The Podo Tree

Podocarpus falcatus

Muthengera (Kikuyu), Olpiripiri (Maasai), Mubiribiri (Meru), Piripirindi (Samburu)

A story from Karichota

When we arrived at Karichota in 1993, there had been some cutting of large trees in the riverside forest area; we found remnants of old olive trees which had been burned for charcoal, and junipers of all sizes had been cut for fence poles. But the very last tree to be felled was a Muthengera and parts of it had been left by the tree fellers next to the Karichota Stream. Sculptor Gakunju Kaigwa took some wood to work on, and we used a few timbers to make a sofa which still sits on the verandah, as a constant reminder to keep an eye on the trees under our watch.

And what trees! The Muthengera, Podo, or Podocarpus falcatus as opposed to the more decorative latifolius, found higher up the mountain, is a fountain of green adorning the river banks. Adored by colobus monkeys and turacos, who munch on their purplish seeds and visited by Silvery-cheeked hornbills when the fig trees are not offering their fruits. Another bird which is very fond of the fruit, and assists in the creation of seedlings, is the Red Fronted Parrot, who squawks noisily in their branches during the morning hours.

For the colobus, the Muthengera is their tree of choice; if left undisturbed, whole families will perch happily for the whole day in their generous branches, swathed in greenery, and with an endless supply of fruit and salad.

Riverside Muthengera trees grow to monstrous sizes, towering over the rushing river, brushing the wind with its delicate, needle-like leaves. Podos are dioecious plants, meaning male or female reproductive organs appear on different plants, so the constant passage of feeders and pollinators is essential to the thriving of the species.

Next to the Burguret Crossing at Karichota, where children learn to skip stones and swim in cold mountain water, there is a podo we have seen grow from a young stripling to the fine adult we see now. (see photo below).

Higher up from us, in the protected forests of the Mt. Kenya and Aberdares (Nyandarua) National Parks, there are vast, timeless forests of the very similar Podocarpus latifolius, dripping with Old Man’s Beard mosses and covered with bright green lichen, like extras from Tolkein movies. Oh, but how I encourage you, dear reader, to wander in these magical spaces.

Seedlings for this wonderful and important tree are easily found at Mt. Kenya Trust and Ontilili Forest Station; please plant as many as you have space for! Muthengera make excellent fencing plants and grow rapidly if well-cared for, like most of us….