What is a Screw Pine?

M.C. Huguelet

Screw pine can refer to any tree of the genus Pandanus, of which there are approximately 600 species. In common usage, however, screw pine generally refers to the Pandanas utilis, a tropical tree recognizable by its distinctive-looking fruit, its screw-like trunk and branch markings, and its network of prop roots. Its long, serrated leaves are used by some cultures to make roofing, mats, and baskets.

Screw pine is often used for thatch roofing, providing shelter for many families.
Screw pine is often used for thatch roofing, providing shelter for many families.

The screw pine thrives in tropical climates, and accordingly it is most often found in Southeast Asia, parts of Africa, and southern Florida. It generally cannot survive in temperatures lower than 55 degrees Fahrenheit (12.78 degrees Celsius). The tree is also very tolerant of salty soil and air, making it a good choice for seaside gardens in tropical regions.

Bats are known to feed on screw pine.
Bats are known to feed on screw pine.

There are several distinguishing features which make the screw pine easily recognizable. First of all, its trunk and branches show spiral markings — similar in appearance to the shaft of a screw — which are actually scars left behind by leaves which have fallen away. This characteristic is the source of the tree’s name.

Secondly, the screw pine usually has a network of prop roots which resemble a cluster of stilts that lean from the tree’s trunk into the soil. Sometimes these roots create the illusion that the body of the tree is floating above the ground. Often, the horizontal extension of the screw pine’s branches is greater than its overall height, making it quite top heavy. The function of these prop roots is to create extra support which balances out this top-heaviness and keeps the tree rooted firmly in the soil.

Another distinct feature of the screw pine is its fruit, which is bright orange in color and resembles something like a cross between a pinecone and a pineapple. This fruit is a favorite meal of animals like bats, raccoons, and lizards. Although the fruits of certain Pandanus species are frequently used in Southeast Asian cuisine, that of Pandanus utilis, while technically edible once cooked, is generally enjoyed only by animals.

Long, tough leaves grow from the screw pine’s branches in a spiral formation. The edges of these leaves are serrated with small, sharp teeth that can scratch or cut human skin when handled carelessly. They are coated with a natural wax which gives them waterproof qualities, and in some cultures, they are dried and woven into water-resistant thatch roofing. These leaves are also sometimes used to make handicrafts such as baskets and mats.

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Discussion Comments


My friend in California has screw pine trees on her property, and I think that they are some scary looking trees! They have some weird features that you don’t see with other types of tropical trees, and you can always distinguish them by their unique properties.

The weird stilts that they rest open make them look like space ships that have just landed. It just seems strange for trees to stand up on sticks like that.

Also, their fruit looks more like a spiky brain than a pine cone or pineapple. The fruit I have seen is round and reminds me of a horse apple, which also resembles a brain.


@OeKc05 - At least you live in a good location for keeping a screw pine alive! I live in southern Florida, too, and my screw pines love it here.

They do like moist soil. In fact, they like to be moist all over. I sprinkle mine gently with the water hose on dry mornings to keep it happy.

Just feel of the soil around your tree, and if it feels dry, give it some water. I think that the moisture in the air here near the sea does a good job of keeping moisture in the soil, but it is best to check it often.


I live near Miami, and I just got a screw pine tree. I am not sure how to properly care for it. I know it can survive around here, because several of my neighbors have these trees in their yards, but I got this tree as a gift, and I have no green thumb at all.

Can anyone tell me how often I need to water it? Does this tree prefer dry or moist soil? I don’t want to overwater it and drown it, but I don’t want it to die of thirst, either.

I know my friend meant well by giving me this as a gift. However, I think that people should not give living presents, unless they know the recipient will be able to care for them properly!


Screw pine trees also grow in Australia. I have a cousin who lives over there, and he has a few of these in his yard.

I have been visiting him once every couple of years, and I had never seen fruit on the trees until last year. He told me that this is because it takes about twenty years for the tree to mature to the point that it can produce fruit. Also, only the female trees can do this.

This tree looks like a type of palm tree. It makes his yard have a very tropical feel to it.

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