The hunt begins

You may recall from past posts how much I enjoy the hunt for the first signs of tiny cones beginning to develop on my conifers. I must still be a kid at heart, playing a horticultural version of hide and seek, because I love looking for those colorful little signs that springtime has arrived. This year is definitely proving to be a week or two behind last year when it comes to my conifers beginning their spring flush of new growth and their display of male pollen cones and the female seed cones.

I believe that last year was an especially good year for cone production on the conifers in my area. Both my garden and the gardens and production fields at Iseli showed an abundance of cones like I’ve never seen before. It is still early, but by this time last year I was seeing more cone developement on more species and cultivars than I had ever seen in one season before. I asked my friends at Iseli what they were seeing this year, and their observation is very much like my own. Few cones developing on fewer plants. No doubt, for whatever reason, last year was an extraordinary year for the cone hunter!

Abies koreana 'Blauer Pfiff'
Abies koreana 'Blauer Pfiff' is a wonderful, low-growing form of Korean fir. One of it's wonderful features is that is seems to cone at a fairly young age.

But don’t let that stop you from getting out into your garden and taking a close look at your conifers. Take a strong magnifying lens or your camera with a quality macro mode, and you just might be surprised at the wonders you will discover.

I love the cone development on my Abies koreana ‘Blauer Pfiff’. The seed cones begin to develop shortly after the pollen cones and just prior to their spring flush of new foliage. The female cones will develop and mature for the next few months, becoming larger and slowly morphing from a spiraling column of reddish-pink pointed wings to a gradient of muted yellowish-green to pink stack of wings on an ever thickening body.

Pinus mugo 'Big Tuna'
Pinus mugo 'Big Tuna' is a great, compact, upright form with rich green foliage and colorful pollen cones.

Another favorite discovery right now is the colorful pollen cones of Pinus mugo ‘Big Tuna’ with their purplish tightly closed pockets of pollen awaiting just the right conditions to open and begin to disperse their fertile pollen into the air. As they mature and begin to elongate a little further, their color takes on some hints of yellow and red suggesting a tinge of orange before they fully open, empty themselves of pollen, and then dry and fade away after completing their important reproductive function.

I look forward to the next several weeks as the hunt will continue and I will discover more and more tiny treasures throughout my garden.

Conifer Lover

Silver in the garden

One of the reasons I love conifers so much is the grand assortment of cones that are borne on their branches. Springtime is great because all the plants in my garden begin to wake up after their winter’s nap and show new life. The beauty of fresh new conifer foliage is a wonderful highlight to the garden in spring. Most of my attention is drawn by the new foliage on my conifers and Japanese maples, as well as the various flowering bulbs and perennials that begin their show in spring. With all that going on, it can be easy to miss the early cone development stages of some of my conifers. With young cones ranging in colors from scarlet red, to dark blue and purple, to yellowish green, and with their assortment of sizes and shapes, I want to be sure to discover every one in my garden.

'Silberlocke' cones and curved needles

Abies koreana ‘Horstmann’s Silberlocke’ is one conifer that sets its cones prolifically in the spring. The young, light yellowish green cones might be missed with casual observation, but by looking closely, one may find a treasure of small, highly detailed cones among the upper branches of even young trees. Later in the season, as the cones mature, they become a darker brownish purple color and are often found to be oozing a significant amount of resin. The cones are a real bonus since ‘Horstmann’s Silberlocke’ is already a great conifer even if you don’t have a particular interest in cones. The “Silberlocke” translates to “silver lock” because the  green needles curve upward around each branch exposing their bright white undersides. The overall effect looks like silvery locks of hair.

Abies koreana 'Silberlocke'

The tree grows into a formal upright conical shape that can look great as a lone specimen commanding all attention, or placed in a large border with other colorful conifers and flowering plants. I purchased my ‘Horstmann’s Silberlocke’ about 18 years ago through a special package deal that the American Conifer Society was promoting. My tree is now close to 15 feet tall and a specimen that always draws “oooos” and “ahhhs” from my guests.

Conifer Lover