Friday, December 7, 2012

Witch's Broom Conifers



Many of the conifers featured in my past web logs originate "as witch's broom mutations," and there seems to be no end to the discovery and subsequent introduction of new ones. It is my experience that most make poor garden plants, and I would include some of my own in that assessment. Ok, most means at least 51 percent, and I should also qualify that I mean most in my growing conditions. The failures can be that they are difficult to keep alive or that they tend to flop open in Oregon. Perhaps in other parts of the country they perform nicely.

A "witch's broom" results in congested growth and hence a more dwarf garden form. I won't get into the cause of these mutations, because there are several, and I'm not exactly "Mr. Science" in these matters anyway. But I have grown a large number of witch's brooms and have made a decent living at that.

Juniperus squamata 'Blue Star'

Thirty two years ago, at the beginning of my nursery's start-up, I got lucky and stumbled into one of the few sources of Juniperus squamata 'Blue Star', which originated as a broom. I propagated and sold rooted cuttings by the thousands. I was maybe the first nursery to graft them onto standards, a unique way to show them off. Wholesale growers, both large and small, flocked to my door seeking this eye-popping new plant. The appeal soon waned, however, and it has been over twenty years since anyone has asked for one. If nurserymen still grow 'Blue Star', they are sold cheaply. The market has been saturated. And besides, they ultimately sprawl and the bright blue color fades as they age. Nothing is more ugly than an old 'Blue Star' juniper.






















Metasequoia glyptostroboides 'Miss Grace'


Metasequoia glyptostroboides 'Miss Grace' originated as a witch's broom on a "Dawn Redwood" in New York state, and was reported to be a prostrate form. We grafted a few sticks which grew low and flat, but then one day when my back was turned the crew had them staked up. My impulse was to pull the stakes out and return them to their proper form. Didn't the label say "prostrate form?" But I left them be, and a few years later they were staked to seven feet tall, and they had become neat weeping trees. One was forced into growth in a heated greenhouse and taken to a display garden (in February) at the Seattle Garden Show. 'Miss Grace' was clearly a hit plant at that year's show, and plant-starved visitors lined up to photograph it. I'm sure that the great market that we now have wouldn't have been possible if 'Miss Grace' was left as a low spreader. I assumed in a previous blog that a new cultivar of Metasequoia, 'Bonsai', had the same witch's broom origin as 'Miss Grace', because they are very similar. I was corrected by the Morris Arboretum in Philadelphia, that 'Bonsai' was a seedling and the original was growing in their collection. If grown side by side you can detect a slight difference, but they could easily get mixed up.


Metasequoia glyptostroboides 'Kools Gold'


Metasequoia glyptostroboides 'North Light'
'White Spot' at Arboretum Trompenburg




























Metasequoia glyptostroboides 'White Spot' is a variegated selection, but not one of great beauty, or so I thought until I saw a nice specimen at Arboretum Trompenburg in Rotterdam. Their tree was kept dense with shearing and it looked very colorful. Anyway, a 'White Spot' witch's broom was discovered in Germany by Herr Schirrmann. This was given to Nelis Kools in Holland to propagate and introduce…under the name of 'Schirrmann's Nordlicht', but I was given permission to translate into English as 'North Light'.  We use both names on all of our labels to avoid confusion. It is a fantastic dwarf conifer with cream-white foliage, and should be placed in full sun for best color. I regularly scan my largest Metasequoia glyptostroboides 'Kools Gold' in hopes that one day it will produce a broom, and maybe it would be as horticulturally worthy as 'North Light'.


Larix laricina 'Newport Beauty'

Larix laricina 'Newport Beauty'

Larix laricina 'Blue Sparkler'

Larix laricina 'Blue Sparkler'




























Larix laricina 'Deborah Waxman'


Another deciduous conifer genus is Larix, and probably all species have witch's broom selection. The first to appear in the American trade was Larix laricina 'Newport Beauty'. It had a flattened globe shape and featured short blue needles. After thirty years my original plant grows no taller than the ten inches it achieved when it was five years old, but now has spread to six feet wide. Ultimately, though, 'Newport Beauty' is a weak plant and has disappeared from the trade. Its replacement is laricina 'Blue Sparkler', and it is a great success. 'Blue Sparkler' is a dwarf with bright blue foliage, although eventually it grows more tall than wide in our happy fields. Another laricina broom is 'Deborah Waxman', and it is a compact dwarf with blue-green needles. Larix laricina is the "American Tamarack," native to eastern 'North America'.

Larix gmelini 'Tharandt Dwarf'

Larix gmelini 'Tharandt Dwarf'


Larix gmelini is the "Dahurian Larch" from northeast Asia. One of its witch's broom selections is 'Tharandt Dwarf', and although neither you nor I can pronounce the species name, this German cultivar is one of the most admired of all dwarf conifers in our original display garden. Spring and summer foliage is unbelievably fresh green, which then evolves to a glowing straw-yellow in autumn. Our original specimen is now only one foot tall by four feet wide.



Larix kaempferi 'Wolterdingen'






















Larix kaempferi 'Heverbeck'


Larix leptolepis is the old species name for the Japanese Larch (Karamatsu), but the correct name, taking precedence by two years, is Larix kaempferi. I received Larix leptolepis 'Heverbeck' years ago from Germany, and you would think that the Germans would use the correct species name (kaempferi) since Engelbert Kaempfer was a German naturalist, physician and world traveler. In any case 'Heverbeck' is a dwarf shrub with a low spreading habit and has soft blue-green needles. Usually it is yellow in autumn, but some years it can turn orange—and I have no idea why. Larix kaempferi 'Wolterdingen' is similar, in fact without a label I can't tell them apart.

Larix kaempferi 'Diana'

A German nursery woman visited our nursery fifteen years ago and she was pleased to see Larix kaempferi 'Diana' (not a broom). Pleased because her employer found it in the wild in Germany. "Wait a minute," I thought later that night, "how could he have found a Japanese species in a German forest?" I saw her again the next day, and demanded an explanation. She reported that Larix kaempferi was commonly used in German reforestation, as it thrived in heavy soils unlike Larix decidua, the "European Larch." So she was off the hook after all.

Abies koreana 'Ice Breaker'

Abies koreana 'Ice Breaker'


There are tons of "True Fir" brooms, and Abies koreana 'Ice Breaker' has to be the most spectacular of all. It forms a dense flattened globe and is quite slow-growing. But the needles are very curved, revealing their sparkling undersides, and all visitors are anxious to buy them. The problem is that it takes five or six years for a grafted plant to fill a one-gallon pot. I fear that it will become plentiful one day, and then hard up or bankrupt nurseries will shamefully sell them cheaply, in spite of their age. 'Ice Breaker' was discovered by G. Kohout from East Germany as a witch's broom on Abies koreana 'Silberlocke', and he feels it should be called "Kohout's Ice Breaker," but you know what I think about that.

Abies koreana 'Bonanza'

Don Howse of Porterhowse Farm also discovered a broom in a 'Silberlocke', and named it 'Bonanza'. It is fortunate that he propagated it because the mutation is now totally dead on the tree. It is even more dwarf than 'Ice Breaker', which I think is not a good thing.


Abies koreana 'Cis'

Abies koreana 'Cis'

Abies koreana 'Tundra'

Abies koreana 'Tundra'


Abies koreana 'Cis' looks like it is of a witch's broom origin, but in fact it was a seedling selection. Abies koreana was sowed by a Dutch grower, Roelvink, in 1971, and one diminutive seedling from the batch was eventually introduced as 'Cis'. Ciska was Roelvink's mother's name, short for Francisca. 'Cis' is very slow-growing and dense, with pretty blue-green needles. Abies koreana 'Tundra' is similar, but a little more green. I do not know if it is of witch's broom origin, although it looks to be. The point of mentioning 'Tundra' and 'Cis' in a witch's broom blog is that you really don't know a plant's origin unless you really do know.






















Abies koreana 'Silberperle'


Abies koreana 'Silbermavers'

Abies koreana 'Silberzwerg'

Abies koreana 'Silberzwerg'

Abies koreana 'Silberperle' was definitely a witch's broom, found on an Abies koreana by G. Horstmann of Schneverdingen, Germany…a town I spent the night in while I was visiting son Uwe's nursery. 'Silberperle' is basically a green miniature ball with some of the needles' silvery undersides visible. One wonders if 'Silberzwerg' and 'Silbermavers' are all the same plant, but we keep them separate for now.

Abies concolor 'Bugy Wugy'

Abies concolor 'Hex'



























Abies concolor 'Hosta La Vista'


The "White Fir," Abies concolor, is a west coast USA species with a number of witch's broom dwarfs. 'Bugy Wugy' is a blue-green miniature, while 'Hosta La Vista' is silver blue'. 'Hex' (from Hexe, German for witch) is obviously a broom, and displays green foliage with lovely light-green new growth in spring.























Abies concolor 'Masonic Broom'


The original Pseudotsuga menziesii 'Graceful Grace'
Pseudotsuga menziesii 'Graceful Grace'



























Abies concolor 'Masonic Broom' can be attractive, but I have difficulty keeping it alive. It originated on a large concolor growing at a Masonic home in Pennsylvania. On the other side of the building was the original Pseudotsuga menziesii 'Graceful Grace', but sadly that tree was eventually axed to enlarge the parking lot.

Abies concolor 'King's Gap'
























Abies concolor 'Z-Mark'


'King's Gap' is the best of the Abies concolor brooms in my opinion. It appears to be easy to graft and long-lived, with intensely blue needles. 'Z-Mark' looks similar, but is too new for me to really judge.

Abies nordmanniana 'WB-KBN'

Abies nordmanniana 'Golden Spreader'

Abies nordmanniana 'Golden Spreader'

Abies nordmanniana 'Golden Spreader'


Abies nordmanniana 'WB-KBN' was discovered by Greg Williams of Kate Brook Nursery in Vermont. I used to think that it grew into a flat-bun shape, but now ours are growing upward, which is also good. Unfortunately it still goes by its code name, and Mr. Williams is not one inclined to permanently name plants. Also growing upward eventually is nordmanniana 'Golden Spreader'. I can't be sure, however, if it is of witch's broom origin, and only know that it was developed in the 1960's by Schoots Nursery in Holland.


Cedrus atlantica 'REL WB'

Cedrus deodara 'Vaneta'


The genus of Cedrus has a few brooms, and a nice one is atlantica 'REL WB', which again (sadly) just goes by a code name. A Cedrus deodara with a ground-hugging form was given to me by a nurseryman from Washington state, and he claimed it was discovered by a woman named Vaneta. I've grown it for a while now, and I have to call it something, so I chose 'Vaneta', although I'm not positive that is how she spells her name. The nurseryman went to inspect the tree, and he described how the "spore [sic] was up in the tree, just hangin' there, the damnedest thing I ever seen." He was in his 70's, and apparently spent his entire professional life believing that "sports" were "spores."

Ginkgo biloba 'Spring Grove'


We'll finish our conifer witch's broom tour with the Ginkgoes, for they are technically included as conifers. 'Spring Grove' makes a nice dwarf, and with us it grows into an irregular shape. It was discovered at the Spring Grove Cemetery and Arboretum in Cincinnati, Ohio, the second largest cemetery in the United States. I grew it for a few years before I discovered that there was more than one broom, or that there were a number of seedlings from that broom. For what it's worth, my start is "WB87." I don't know if that means 87 or more brooms, or the date 1987, or what? Perhaps a mid-westerner can set me straight.

Ginkgo biloba 'Troll'

Ginkgo biloba 'Troll'

Ginkgo biloba 'Marieken'

Ginkgo biloba 'Marieken'

Ginkgo biloba 'Witch's Broom'


Ginkgo biloba 'Troll' is from Europe, and I first saw it in Holland. When young, its leaves are large (in a greenhouse), and visitors have no idea how dwarf and congested it eventually becomes. 'Marieken' is from Holland, and it will grow low and spreading naturally, or it can be staked into a pyramidal tree. Some growers have taken the liberty to spell it "Mariken," which might be correct, except that Marieke is a Dutch woman's name. I collected two 'Marieken' labels on a plant trip to Europe ten years ago. In Holland it was spelled "Marieken," and in Germany "Mariken." We also grow a cultivar simply called 'Witch's Broom', which is a poor name, as if only one Ginkgo ever produced a broom. So, which witch's broom?

Cedrus atlantica 'Sapphire Nymph'

Cedrus deodara 'Pygmy'

Cedrus deodara 'Pygmy'






















Chamaecyparis pisifera 'Baby Blue Ice'


























Chamaecyparis pisifera 'Curly Tops'


Before I wrote this blog I made a list of conifer brooms. It included plants such as Cedrus atlantica 'Sapphire Nymph', Cedrus  deodara 'Pygmy', Chamaecyparis pisifera 'Baby Blue Ice' and 'Curly Tops', and a number of others. Then I realized that these appeared to be from witch's broom origins, but I wasn't sure. I'm ready to stand corrected on any false claims, and I'll pick a new subject for next week's blog.

No comments:

Post a Comment