A group of small evergreen trees and shrubs, all natives of E. Asia. They resemble the yews in the shape and general disposition of the foliage but most botanists consider them distinct enough to rank as a separate family – the Cephalotaxaceae. They have erect stems, from which the branches are borne in tiers, whilst the branchlets are both alternate and opposite. Flowers unisexual, the sexes nearly always on separate plants. Male flowers composed of four to six stamens, enclosed in a bract, produced in April and May in the axils of the leaves of the previous year’s growth, and arranged in clusters of small globose heads. Female flowers composed of pairs of carpels in the axils of scales at the base of the branchlets. Fruits (seeds) olive-like with a fleshy coat surrounding an almond-shaped resinous kernel (seed). The members of this genus bear a considerable resemblance to the torreyas, but differ in the leaves being soft rather than prickly pointed, and in the flowers being crowded instead of solitary in each leaf-axil. Another point of difference is that in the torreyas the stomata are arranged in narrow sunken bands.
In gardens the species of Cephalotaxus are useful evergreens, especially for semi-shaded places, where they thrive better than in full sunshine. All those mentioned below are hardy and can be increased by cuttings, although seed should be preferred if obtainable. Female trees will sometimes develop fruit and infertile seed in the absence of pollen.