Falcatifolium taxoides / New Caledonian sickle pine

Falcatifolium taxoides, as described in 1969 by (Adolphe-Théodore Brongniart (1801–1876) and August Heinrich Rudolf Grisebach (1814–1879)) David John de Laubenfels (1925-2016), in Journal of the Arnold Arboretum, vol. 50, is commonly known as New Caledonian sickle pine. The species name describes a superficial resemblance to the Yew species (Taxus spp).

The most closely related species is F. papuanum from New Guinea. This species is also the sole host to Parasitaxus ustus, the only-known parasitic conifer. It is also the most geographically isolated member of this genus.


Description. New Caledonian sickle pine is an evergreen coniferous species of shrub or small tree that grows to mature heights of 7 to 50 feet (2 - 15 m).

  • Bark is thin, and more or less smooth, with scattered lenticels, colored reddish brown and fibrous inside, occasionally shedding a scale.
  • Branching is open.
  • Juvenile leaves are flattened bifacially, appearing longish and oval; almost linear, tapering off to a sharp apex, with a carina on the upper surface. They measure 0.6 to 0.8 inch (15 - 20 mm) by 0.06 inch (1.5 mm) long, appearing only on seedlings.
  • Adult leaves are flattened bilaterally, and are quite variable in form, gently curved on the outside at the base and 1/3 up from the base reaching their greatest width, subside itself toward the sharp and round apex, sometimes nearly linear, the apex normally straight and erect towards the outside or seldom a little curved toward the tip of the branch, the most often without curvature relevant to the upper edge of the leave, more or less shrinks at the base on the petiole and then decurrent.
  • Pollen cones are produced axillary or terminal, often with many others on a short axillary shoot that is covered with very small scales. They are cylindrical, measuring 0.6 to 1 inch (15 - 25 mm) long by 0.06 to 0.08 inch (1.5 - 2.0 mm) in diameter.
  • Microsporophylls are small with acuminate apices.
  • Seed cones develop on a fine scaly shoot about 0.24 inch (6 mm) long; the seed cone has about a dozen large, long scales, each 0.08 inch (2 mm) long; only the apical one is fertile. The entire cone becomes fleshy at maturity.
  • Seeds have a bulging epimatium at the base. They have an oval shape, with a strong carina on the ridge and a long and dull apex, measuring 0.28 inch (7 mm) by 0.16 inch (4 mm) by 0.12 inch (3 mm).
natural range of <em>Falcatifolium taxoides </em>
natural range of Falcatifolium taxoides

Distribution. This species is native to New Caledonia, growing at elevations from sea level to 4,500 feet (1,400 m). It is an understory tree in the wet forests of the main island. Within its range, mean annual temperature is 68.7ºF (20.4°C), with an average minimum in the coldest month of 56.3ºF (13.5°C), and a mean annual precipitation of 74 inches (1,848 mm). The IUCN reports that the population status is stable.

Hardy to USDA Zone 10, cold hardiness limit between 30º and 40ºF (-1° and +4.4°C).

Attribution from: David J. de Laubenfels, No. 4, Gymnospermes, in A. Aubréville and Jean-F. Leroy, editors; ©1972, Flore de la Nouvelle-Calédonie et Dépendances, Muséum National d'Histoire Naturelle, Paris, France.

Falcatifolium taxoides — a plant in cultivation at the Jardin des Plantes, Paris, France.
Photo by Jan De Laet, via plantsystemics.org
Falcatifolium taxoides — young plants will flush with a pinkish or reddish hue.
Photo by Tim Waters, via Flickr