If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you’ve discovered my fascination with fantasy creatures of folklore and modern fiction. I loved fairy-tales as a child, and I presume that some of that influence inspires my love of dwarf, miniature and unusual conifers. Many of them look like they were born in our imaginations!
Most everyone is familiar with a very common conifer (though they may not realize it) called the Dwarf Alberta Spruce. Picea glauca ‘Conica’ was one of the first dwarf conifers I learned way-back-when. A very slow growing form of the White Spruce, ‘Conica’ was discovered in 1904 near Lake Leggan, Alberta, Canada. Much slower growing than its parent, ‘Conica’ is a cone-shaped small tree with rich grass-green foliage.
One of the interesting “features” of ‘Conica’ is that it can be genetically unstable. Sometimes a branch will “sport” or “revert” and begin to grow with needles and growth rates very different from the parent plant. A reversion occurs when a new branch begins to grow at a rate similar to the species, Picea glauca. Left unchecked, these types of growth will quickly out grow and overtake the slower habit of ‘Conica’ leaving the gardener with a large tree that they did not intend.
Other odd growth sports can be found from time to time and they may range from very tight, congested branches and tiny foliage called witches’ brooms, to foliage of a different color as with, P.g. ‘Arneson’s Blue’ with its mottled shades of blue foliage or P.g. ‘Rainbow’s End’ with its golden yellow second flush of growth each year.
Two of my favorite cultivars were discovered as witches’ brooms and have been given names right out of fantasy literature. The first is P. g. ‘Humpty Dumpty’ with its slowly mounding conical shape. ‘Humpty Dumpty’ grows at about two thirds the rate of ‘Conica’ with perfectly scaled, small needles of rich green. Perfect for the rock garden or in containers.
Picea glauca ‘Hobbit’ is a half sized delight in the garden. As a youngster, ‘Hobbit’ is a plump little buddy in the rock garden or on the patio in a container. With maturity, his broad conical form will develop. Both cultivars have a tremendous amount of character as they grow and mature and neither will outgrow even the smallest gardens.