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  • Writer's pictureThomas Pitto

Polyalthia Longifolia - The Cypress of the Tropics

A native of Southern India and Sri Lanka that is commonly seen planted in the streets, and on avenues. It is grown for its lush evergreen foliage and can be seen growing in schools or homes as a screen, a windbreak, or to counter noise pollution due to its compact nature.

A slim trunk and short branches with an upright growing fashion lend this tree a strange appearance for a (sub) tropical species. It has a weeping columnar crown that often lends it a precise, formal appearance, making it perfect for lining roads and avenues.

It grows best in sub-humid to humid subtropical and tropical climates, generally frost-free with annual lows of between 16-25 °C and highs of 25-36 °C. The ideal annual rainfall is between 800 to 3800 mm, and a dry season of 8 months or less.

Panjim, Goa

It is regarded as sacred in India and Sri Lanka and is often planted around Hindu Temples. The wavy margined leaves are lanceolate, changing from lime green to bronze and eventually to a deeper shade with a smooth/glossy/ shiny appearance when mature. The leaves are used as decorations during weddings and festivals, where they are strung into wreaths and hung on doors.

It’s a slow-growing tree slowly reaching between 10 and 18 m (30 and 60 ft.) tall at a rate of about 12 inches a year.

North Goa

In its local range, the wood is used for the fabrication of matches, pencils, and small boxes. Some communities also fabricate drums cylinders from the pliable wood.

In the spring, the star-shaped flowers bloom followed by a green berry somewhat resembling coffee, which ripens to black by autumn.

It can be grown in sites with full to partial sun-exposure on rich, free-draining clay-loam, sandy-loam, and loamy-sand soils generally with a pH of 5.5- 7.5. Plants are drought tolerant when mature but young plants need to be protected from the wind when young, especially under hot and dry conditions

Leaf extracts have anti-fungal and anti-bacterial properties. The bark is used in Ayurvedic medicine to treat fever, diabetes, hypertension, and intestinal worms. The trunk, due to its tall and upright manner, is used to make masts of sailing ships, giving it one of its common names, the Indian Mast Tree.

The tree gained popularity in the British India Era due to its resemblance to the Mediterranean Cypress (Cupressus sempervirens) and was planted heavily in the North of India for nostalgia's sake.

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