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What is a Fern Pine?

Misty Amber Brighton
Misty Amber Brighton

A fern pine, or Afrocarpus gracilior, is a tall evergreen tree that grows in many parts of the United States as well as in South America. It is a fairly hardy tree that is not normally susceptible to insect damage. It can often withstand high winds, even those associated with hurricanes, so it can be a good choice to plant near a coastal region.

This tree typically grows between 40 and 50 feet (12.2 to 15.25 m) high. It can also reach as much as 30 feet (9.15 m) wide. These pines should generally be placed 40 to 50 feet (12.2 to 15.25 m) apart when planted as a windbreak, or wind barrier.

Woman with a flower
Woman with a flower

The leaves of a fern pine are light green or bluish-green in color. They normally resemble the foliage of a fern rather than pine needles. These frond-like leaves usually have a very soft texture and are smooth on the surface. Often, they are long and thin with a slight point at the end.

Foliage normally grows in dense clusters on the tree. The leaves generally appear on thick branches that extend outwards. The leaf clusters then droop or point towards the ground.

The trunk of this tree often grows at somewhat of an angle, rather than in a straight, up-and-down manner. It may sometimes appear to have more than one vertical section. The bark of a fern pine is typically medium-brown in color, and rough in appearance. There may be knots or bulges on the tree trunk as well.

There may be small, round fruits from time to time on a fern pine tree. These are normally light brown or beige in color, and may resemble walnuts. They contain the tree's seeds, but are not fit for people to eat and can, in fact, be poisonous.

This tree does well in areas where temperatures do not normally dip below 20°F (-7°C). It thrives in sandy soils as well as places where there is lots of sunlight. These factors, coupled with the fact that this tree does not lose its leaves, makes it a popular shade tree in California.

A fern pine does not usually require a great deal of care in order to grow well. It may need to be pruned occasionally if growing space around it is limited. This plant can be an interesting choice for both urban and rural landscapes.

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