Polyalthia longifolia ‘Pendula’ or Mast Tree, has been on my mind lately. This tall, narrow tree caught my eye last year and I have been plant lusting for it ever since.
I first saw it at the FNGLA Landscape Show and then I started to see the Mast Tree everywhere. Okay, not quite everywhere but I have seen it more and more.
During a trip to Miami I saw it several times, tucked into narrow areas where it provides the perfect vertical accent. This spot at Viscaya Museums and Gardens in Miami is a perfect example of planting the Mast tree in a narrow area.
Mast Tree Characteristics
Mast trees are an extremely upright, columnar tree with leaves that hang in a weeping nature. They reach up to 60 feet tall at maturity, although these are rare in Florida. They are considered evergreen, when the weather is warm, with glossy green leaves.
You might say that the Mast tree is relatively new to Florida. According to Richard Lyons Nursery, “about 35 years ago, a Miami couple fresh from a long trip to Asia brought seeds of an attractive Indian evergreen tree to Fairchild Tropical Garden. Over time this species, Polyalthia longifolia (aka P. longifolia var. pendula), has proven to be a very successful introduction to the landscape of southern Florida.”
It is easy to see how the Mast Tree got its common name with a stick-straight trunk perfect to hoist the sails of a ship.
Mast Tree in the Landscape
With Italian cypress performing so poorly in central Florida, this plant just might offer the same vertical exclamation point in a much healthier fashion. The only drawback: cold sensitivity. Listed in several places as being a zone 10-11 plant, there is some risk in our area with occasional frosts. But just look at how upright it grows. Need a vertical accent? This just might be your plant!
This group just down the street from our house has been in for two years now and seems to be quite healthy. Of course, we have had two very mild winters with only a touch of frost. When we stopped to take these photos one evening I was surprised to see the slight bronze tint to the new leaves. The way in which they lay so flat emphasized the vertical nature of the Mast tree.
For a screening element, Mast Tree would be a welcome addition. It may be difficult to find enough of these plants for a long area, but the fast growth and columnar habit would be just perfect. So until this tree becomes more popular and available for purchase, keep your eyes out for this plant. It may just be the vertical accent your garden needs.