Hooray, they’re here! The first of the colorful little spring-time treasures have begun to show themselves. I caught my first glimpse of new developing cones just about two weeks ago. If you have been reading my blog for a few years, you will know that I always look forward to spring when the conifers begin to “flower” and their colorful little cones emerge on last year’s stems. Both male and female cones will show up along stems and upper branches on many conifers – some at a very young age, others after they have aged some years. And this treasure hunt is not limited to early spring, some conifers develop their new cones on the current seasons new flush of growth, so cone hunting season can last into summer.
The first cones I spotted this season were on a few different cultivars of Abies (fir) that I have in my garden. Abies balsamea ‘Tyler Blue’ is a blue foliage form of the Balsam fir and is a very attractive tree. I was doubly pleased when I first noticed that my young specimen began to develop cones last year. These cones are not as showy as some others with their brighter colors, but the light green new cones do stand out against the bluish foliage of this great tree. Over a period of weeks, as the cones mature, the main core of the cone begins to turn light lavender-purple while the light green “wings” remain. In a month or so, the cones will have swollen and become a more solid light purple color, eventually drying to brown over the summer and into autumn.
Another spring-time show stopper is Abies koreana ‘Silver Show’. This beautiful cultivar has very showy curved needles which are rich green on one side, and have a silvery white coating on the other. Due to the curve of the needle, its white side is exposed making the tree shimmer in any light at all – even in our gray Pacific Northwest weather. A big part of the show for me is the massive amount of purple cones that develop, in well-numbered clusters all over the upper side of the branches. My small tree had cones on it when I planted it several years ago, and it was just a young plant at the time. The skinny purple cones will fatten up and become a much deeper purple than the ‘Tyler Blue’ mentioned above.
One of the first spruce to show off its cones in my garden is Picea glauca ‘Mac’s Gold’. Not only do its bright pink cones emerge and begin to develop, but at the same time it begins to push its bright butter-yellow new foliage. This color combination is the cause of many a second look whenever my spring-time guests make their way to the back garden. As summer arrives, the golden foliage darkens to a light green and the cones become darker and dry to a tan and brown with warmer temperatures and longer days.
There is so much happening in the garden right now and everyday I try to make time to take a stroll, seeking out whatever tiny treasures may be emerging in the splendor of spring!