Monday, February 18, 2013

Oregon's Coniferous Species


Pseudotsuga menziesii

I have two huge "Douglas Firs," Pseudotsuga menziesii, near my house. You won't see anything like that in Texas, where I visited for a few days last fall. Nor would my trees survive in the coldest parts of the United States, for my strain is not nearly as winter-hardy as those from the Rocky Mountain areas. Recently a snowy egret flew past my Dougs, at about one half elevation of the trees' height, and I thought about how fortunate I am to be able to live in the natural world of Oregon.

A host of coniferous species can be found in my state, and I must have millions of memories about my lifetime of encounters; stored, well, somewhere in my brain. Today I choose to celebrate some of the species that have made great impressions upon me.

Quercus garryana

Quercus garryana

First, allow me to elaborate on the twin Dougs. These two monsters, along with a stupendous "Oregon Oak," Quercus garryana, altogether compelled me to purchase my property along the Tualatin River, land which was originally owned and controlled by the native Americans who first lived along its banks. But: we Euro-Americos kicked their brown asses off and subdued them, and so now I live and thrive here. Previous farmers have come and gone from this place, growing strawberries, wheat, corn and broccoli, but now I produce dwarf, weeping, golden and rare plants – all of a frivolous nature with nothing decent to eat.

Pseudotsuga menziesii 'Aureovariegata'

Pseudotsuga menziesii 'Compacta'

Pseudotsuga menziesii 'Compacta'

I don't produce seedling "Douglas Firs" for a living, but I do grow a few cultivars that have made an impression on American landscapes. 'Aureovariegata' has golden-frosted needles and a compact growth habit. 'Compacta' is an old cultivar, low, spreading as the name suggests. My oldest specimen is about five feet tall by ten feet wide at about fifty five years of age, and is possibly the oldest tree in my collection.

Pseudotsuga menziesii 'Fastigiata'

Pseudotsuga menziesii 'Fastigiata' is, I guess, more loved by me than my customers, for it is a tough sell. It is bluish in color, probably from the eastern range of the species, but perhaps potential customers of the narrow cultivar have had death experiences where it was produced on non-hardy rootstock (by other companies).

Pseudotsuga menziesii 'Fort Ann'

Pseudotsuga menziesii 'Glauca'

Pseudotsuga menziesii 'Glauca'

Pseudotsuga menziesii 'Fort Ann' impressed someone enough to name it. The tree is majestic, and especially so is its photo above. 'Fort Ann' has become a treasured inclusion of the Flora Wonder Arboretum, but unfortunately it is no longer in production because there is no one to buy it. The cultivar 'Glauca' includes a number of clones (probably), but is impressive for striking blue foliage. The color is not glittery-silver like with some of the spruce "shiners," but rather a more richly-glowing cast of blue. Also, the cones are highly ornamental: purple with creamy lime-yellow bracts, and the cones taper to a sharp point.

Pseudotsuga menziesii 'Idaho Gold'

Pseudotsuga menziesii 'Idaho Gold' is not really a cultivar, but merely a name I gave to a golden specimen I discovered on a drive along an Idaho mountain road. I took a photo, but no scions, and a few miles later my friend Reuben's car received considerable damage when he crashed into a deer. He quietly drove on, without any concern for the victim, but I must confess that I endured a sense of shock. Well, there are other Pseudotsugas that I could mention, but I have no heart for them now.

Tsuga mertensiana 'Mountain Light'

Every day I drive past a variegated specimen of "Mountain Hemlock," Tsuga mertensiana 'Mountain Light'. Unfortunately it is not the original seedling as I killed that when transplanting, but I always propagate the interesting finds before I do anything risky.

Whether variegated or not, Tsuga mertensiana is my favorite of all conifers native to Oregon. I suppose that's because it is a high-elevation species, and I'm always most happy in the mountains. The species is named for Franz Carl (or Karl) Mertens, a German professor and botanist who was an expert in the field of phycology (not psychology), the study of algae. Mertens collected the Tsuga in Sitka, Alaska, but it was his buddy Gustav von Bongard, another German botanist, who named it for Mertens, so you'll always see Bong after the botanic name in reference books.

Tsuga mertensiana in the Blue Forest
Tsuga mertensiana on Mt. Hood

Tsuga mertensiana 'Bump's Blue'

We have a fantastic planting of Tsuga mertensiana in our Blue Forest, and each of the seven seedlings is approximately fifty years old. No two look alike; as with my human family, all are individual characters. Perhaps at night they talk with each other. Also in the Blue Forest, and elsewhere, we have named cultivars, all selected for blue foliage. 'Bump's Blue' was named and introduced by me, but it was discovered and collected by Dr. Bump of nearby Forest Grove, Oregon, on the slopes of Mt. Hood. 'Bump's Blue' rivals the old Dutch cultivar, 'Blue Star', which was selected in 1965 at the Gimborn Arboretum. I didn't photograph the tree when I was there in 2000 because it started to rain, and besides, it didn't look so great anyway. Holland is not the best place for Tsuga mertensiana, I guess; it rains all the time seemingly, and it's...well, so low and full of cow manure, a far cry from its natural range.

Picea breweriana

Wait a minute! How can Mountain Hemlock be my favorite conifer from Oregon? Obviously it is the "Brewer's Weeping Spruce," Picea breweriana. I featured this Oregon native, at least its cultivars, in last week's blog, so I'll try to say something new this week. I begin by copying one of my favorite plant authors, Donald Culross Peattie, in his A Natural History of Western Trees:

"Nature seems to have made some trees to serve man with endless uses, and others to hold soil over vast areas, some to line river banks and some to shade the prairie and desert traveler. A few she made, one might say, for no other reason than to contribute to the higher things of life – to be extraordinarily beautiful, and very little else. And of these the Weeping Spruce is one."

Wow, extraordinarily!

You can't argue with that; and who then wouldn't want to grow the tree, or at least to see the tree? D.C. Peattie continues, Altogether the growth-habit of the tree is sorrowful, as the dark foliage is somber." Well, I don't agree, but I still enjoy P's intimacy...until he finishes with

"But for some reason Weeping Spruce has not responded well to horticulture, and until gardeners learn what it is that this strange tree requires, and can supply it, it will remain the most mysterious spruce of the New World."

I'll answer that question, Mr. D.C.P.: the answer is shitty serpentine soil. The Brewers thrive in it, but flounder in the sweet soils of my nursery and also in many of the world's soils and climates. I once bought about twenty five Brewer's Spruce from a seedling nursery above Silverton, Oregon – the same source as my fifty-year-old Mountain Hemlocks. The Picea breweriana, grown from seed, were about the same age. I sold a few in my early career, but then most died after a particularly wet winter and spring. The Silverton soils are relatively crappy too, red with certain mineral components, and there Picea breweriana grows very well. And so – I wish, Mr. D.C.P. – that you were still here, because the answer is to graft them on the more adaptable "Norway Spruce," Picea abies. They thrive luxuriously on that rootstock, and also develop their weeping character at a much earlier age.

I really wish I could have met Mr. D.C.P., but he died in 1964. He really was extravagant, with quotes like "Beauty is excrescence, superabundance, random ebullience, and sheer delightful waste to be enjoyed in its own right." Egads, where's the dictionary!? But I still admire the poetry he obviously derived from trees, with some of his published titles being: Singing in the Wilderness, Flowering Earth, The Rainbow Book of Nature and An Almanac for Moderns. Those of you familiar with the flamboyant Reginald Farrer, the English rock-garden champion, will recognize a kindred spirit.

Columbia River Gorge

Picea sitchensis 'Silverzwerg'

Picea sitchensis 'Silverzwerg'

Picea sitchensis 'Wiesje'

Picea sitchensis 'Wiesje'

Picea sitchensis 'Strypemonde'

Picea sitchensis 'Christiane Berkau'

Another Oregon native is Picea sitchensis, the "Sitka Spruce." I've seen it right against the coast, and as far inland as the Columbia River Gorge, a distance of one hundred miles. Our von Bongard botanist coined the species name, and I assume that Franz Mertens collected the Picea too. In meadows near the Pacific Ocean you can find enormous specimens with snake-like branches and a slightly pendulous habit. The European cultivars tend to be of witch's broom origin, like 'Silverzwerg', 'Wiesje' and 'Strypemonde'. I don't know where another dwarf, 'Christine Berkaw', came from, but it should be spelled 'Christiane Berkau'.

My favorite of the Sitka spruce dwarfs is 'Sugar Loaf', discovered by the late Bill Janssen and/or his partner Diana Reeck of Collectors Nursery in Washington state. It is of seedling origin, and discovered on Sugarloaf Mountain in Oregon's north coastal range. What I like about 'Sugarloaf' is its short silver-blue shoots which taper like a fox tail, a characteristic feature that keeps it from being boring, like many of the dwarf spruces.

Picea sitchensis 'Haida'

One final cultivar of Picea sitchensis is 'Haida', also known as 'Gordon Bentham', for Bentham was one of the first to distribute the plant, originally under the name of Picea sitchensis 'Aurea'. The original tree was considered sacred to the native Haida Indians, and it grew on one of the Queen Charlottes Islands, a group sixty miles off of mainland British Columbia. The tree's name to the natives means "ancient one," and the venerable giant grew to 164 feet tall before being felled by a knucklehead with a chainsaw in 1997. The most remarkable feature of the tree was that it was bright gold in color. Twenty years prior, fortunately, scions from the golden spruce were harvested, so a few offspring were in existence, and I saw one years ago at the University of British Columbia Botanical Garden. It looked horrible in fall with burned needles, but I assume that now that it is more established, it might look quite good. Gaston, Oregon's climate is more brutal than the fog-shrouded Queen Charlottes, and for us it will burn in full sun. Unfortunately with too much shade it will be greenish, so we site it with morning sun and afternoon shade. To readers of this blog who crave more information, you are encouraged to acquire John Vaillant's The Golden Spruce, a fascinating, but somewhat botanically naive, account of the sacred tree.

Pinus contorta

Continuing, we come to Pinus contorta, and I must confess my previous error, when I described last week that the cultivar 'War Bonnet' was a "Lodgepole Pine," or Pinus contorta, when I was informed that it is truly a Pinus thunbergii, a cultivar of "Japanese Black Pine." I took the photos, and how could I have not known? From the very beginning I was wrong, and I should have known better. So here I am, "Blogger-san," as I have been called, spewing out erroneous information. Ah well, my children remind me that I keep repeating the same stories, re-telling the same jokes...and Seth can barely tolerate coming to work anymore, and I carry on as if everything is completely original and valid.

Pinus contorta ssp. murrayana
Pinus contorta ssp. latifolia

Pinus contorta is quite a variable species, ranging from Pinus contorta ssp. contorta, the "Shore Pine" to Pinus contorta ssp. latifolia, the "Lodgepole Pine" to Pinus contorta ssp. murrayana, the "Sierra Lodgepole Pine" to Pinus contorta ssp. bolanderi, the "Mendocino Shore Pine." Ssp. contorta can be found directly above Oregon's Pacific coast, while ssp. latifolia is halfway up Mt. Hood at 5,000' elevation, and even further east into Idaho and eventually the Rocky Mountains. Various cultivars can be interesting, but the species itself is really only attractive when you consider its site; so in other words, ssp. contorta is picturesque when you see gnarled wind-swept specimens close to the ocean, and latifolia is attractive when seen as an "alpine" denizen at high elevations.

Pinus contorta' Spaan's Dwarf'

Pinus contorta 'Chief Joseph'

Pinus contorta 'Taylor's Sunburst'

We used to grow Pinus contorta 'Spaan's Dwarf', an interesting irregular upright with short green needles. Unfortunately it could become infested with pine adelgid, so we tossed them all. As I have revealed before, we are currently enamored with 'Chief Joseph' and 'Taylor's Sunburst', and both remain "hot" in horticulture.

The "Sugar Pine," Pinus lambertiana, takes its common name from its sweet, gummy sap. The famed Scottish naturalist, John Muir, found it the "best of sweets, better than maple sugar," and continues, "Indians are fond of it, but on account of its laxative properties, only small quantities may be eaten...." I've also nibbled at the little droplets, and I guess I enjoyed it in a "woodsy" way, but I was afraid I'd get my mouth gummed shut if I ate too much, or perhaps plugged up at the other end.

Pinus lambertiana was introduced into science by David Douglas, and named for Aylmer Bourke Lambert, a big-shot British botanist and one of the first fellows of the Linnean Society, one who was clearly Mr. Conifer of his time, and one who had the power to advance the career of the low-standing David Douglas. Douglas first saw a cone sample, the largest of all the Pinus species, while in the Columbia River area, and set off to the south to find the tree. He was guided by an Indian, and found what he was looking for in the area of Roseburg in southern Oregon. Douglas used his gun to shoot out some cones, for Pinus lambertiana is the tallest of any Pinus species, but that aroused the attention of eight not so friendly-looking natives armed with bows, arrows and spears. A tense standoff ensued, for Douglas was armed with rifle and pistol, and after some time the Indians indicated they wanted his tobacco. Douglas agreed, but first insisted they provide him with more cones. As they retreated from sight, he picked up the three cones he already had and took off running. Afraid of being caught and murdered, Douglas covered a lot of miles, but still worried that eventually he would be done for, so he spent the night with the gun at his side. The account was told by Douglas himself in his diary, and let's hope he didn't embellish any of it.

Pinus lambertiana cone

Pinus lambertiana is not only the tallest of the pines (up to 269'), it is the fourth tallest of all coniferous species, after only Sequoia sempervirens, Sequoiadendron giganteum and Pseudotsuga menziesii. On the western slopes of the Sierra Mountain range, one goes to visit the "Giant Redwoods," to see the most massive trees on earth, Sequoiadendron giganteum, but the "Sugar Pines" hog the redwoods of some of their glory because they too are enormous. Furthermore, the "Sugar's" cones are the longest of any Pinus species, and you can see that the two girls above are very impressed. I am not aware of any cultivars of lambertiana.

Juniperus communis

Juniperus communis is not only native to Oregon, but also to other areas of the United States, Europe and Asia. The "Common Juniper," which I have seen around the world, is barely noticeable, and no one would ever call it beautiful or majestic, but it is evergreen and persists, often in poor soils or harsh conditions. It can grow as a groundcover, a gnarly bush or as an upright small tree.

Juniperus communis 'Compressa'

Juniperus communis 'Seucia Nana'

Juniperus communis 'Gold Cone'

There are a number of worthy cultivars of Juniperus communis however. An excellent rock garden selection is 'Compressa', and I have seen a tight three-foot specimen that was claimed to be forty years old. 'Seucia Nana' is similar, but just a little more wide, but the two cultivars always looked alike in my nursery when small. The key to growing both of these is to keep water and fertilizer at a minimum, otherwise they will bolt and ultimately flop open. 'Gold Cone' forms a narrow pillar, but more wide than the former two. Foliage is bright yellow and will not burn in full sun.

Juniperus communis ssp. hemis-phaerica

Juniperus communis ssp. hemis-phaerica

Juniperus communis 'Hemispherica' is another excellent rock garden choice. However, it is not a cultivar, but rather a subspecies, and should be correctly spelled ssp. hemis-phaerica. It comes from mountainous areas in southern Europe and the Near East, and even into north Africa. It usually forms a round bun.

Juniperus communis 'Silver Star'

Juniperus communis 'Silver Star' was discovered on the slopes of Silver Star Mountain in southwest Washington state. I discovered it as a branch mutation on a low sprawling host, but decided to pass it up because it was summer, and obviously the "wrong" time to propagate. I was chided by my hiking partner, Reuben Hatch (the deer killer), and he asked, "How do you know?" So I obligingly collected a few pieces of scion, and the experiment was successful. 'Silver Star' can be pretty at times, but too often the white flecks would burn in Oregon's sun, so I discontinued it...but in other areas of the country it might be a "doer."

Abies grandis 'Van Dedem's Dwarf'

I'll conclude the coniferous species native to Oregon with a few of the "True Firs." Abies grandis is indeed a "Grand Fir," or so thought David Douglas who named and introduced it. It is the largest of the firs and can grow up to 250', especially because it is the lowest elevation fir from Oregon (known as "Lowland Fir"). There is not much for cultivars, but we grow 'Van Dedem's Dwarf', a congested little freak with bulbous buds. 'Johnsoni' forms a tall narrow spire, and was discovered growing in Farmer John Johnson's pasture on the lower Columbia River in 1897. Children are delighted when instructed to crush the Grand Fir's needles, then asked to describe the smell. They're not really sure, they cannot really say, but when you suggest "tangerine," they all nod in approval.

Abies amabilis is a "Silver Fir," and was also collected by David Douglas. It was named for its beauty, as amabilis is Latin for "lovely," especially due to the needles' silvery undersides. It is found in mountainous habitats, but sometimes it is difficult to identify apart from Abies procera and Abies lasiocarpa. I mentioned this to a state forester, who offered that they can hybridize, to further add to the difficulty of identification. I don't know whether that is true or not, but he gets the same salary even if he was wrong.

Abies amabilis 'Indian Gold'

Abies amabilis 'Indian Heaven'

Abies amabilis 'Procumbens'

Abies amabilis 'Spreading Star'

Some of the cultivars of Abies amabilis include two spreaders, 'Procumbens' and 'Spreading Star', and two new variegated clones, 'Indian Gold' and 'Indian Heaven', although the latter two are untested.

Abies procera

Abies procera, the "Noble Fir," was in fact long called Abies nobilis...until Harvard botanist Alfred Rehder of the Arnold Arboretum realized that nobilis had been used for another species. David Douglas liked to propose species names that properly honored the trees that he discovered, like magnifica, grandis, amabilis, and venusta (beautiful). The species name, procera, means "very tall or long," but I don't know if that refers to the trees or the cones (which are much longer than with Abies amabilis). By the way Abies, meaning "rising one," is from Latin abeo, a tall tree or ship. Abies procera is native to Oregon and Washington, and the world champion rose to 278 feet tall, but lost its top 27 feet in a wind storm. Due to the tree's girth, it still remains the world's champion.

Abies procera

I've relayed before that the "Noble Fir" has been the Buchholz family favorite for a Christmas tree for over thirty years, and next year will be no different.

Abies procera 'Blaue Hexe'

Abies procera 'Glauca Nana'

Abies procera 'Glauca Nana'

Abies procera 'Glauca Nana'

Abies procera 'La Graciosa'

Abies procera 'Glauca Prostrata Hupp'

Abies procera 'Glauca Prostrata Hupp'

Cultivars of procera include 'Blaue Hexe', obviously from Germany, and meaning "Blue Witch's Broom," and though difficult to keep alive and well, it is a sparkling little gem for a rock garden when happy. 'Glauca Nana' is an irregular dwarf, often as broad as tall. 'La Graciosa' can grow in a couple of ways: sometimes it is a low, full weeper, and sometimes it shoots skyward as the photos demonstrate. 'Glauca Prostrata Hupp' is not a nomenclaturally correct name, but I admit that it was coined by me thirty years ago, but just as a way of keeping track of it. The origin was Drake's Crossing Nursery of Oregon, as a seedling in their Christmas plantation. The Hupps, the owners, can't recall such a seedling, but admire its low spreading habit. We will occasionally prune out a vigorous leader, but for the most part, it takes care of itself.

Abies lasiocarpa

The last of Oregon's native firs is Abies lasiocarpa. It is often found at higher elevations than procera and amabilis, and in some mountain parks, such as Indian Heaven in Washington state, the specimens can attain a most narrow, spire-like form. Huckleberries grow at their base, the numerous lakes teem with trout, the air is crisp and cool in autumn...and one has certainly found oneself in my idea of "heaven."

Abies lasiocarpa 'Duflon'

Abies lasiocarpa 'Duflon'

Abies lasiocarpa 'Tonis Mayer'

Abies lasiocarpa 'Glacier Blue'

Abies lasiocarpa 'Hurricane Blue'

Cultivars of lasiocarpa include 'Duflon', one of the most miniature of all conifers. The photo above shows 'Duflon' in spring, with its green new growth; by summer the color is gray-blue. It will grow to only 6" tall by 6" wide in ten years as a grafted plant; on its own roots it is much more tiny. 'Tonis Mayer' is of European origin, and is also very dwarf, and it features orange-brown buds. 'Glacier Blue' and 'Hurricane Blue' are slow-growing, but not dwarf, and were selected for steely-blue foliage.

Of course that is not all of Oregon's native coniferous species – I have left out many excellent trees – but you get the idea. The world is full of many beautiful places and beautiful trees, but for me nowhere is more wonderful than in Oregon.


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