Many of us are quite familiar with the phrase, “Naked as a Jay-bird,” although no one seems to agree on where, when or why it originated. It seems to me the most likely explanation refers to baby birds that have no feathers when hatched and for some time afterward. The phrase certainly refers to one being completely without clothing and in that state, like the little bird, somewhat helpless. Since I have never seen a naked jay-bird, and since I tend to think about conifers quite a lot, I’ve caught myself using the phrase, “Naked as a deciduous conifer,” much to the confusion of anyone nearby hearing my words. People usually give a little chuckle as they think quietly to themselves about how I must be starting to loose my mind.
Believe it or not, some conifers are exhibitionists. Yes, it’s true, some conifers shed every bit of foliage, completely exposing their bare branches and inner form. There are four genera of deciduous conifer in cultivation in North America: Larix (larch), Metasequoia (dawn redwood), Pseudolarix (golden larch) and Taxodium (bald cypress). Within each of the listed genera, there are several species and dozens of selected cultivars grown and marketed for home and commercial landscapes. Possibly the most popular deciduous conifer, with the most cultivars grown for the landscape, is Larix. With many different shapes and sizes available and color variances throughout the green and bluish tones, the larch alone could satisfy the gardener’s desire to include deciduous conifers in their garden. Other deciduous conifers are worthy for the garden as well, and below I list seven of my favorites.
Larix decidua ‘Pendula’ – Popular weeping larch with soft green foliage that turns golden in autumn.
Larix gmelinii ‘Romberg Park’ – an excellent dwarf form with an irregular mounding shape.
Larix laricina ‘Deborah Waxman’ – Formal, upright pyramidal form with blue-green foliage.
Taxodium distichum ‘Cascade Falls’ PP#12296 – Magnificent weeping form with rich green foliage.
Taxodium distichum ‘Peve Minaret’ – A dwarf, upright form with distinctive branching.
Metasequoia glyptostroboides ‘Gold Rush’ – Intensely colored golden yellow foliage make this a standout in the garden.
Psuedolarix amabilis – A large tree that can provide cooling shade in the summer and allow the warmth of the sun in winter.
Keep an eye out this autumn for conifers that turn golden yellow and then drop their foliage – it could be that you will have spotted a naked conifer!
Thanks to Iseli Nursery for the photo links.