Friday, March 15, 2013

Mincher Plants

Saya Buchholz, age 7

The word tiny is of uncertain origin, but everyone knows it refers to small, minute, puny, diminutive, teeny-weeny or even teensy-weensy. "Miniature" is from Latin minuere, to reduce or diminish; and further back is meion, Greek for "less" or "lesser." One day I was explaining to my daughter, Saya, that many plants are "miniature," and she repeated by calling them "mincher" plants. Saya is full of broken English, especially since Japanese is her primary language, and sometimes English is a mystery to her. But her brain is still active and kinda accurate, and, for example: one of her favorite foods is "cheese fon-dip."

Anyway, today's discussion is about them "mincher" plants. I won't prescribe a certain parameter that constitutes a miniature plant, as in inches of growth per year, or what the ultimate size will be in, say, twenty years, because that is subject to too many variables. I'll just say that "miniature" plants are pretty damn small, at least compared to the vast bulk of the earth's flora, and ones that we make very little (if any) profit on.

Picea omorika 'Nana'

Pinus leucodermis 'Gnome'

We can now chuckle at the many cultivar designations for dwarf plants such as "Elf," "Gnome," "Pygmy," "Compacta," "Nana" etc., names that were popular from twenty to two hundred years ago. Naive some seem today, when a thirty-year-old specimen has grown beyond any human's height or girth, such as Crataegus monogyna 'Inermis Compacta', as I have seen a thirty foot tall specimen by thirty feet wide (in RBG Edinburgh); or the many "Nana's," such as Picea omorika 'Nana,' which grew into a ten-foot tall pyramid – with a ten foot base – at our nursery in only thirty years, or Pinus mugo 'Gnom', which grew to six feet tall by seven feet wide in twenty eight years, or Pinus leucodermis 'Gnome' which grew to seven feet tall in only twenty years; and many etc's.

Acer palmatum 'Hupp's Dwarf'

I wish I could report a "damn small" palmatum maple, and 'Hupp's Dwarf' would certainly come to many minds, but in the nursery I have grown a number of them to four feet wide by three feet tall in fourteen years, so they're not at all "mincher." Mr. Crispa of Oregon once gave me another, his 'Sir Happy', which was much more dwarf, but it died in its miniscule pot when the heat went off in a winter greenhouse.

Acer palmatum 'Fairy Hair'

Acer palmatum 'Fairy Hair'

The original Acer palmatum 'Fairy Hair' was sold six years ago to a high bidder, and may it prosper in his collection. The first two grafts from the original, still in my nursery, are actually larger, for remember that they've been propagated onto random seedling rootstocks, all of which must be more vigorous than the Fairy Hair's root system. A happy plant, at least in the Buchholz Nursery greenhouses, can grow up to eighteen inches a year in a container. So even our wispy little 'Fairy Hairs' aren't miniature. I think the most dwarf maple I grow is a twenty-year-old Acer tataricum ssp. ginnala 'Little Elf', an original seedling that grew to two feet tall by two feet wide in ten years. What's odd is that at twenty years of age it is still the same size; it produces leaves and looks healthy, but it just doesn't grow.

Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Nana (True)'

Many of the Hinoki buns are certainly miniature, though, and we produce a dozen cultivars or more. Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Nana (True)' was a name invented by me, but it really should just be 'Nana'. I added the (True) part to distinguish it from 'Nana Gracilis', for the latter is frequently and incorrectly termed 'Nana' in wholesale nurseries and garden centers. The real 'Nana' is often flat-topped with tiers of extremely dense fans of dark green foliage. It was introduced from Japan by Philip von Siebold in the 1860's. 'Nana Gracilis' was introduced in England in the 1870's, and is at least ten times faster-growing than 'Nana'.

Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Hage'

Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Golden Hage'

Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Butterball'

Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Hage' is similar to 'Nana', but has more of a brown-green color. It was introduced by Hage and Co. from Boskoop, Holland in the 1920's. There is now a 'Golden Hage', which is yellowish-green at best. Much more brilliant is 'Butterball', and it grows at about the same rate as the true 'Nana' and 'Hage'. I don't know the origin of 'Butterball', but I first saw it in a Dutch nursery about twelve years ago. Often it is listed as 'Butter Ball' – two words – but I received my start as just one word.

Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Stoneham'

Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Densa'

Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Green Cushion'

Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Flabelliformis'

Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Nana (True)'

Other tight buns include 'Stoneham', 'Densa' and 'Green Cushion'. They are all similar when small, though I'm perhaps a little more partial to 'Green Cushion', a cheerful green gumdrop. The photo above of 'Flabelliformis' reveals an irregular animal-like shape. This ancient specimen is growing at the RBG in Edinburgh, proof that the buns don't necessarily stay round forever. Also above is our forty year old specimen of 'Nana (True)' which has decided to grow upright and wayward.

Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Moonshine'

Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Moonlight Lace'

Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Moonshine' is a Buchholz discovery and introduction from twenty years ago. When produced as a rooted cutting, it tends to grow low and spreading. The photo of the broad-upright form was the first propagated as a graft, onto Thuja occidentalis 'Smaragd', with the original mutation coming from Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Kosteri'. For us 'Moonshine' grows at about one-third the rate of 'Kosteri'. 'Moonshine' should not be confused with 'Moonlight Lace', for the latter is more vigorous, and it has large portions of pure white which turn to pure brown in hot weather. We are happy with our 'Moonshine' and have no interest in 'Moonlight Lace'.

Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Bess'

John Mitsch

One of my very favorite of the Hinoki miniatures is Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Bess', and that's because it forms a dense narrow pillar. Foliage is rich dark green with short branches clinging to the main trunk. The photo above is of a specimen given to me by the noted plantsman John Mitsch, who reckons it to be over forty years old. Of course, Mr. Mitsch is rather narrow himself, and he is over eighty years old! He was an important and generous mentor to me when I first started my nursery, and though he was quite aware that I was copying him in many ways, he still continued to help me. If I have any decency or altruism toward the young guns of horticulture, it is because of John Mitsch's influence.

Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Chirimen'

The final Chamaecyparis obtusa miniature that I'll mention is 'Chirimen', which I have featured a few times before. It might be one that you would categorize as "dwarf" rather than "miniature." But again, I think that is an issue of whether the plant is on its own diminutive roots, or if it sits upon borrowed Thuja roots. I don't know if we make any money growing 'Chirimen', but it's always nice to supply a plant that the market clamors for.

Concerning Chamaecyparis obtusa cultivars, I encourage the reader to peruse Krussmann's Manual of Cultivated Conifers, or Hillier's Manual of Trees and Shrubs. These two publications will occasionally provide the history of certain cultivars, whether miniature or more large-growing. Many were imported from Japan in the 1860's, by both Robert Fortune and Philip von Siebold, both memorable plantsmen whose efforts should be recognized and appreciated. Some obtusa cultivars include 'Argentea' (Fortune), 'Filicoides' (Siebold), 'Gracilis' (Siebold), 'Lycopodioides' = 'Rashahiba' (Siebold), 'Aurea' (Fortune), 'Pygmaea' (Fortune) and 'Nana' (Siebold). Know that the obtusa species was once identified as Retinospora obtusa, and is one of the most important timber trees in Japan. Even today it is considered sacred by followers of the Shinto faith. Both Siebold and another horticultural hero of mine, J.G. Veitch, introduced the Hinoki species into Europe in 1861....which eventually paved the way for me to have a horticultural career. Thanks, guys.

Picea abies 'Little Gem'

Picea abies 'Little Gem'

Enough of Retinosporas, let's investigate some miniature spruce. But first, I'll repeat again the concept that a plant may have miniature characteristics if grown on its own roots, but that if produced by grafting onto a seedling rootstock, such as vigorous Picea abies, or "Norway Spruce," the rate of growth can accelerate to the point where you would no longer deem it to be a miniature. A case in point is Picea abies 'Little Gem', which was very popular when I began my career. I have a couple of specimens that are on their own roots, and measure three feet tall by five feet wide at thirty six years of age. I also grafted a crop on Norway seedlings on twenty inch standards, and one was eventually planted out in the Display Garden. At twenty five years of age the dense ball had reached the ground, and it measured seven feet tall by seven feet wide, or about three times the growth rate as those on their own roots. I once made the same point to a "plantsman" who was far more smart than me, and he said "That's not possible since the DNA is the same." I could only conclude that his own DNA strands were tangled into knots.

Picea abies 'Hasin'

Picea abies 'Wagnerii'

Picea abies 'Wagnerii'

Picea abies 'Cornell Broom'

Picea abies 'Cornell Broom'

Picea abies 'Jana'

Picea abies 'Humphrey's Gem'

There are numerous cultivars of Picea abies miniatures, many that would be alike to the general public, but for the conifer connoisseur we can detect their subtle differences, whether the characteristics be good or bad. 'Hasin' is very cute, and a favorite of many, but it can burn when it's over 100 F. in Oregon' non-humid summer. The same with 'Wagnerii', which is possibly even more tiny. 'Cornell Broom' is sweet; it came to me from the late Ed Rezek of New York state, so I assume it was a broom found at Cornell University. 'Jana' is more soft than those described above, with thin needles that are almost blue-green. 'Humphrey's Gem' is the more vigorous of the group, but is still smaller than 'Little Gem'. It was possibly named for the old conifer geezer, Humphrey Welch, from England. He stayed the night with me years ago, but misplaced his false teeth in the morning. We searched desperately for an hour, but finally left without them, for he had an appointment over an hour's drive away. Eventually his teeth made their appearance, so I dropped them into a plastic baggie and drove a long distance to catch up with his mouth, thus wasting much of my day.

Picea glauca 'Echiniformis'

Picea glauca miniatures seem to appear in two different forms, as low spreading buns, and as albertiana upright pyramids. Picea glauca 'Echiniformis' was developed in France in the 1950's, and is the flattened-globe form. Needles are very tiny and blue in color, and it used to be called the "blue nest spruce" in the trade. Unfortunately it was more difficult to propagate than the green "nest spruce," Picea abies 'Nidiformis', and grew way too slow to suit most nurserymen. I used to grow it anyway, but one year the propagation crew stuck cuttings from the longer, more vigorous shoots, which in effect were the reversions (as they should have known), so we tossed them in the garbage and I haven't propagated it since.

Picea glauca 'Blue Planet'

Picea glauca 'Blue Planet' originated as a mutation on an 'Echiniformis' in Germany, and was introduced in 1993. It is also very tight, but with a more round shape, and is attractive for its sparkling buds.

Picea glauca 'Laurin'
Picea glauca 'Pixie'

Picea glauca 'Pixie Dust'

The Picea glauca albertiana uprights include 'Laurin', 'Zukerhutt' and 'Pixie'. They take forever to achieve any size, and then can become horribly afflicted with red-spider mites. And even if well-grown and problem free, who's going to spend a hundred dollars on a sixteen-to-twenty year old tree? I do like 'Pixie Dust' though, a cute miniature which features a gold flush on the season's second growth.

Picea pungens 'Porcupine'

Picea pungens 'Yvette'

Picea pungens 'Waldbrunn'

I'll conclude the spruces with a few pungens cultivars. 'Porcupine' and 'Yvette' are similar, with 'Porcupine' perhaps the more dwarf. Both are silvery-blue and sharp (hence "pungent" = pungens) to the touch, but they can glitter nicely in a rock garden or trough. More subdued is 'Waldbrunn', a blue-green miniature that is more soft to the touch. It was selected as a seedling in Waldbrunn Germany in 1984, and I received it from true Germans (Horst and Linda Jeddeloh), so I assume I have the correct plant. Those who suggest that it "shines with silver-blue" are probably talking about something different.

Pinus mugo 'Mini Mini'

Pinus mugo 'Mini Mini'

Pinus mugo 'Mr. Wood'

Pinus mugo 'Mr. Wood'

Miniature cultivars abound in the Pinus genus. Pinus mugo 'Mini Mini' was discovered as a witch's broom on the very dense Pinus mugo 'Mops', and we first started propagating it in the early 1990's. The original broom eventually died out, but the grafted offspring are bright and cheerful, and a twenty-year-old plant is only ten inches tall by fifteen inches wide. I had to discontinue production for it took at least eight or ten years to fill a one-gallon pot. More interesting is 'Mr. Wood', a seedling given to me by the late Edsal Wood. It features tiny blue needles with a slight curve. When he handed it to me "to try," I was certain that it was truly a Pinus parviflora seedling, until I went home and carefully removed a fascicle and counted only two needles (per the mugo species). A sister seedling was given to Larry of Stanley and Sons Nursery, who introduced his as "Fish Hook', for the needles did look like microscopic fish hooks. Those who insist that 'Mr. Wood' and 'Fish Hook' are the same are certainly wrong.

Pinus cembra 'Glauca'

The "Swiss Stone Pine," Pinus cembra, is a beautiful, but slow-growing species. I have a couple of specimen of 'Glauca' that are over fifty years old – they came via an old Dutchman's nursery, where I slaved on the bottom rung for a couple of years. His round-headed son was my age and supposedly the general manager, but I never once saw him do a lick of work. That's why it was pretty ridiculous when he often said, "if you're not Dutch, you're not much." If he had to write out the contraction "you're," he would have spelled it "your."

Pinus cembra 'Ortler'

Pinus cembra 'Tamansur'

I used to grow Pinus cembra 'Pygmaea', which was poorly named, for its growth rate was similar to the type. Krussmann says "This form is surely out of existence..." Well, I would encourage him to visit, except that he's dead. We do grow Pinus cembra 'Ortler' and 'Tamansur', two very miniature cultivars, which I imagine originated as witch's brooms in Europe.

Tsuga canadensis 'Minuta'

Speaking of minute, we continue to propagate Tsuga canadensis 'Minuta', which grows slowly into a flattened-bun shape. Fresh-green new growth contrasts nicely with the old dark-green foliage. 'Minuta' was discovered in Vermont in the 1920's, on a north slope of the Green Mountains. There were a number of dwarfs in the area, all surrounding a fifty year old tree that was only two feet tall, but bearing cones.

Tsuga canadensis 'Little Joe'

Thirty six year old Tsuga canadensis 'Little Joe'

Tsuga canadensis 'Little Joe' is about as tiny as 'Minuta', and apparently also originated as a seedling. The photos above show a specimen in a lush lath-house setting, which explains why the thirty six year old tree has stretched upward. It was given to me by John Mitsch, and he thought it was his most dwarf hemlock.

Tsuga canadensis 'Betty Rose'

Like 'Little Joe', our oldest specimen of Tsuga canadensis 'Betty Rose' has also stretched with shade in a nearby location. It is unbelievably large at seven feet tall, probably the largest in existence, and when visitors see it sparkling with white new growth in spring, they must imagine that I am a veritable plant wizard with supernatural growing powers. Typically 'Betty Rose' will grow more broad than tall, and for one to reach basketball size is a notable accomplishment. The original was a seedling discovered in Maine by Frank Heckman, probably in the 1950's or 1960's, and named for his wife. Hopefully she was as pretty as the wonderful hemlock.

Abies lasiocarpa 'DuFlon'

Abies, the "True Firs," have quite a number of miniatures which arise as seedlings and as witch's broom mutations. Abies lasiocarpa, the "Alpine Fir," features a most miniature form called 'DuFlon' which was found by the DuFlons while hiking in Washington state's Olympic Peninsula in 1954. They successfully transplanted the original into their Seattle garden, but in a few years it succumbed to an unknown cause. Fortunately an alpine gardening specialist, Ed Lohbrunner of Victoria, British Columbia was allowed to take three cuttings (while it was alive, duh) and they are the source of all on earth today. 'DuFlon' can be rooted, but you're lucky to get a piece an eighth of an inch long, and the danger is that someone on the watering crew can jet them out of the propagating media. It is therefore better to graft, but one must use two or three year old wood. Imagine my consternation when I discovered that someone had stepped on my oldest plant, which was about the size of a grapefruit when it was fifteen years old. No one ever confessed, though the culprit must be heavy with guilt; but at least he is still alive, if he is still alive.

Abies concolor 'Z-Mark'

Abies koreana 'Cis'

Abies koreana 'Cis'

Abies koreana 'Cis'

Abies koreana 'Tundra'

We grow a number of other Abies miniatures, such as concolor 'Z-Mark', Abies koreana 'Cis' and Abies koreana 'Tundra', but I fear you're growing weary of all of my coniferous freaks.

Draba brunifolia

Arabis suendermannii

But before I finish, I'll discuss some "alpine" plants that we have in production, which will perhaps surprise some of you. These are all very choice, besides being just tiny, and they make wonderful companion plants for our pumice planters and our cedar alpine troughs. Draba brunifolia only grows to a couple of inches tall, and forms small mounds of soft needle-like foliage. Arabis suendermannii has dark leathery leaves, and in March pure white flowers rise above the foliage. This miniature "Rock Cress" is very hardy and problem-free.

Androsace sempervivoides 'Susan Joan'

Androsace sempervivoides 'Susan Joan' is a cutie that slowly spreads with tiny tufted one inch rosettes. Flowers are pink with a yellow eye, and they arise two or three inches above the silver-gray foliage.

Dianthus 'Blue Hills'

Dianthus 'Blue Hills'

Dianthus 'Inshriach Dazzler'

Dianthus 'Inshriach Dazzler'

We have a nice collection of Dianthus, commonly known as "Pinks," and two exceptional cultivars display pinkish flowers just above the foliage. 'Blue Hills' is indeed blue in foliage, and it forms a miniature hump. 'Inshriach Dazzler' is a miniature hump as well, with blue-green foliage, and sizable flowers that arise just a few inches. It was named after an estate in Scotland, and it truly is a dazzler.

So, there you have some of our "mincher" plants, and daughter Saya loves them too. The great thing about these treasures is that a small garden can consist of a great number of plants. Flowers appear at different times, including the conifers, and there's always something of interest. Just realize that most plants featured in this blog, while wonderful, are loss-leaders for this unbusiness-like owner, so you may wish to pay more than our asking price.

Saya with her plants


  1. I commend Mr. Buchholz for presenting C.o. Golden Hage, it is a outstanding minature ! Of course I suppose I am a little partial, I was the breeder. Leonardo A. Gambardella

  2. I have a nice young Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Moonlight Lace' that's reaching about the 2'x2' mark. Despite getting into the high 80s-mid 90s for weeks at a time last year, it developed no browning whatsoever. Morning sun, afternoon shade, loose sandy soil and very little supplemental watering now that it's established. I would consider it an excellent selection for its type to grow here in Wisconsin. I would also consider 'Moonshine' excellent, and other than the names they couldn't be easily confused, as 'Moonshine' is denser and more slow growing.