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?

Ed-
Conifer Lover

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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.

Ed-
Conifer Lover

For the love of gold

We enjoyed our first heat wave after what seemed like an endless weather pattern that was not quite winter and not quite spring. Then, suddenly we found ourselves with temperatures in the 90’s for two days. Today, it’s back to rain, but at least it’s more typical of May in western Oregon with temps in the 60’s rather than the 40’s!

With our crazy weather the past several weeks, the conifers are running a few weeks late with their push of new growth. Even so, they are beginning to “wake up” and the color of their fresh spring growth always brightens my mood. One conifer that gives a double color show this time of year is Picea orientalis ‘Skylands.’

Picea orientalis 'Skylands'

‘Skylands’ is a beautiful golden yellow oriental spruce with short, soft, glossy needles. It forms a very tidy large tree with stunning color all year-round. The first sign of life is during the spring when small reddish pollen cones begin to develop all over the tree adding great color interest. A few weeks later, the buds will break forth with bright yellow foliar growth that is simply stunning. The color of this tree is something you really need to see in person for its full impact. The yellow color seems to intensify through the summer and matures to a rich golden yellow tone in autumn and then fades just a bit to a golden tinged green before the whole process begins again the next spring.

'Skylands' pollen cones

Hardy to Zone 4, great color, tidy large grower, and gives a happy sense of well-being all year long. I love this conifer, and I think you will too!

Ed-

Conifer Lover

Keep an eye out for witches’ brooms

Many of my favorite dwarf conifers were first discovered as witches’ brooms growing high in the branches of their parent trees.

“Witches’ brooms? What are you talking about, Ed?” You may ask.

I’m glad you asked! Horticulturally speaking, witches’ brooms are tightly congested formations of twigs and foliage that are often, but certainly not always, caused by pathogens – insects or other biological pests. Sometimes though, a witches’ broom develops because of a genetic mutation. When cuttings are taken from these genetic abnormalities, new plants can be propagated with the characteristics of the mutated original.

“Yes, Ed, that’s all well and good, but why use the term witches’ brooms? Where did that originate?”

Great question. According to an article I found in volume 27 numbers 4-5 of Arnoldia, a bulletin of the Arnold Arboretum, the term originated back in medieval Europe. The genetic or pathogen influenced growth looked a lot like the rustic brooms that were in common use. And hey, if they couldn’t explain it, there must have been a witch involved! Not only that, but apparently, these congested foliage areas were the Motel 6 of medieval witches because they were thought to be the resting places of witches when traveling!

These days, dedicated conifer collectors are always keeping an eye out for witches’ brooms in the trees overhead for the potential of discovering what may be a really great new dwarf conifer for the garden!

Picea orientalis 'Shadow's Broom'

One such conifer was discovered by Don Shadow. In 1984, he gave Jean Iseli some cuttings of his new discovery and these cuttings were grafted and evaluated for several years. Picea orientalis ‘Shadow’s Broom’ is a great plant with its bright spring-green new growth that quickly matures to one of the darkest and richest greens in the garden. It has short, glossy needles and slowly forms a broad mounding specimen. I’ve been growing mine in full sun where I needed a good dark foundation to my garden. It really stands out nicely surrounded by other more brightly colored dwarf conifers and other exciting garden plants.

Ed-
Conifer Lover

Thanks to my friends at Iseli Nursery for the photo link