Unusual looking conifers can be purchased in many garden centers or nurseries. Different than the traditional spruce or pine that will grow many feet tall. These unusual conifers have weeping, twisted, or slower growing dwarf branches, with bright blue, variegated or yellow needles. You will either love them because they are so different or hate them because they are --- so different.
The conifer below is a weeping form of a Norway Spruce, called "Formanek". The branches bend over and grow towards the ground, forming a skirt around the base of the tree. This plant was growing in the display garden at Iseli Nursery in Boring Oregon.
Other unusual conifers can be very small and compact, with branches only growing about 1/2" per year. Below is a mature dwarf variety of a white pine called 'Sea Urchin'. This plant was growing in the conifer garden at the New York Botanical Gardens. Sea Urchin will only grow about 3-4 ft wide and can be planted in most sunny gardens without fear of overgrowing its spot.
White pines will typically grow very large, sometimes planted in a row as a screen on a large tract of land, or in a public park. It is a fast going tree. Much different than Sea Urchin, which is also in the same plant family.
There are many unusual blue conifers. One of my favorites are the blue weeping conifers. This weeping blue atlas cedar is growing in my own garden , and it appears to want to take over my yard, Branches can grow 12-14" per year. Weeping very gracefully in all directions. It has been in this spot for about 22 yrs and is the focal point of my front yard.
Cedars are typically very large and upright , usually not found in a front yard, unless you own a several acres.
So where do these unusual conifers come from. White pine and Norway spruce grow in the forests of Pennsylvania, yet I have never come across a weeping plant or a dwarf plant along the trail. Some of these unusual conifers result because of abnormal growths on branches called Witches’-brooms. They are caused by a number of factors that result in a great proliferation of shoots with short internodes that can look like a bundle of twigs. Some branches bend or weep, others appear as a ball-shaped dwarf plant growing in a tree. Propagation of these witches’-brooms found in confers, is the major source of many dwarf or weeping cultivars.
The name witches broom resulted because early discoveries of these abnormal plant growths were found on trees growing in cemeteries. And people believed these were places that witches rested when flying through the night skies. So it was not a big surprise, when I found my first witches -broom on a noway spruce in a cemetery .
About 15 years ago I was working at a church, installing some plants. One of the conifers that I was planting was a beautiful weeping Norway spruce. I frequently use unique plants in my designs and this church had the perfect location for a weeping plant. I noticed that on one of the branches of this weeping spruce was a witches broom. Unlike most brooms, it was not on a branch 50 ft off the ground, but it was at eye level. So at just the right time I took a cutting and grafted this small weeping branch onto the rootstock of a Norway Spruce. Grafting is the best way to propagate these unusual plants. With a little TLC my newly grafted witches- broom grew and 12 years later this is what I have.