalensis c. Rolando Pérez
The trunk of the Podocarpus guatemalensis c. Rolando Pérez

The Podocarpus guatemalensis can grow quite tall, reaching heights of 30 meters. Its trunk is reddish-brown in color, similar in appearance to that of the madroño (Calycophyllum candidissimum).

The leaves of the Podocarpus guatemalensis are simple and alternate in their arrangement, and lanceolate in shape (pointed at both ends). Leaves are long and thin, generally between 6 and 10 centimeters in length. Like all conifers, it is gymnosperm, producing its seeds in cones rather than in fruits. The seeds of the Podocarpus guatemalensis are small, no more than 1 centimeter in length, and elliptical in shape.

Leaves of the Podocarpus guatemalensis c. Reinaldo Aguilar

Podocarpus guatemalensis is found in many of Panama’s nine provinces, though in 2008 the tree was listed as endangered by ANAM, the National Environmental Authority. According to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN), threats to the species as a whole are relatively minimal. Like many other trees, The Podocarpus is declining in certain regions because of increased logging and agricultural expansion.

Happy Holidays!


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