Who doesn’t love a firefly?

Six years ago I had an opportunity to spend a few weeks in the midwest. This was my first extended visit to that region of the country, and it was the first time I had seen fireflies in action. I remember it was sunset and we were walking along a path which followed the Mississippi river. All of a sudden we began to see soft little lights blinking on and off. There were only a few at first but as we continued along the path, and the light became more dim, the little blinking lights became greater in number. The seven year old girl who was the most excited of our guides that evening caught one of the little critters so that we could get a closer look. Fascinating.

A year later I wrote a blog post about a fascinating new plant that my friends at Iseli had been observing for many years. In that post, I described how a large tree had developed seeds, those seeds were collected and germinated and the resulting seedlings were observed for many years. One of those exciting seedlings has been selected by Iseli Nursery and is ready to find its way into gardens all across the USA and Canada.

Picea orientalis ‘Firefly’ is an exciting new dwarf version of the Skylands spruce. Great color, hardy, slow growing and just darned cute!

Picea orientalis ‘Firefly’ has been under evaluation at Iseli Nursery for over twenty years. A few years ago it was selected out of a batch of seedlings and the propagation process began. First only a few small pieces of scion wood were available to graft and make new trees. As time went on, each new propagation would grow and yield scions of its own. Eventually, enough cuttings could be taken across all of the crops to produce a reliable number of new trees per year. The time has now come for Iseli to begin marketing this exciting new tree and ship it to independent garden centers all across the continent.

Growing at approximately one third the rate of its mother tree (Picea orientalis ‘Skylands’), ‘Firefly’ will become a stunning, bright yellow, small specimen tree – perfect in today’s smaller gardens. A garden featuring a ‘Firefly’ and other colorful dwarf conifers will be filled with interesting color, form and texture all year long.

Who wouldn’t love to have a Firefly in their own garden?

Conifer Lover

Mother and child reunion

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.

Picea orientalis Skylands and one of its offspring
Picea orientalis ‘Skylands’ and one of its offspring

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.

#1 selected Skylands seedling
Picea orientalis ‘Firefly’

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.

Conifer Lover