Picea orientalis ‘Skylands’ is a majestic golden colored spruce tree. One of its desirable features is that it begins to set cones at a fairly young age. The purplish red cones, both, female and male, add real color contrast and interest against the golden yellow foliage of this beautiful tree.
One of the advantages of a tree with prolific annual cone formation is that thousands and thousands of seed may be collected and germinated. Iseli Nursery began germinating seed collected from the two large specimens of ‘Skylands’ located in the Jean Iseli Memorial Garden in the early 1990’s. Literally thousands of seeds have been carefully planted, germinated and observed ever since.
Naturally, when growing thousands of conifer seedlings, some variation will be apparent. Some of the seedlings appear almost identical to the parent cultivar with similar foliage color and rate of growth. Others may have a tendency to be more green in color or even have a faster, more open habit than the original. What Iseli is looking for though are plants with a more compact form, more intense golden yellow color, resistance to foliar sunburn, resistance to pests, etc.
Over the years, selections with the best characteristics are made for continued observation. From time to time, some of the lesser seedlings are made available to collectors who may begin to propagate and distribute them as new cultivars. Meanwhile, back at the nursery, the folks at Iseli continue the evaluation process until one or two seedlings with extraordinary characteristics are chosen for production. Cuttings from those few selected new cultivars are then propagated and the inventory of those selections begins to expand. Eventually, those new cultivars are given names and made available to the retail market.
One of those original seedlings from back in the early ’90’s is coming very close to that final stage right now. Currently referred to as Picea orientalis ‘Skylands’ [#1 Seedling], this new cultivar is truly exciting! UPDATE: Iseli has just informed me that they are now marketing this exciting new plant with the name, Picea orientalis ‘Firefly’.
‘Skylands’ [#1 Seedling] ‘Firefly’ is a much more compact grower than its mother growing just 4-6 inches per year instead of the 12″+ annual growth rate of ‘Skylands’. The new cultivar also has brighter, lemon yellow foliage on densely clothed branches forming a compact golden pyramid. I suspect this small tree will grow tall in time but should remain comparatively narrow.
The photo above shows both the “mother” and “child” growing near one another in the garden at Iseli. The ‘Skylands’ in the background is just over 30 feet tall at perhaps 35 years old, while
[#1 Seedling] ‘Firefly’ is nearly 42 inches tall at 17 years. Seedlings tend to grow more slowly in their younger years and as they begin to mature, their annual growth rate stabilizes.
I am looking forward to this outstanding new cultivar being named and made available to the retail market. I know several people that feel they don’t have room in their gardens for ‘Skylands’. When they see this new cultivar, they will jump at the chance to have its bright golden foliage and compact form highlight a special place in their own landscape.