Broadleaf Evergreens and Conifers

By Maud Henne

Liven up your garden with a group of evergreen and conifer trees with leaves instead of needles.

A close-up of the broadleaf evergreen, Nageia sp. with pollen cones
A close-up of the broadleaf evergreen, Nageia sp. with pollen cones

It took me 20 years of caring for and about conifers to find out that there are evergreens and conifers with leaves. We hobby gardeners commonly associate the term “conifer” with trees that bear cones and have needles.

I acquired a leafy conifer at the plant auction of the SE Region meeting at Clemson University, South Carolina, in fall 2008. It is a donation of the Friends of the State Botanical Garden in Athens, Georgia. It is labeled “Broadleaf Conifer – Nageia nagi.” The name did not mean anything to me, so I asked an expert.

The Broadleaf Podocarp

“It is in the family of the podocarps,” I was told. I asked, “Will it grow in zone 7?” I was assured it would if the location is more 7b than 7a. “It is a tough plant,” somebody said.

It is a pretty plant. It is 4 feet tall. When I inquired about the age of the plant, I was told, “Eight months, but it was grown in a greenhouse. It will slow down now.” I was reminded of an Araucaria bidwellii I got stuck with at a silent American Conifer Society auction because I was the sole bidder.

That plant put out 1.5 feet of growth in each direction in my living room within six months, between September and March. Since I was not willing to raise my ceiling, I donated this plant to the Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden in Richmond, Virginia. It is kept in a greenhouse there. When I visited in spring 2008, it looked fat and happy.

A Hardy Evergreen Tree from Asia

Having acquired an 8-month-old, 4-foot-tall baby leafy evergreen, I could not wait to get home and consult various tree books. Here is what I learned:

1) Manual of Cultivated Conifers (Gerd Krüssmann): Among approximately 100 species listed and described, there it is P. nagi. Tree, 5–20m (49-65 feet) from southern Japan.

2) Conifers: The Illustrated Encyclopedia Volume 2: L to Z (D.M. van Gelderen and J.R.P. van Hoey Smith): This book shows the tree and a branch with fruit.

3) Trees and Shrubs: In a Firefly Encyclopedia of more than 8,500 plants, I learn that all six species in the Nageia genus require well drained soil and water during dry periods. Their frost tolerance is minimal. They are evergreen trees; their distinguishing feature is broad, lance-shaped, multi-veined leaves, a character that is unique in conifers. Nageia nagi is described as a tree that grows to 70 feet (21m) or more and occurs in Japan, China, and Taiwan, which verifies Dr. Krüss mann’s outline in his world map. Hardiness: Zone 8–10.

4) Trees of North America–Golden Field Guides: This book from St. Martin’s Press lists podocarps under “Some Introduced Gymnosperms” and shows a drawing of P. nagi that illustrates the leaves and fruit.

The broadleaf conifer, Asian bayberry (Nageia nagi)
The broadleaf conifer, Asian bayberry (Nageia nagi)

I know a lot more about podocarps by now. In time, I will have to make a decision: Should I risk planting it outside? Or, should I keep it as a house plant and, as soon as it threatens to outgrow my living room, take it to Richmond and donate it to the Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden?

Maud Henne, a native of Germany, residing in Charlottesville, Virginia, has taken care of her late husband’s conifer collection since 1989. She increased it to over 200 plants. Maud has been a member of ACS since 1985 and is a Past President of the Southeastern Region.

She gives lectures about garden conifers with slides and cuttings for plant societies and garden clubs, and is part of the lecture program for the Charlottesville Area Tree Stewards. In 2007, her collection was featured on regional PBS.

This article was originally published in the Spring 2009 issue of Conifer Quarterly. Join the American Conifer Society to access our extensive library of conifer-related articles and connect to a nationwide group of plant lovers! Become a member for only $40 a year and get discounts with our growing list of participating nurseries in our Nursery Discount Program.