Of mutants and pixies

A family of pixies has moved into my garden. It’s true, but perhaps not quite what you might be thinking.

Last time I talked about two miniature forms of the Dwarf Alberta Spruce. I gave a brief explanation of the horticultural terms, Sport, Reversion and Witches’ Broom, all referring to mutations – new or different growth forms –  emerging from their respective parent plants. This time I’ll present for you the family tree of an exciting group of dwarf and miniature conifers originating from the White Spruce (Picea glauca).

We learned last time that Picea glauca ‘Conica’ was discovered near the beginning of the 20th century in Alberta, Canada. This new form of Picea glauca is a dwarf version of the White Spruce with a greatly reduced growth rate and nice conical shape. Many new cultivars have been discovered as mutated growth emanating from a small percentage of the millions and millions of Dwarf Alberta Spruce clones growing around the world.

Picea glauca Pixie
Picea glauca ‘Pixie’

One of those mutations was propagated and named ‘Pixie’ for its miniature growth rate and tiny conical habit. One day at Iseli Nursery, an employee discovered that one, in a crop of ‘Pixie,’ had a variegated sport. In fact, by the time the employee made this discovery, the sport had become virtually the entire small plant. This mutation was evaluated for a number of years, found to hold true to its distinctive characteristic and became the “mother” plant for a new cultivar which became known as, ‘Pixie Dust’.

Picea glauca Pixie Dust
Picea glauca ‘Pixie Dust’

‘Pixie Dust’ is even a little slower growing than ‘Pixie’ with the same nice miniature conical habit. What makes it particularly exciting is that mid-way through the growing season, it appears to be sprinkled with golden pixie dust with its golden colored second push of new foliage. Since not all the buds push at the same time, and since the golden color fades to rich green, ‘Pixie Dust’ makes me think of gold dust shimmering in the sunlight (in very slow motion).

Picea glauca Pixie Dust Sport #1
Picea glauca ‘Pixie Dust’ Sport #1

But the story doesn’t end there. A sport was discovered growing on a ‘Pixie Dust’ with faster growth but still within the dwarf growth range. This new sport has been propagated and is being evaluated at Iseli Nursery today. So far it is growing into a larger conically shaped plant with annual growth of 3 to 4 inches. Currently it is pushing its second flush and shows the same golden color as its parent.

So, we begin with a large forest tree that produces a dwarf cone shaped, highly popular cultivar, which itself produces a great many new cultivars through the magic of mutation. One of those mutations produces its own new cultivar, which at this time has also produced an exciting new form worthy of further evaluation.

Did you follow all that? Don’t worry, just enjoy the fantastic new conifers being introduced at your local fine garden centers and leave all the complicated science to the experts!

Conifer Lover