Hello fellow readers, We chatted recently about grafted weeping cherry trees that can revert to their rootstock and shoot out straight branches, often flowering a different color. Matthew from Hope, NJ, asked if that’s what’s happening to his Alberta Spruce. “It looks like an alien tree is growing out from the side.”
The mystery of mutating Alberta Spruce
As it turns out, Alberta Spruce (Picea glauca ‘Conica’) is a naturally occurring dwarf of White Spruce (Picea glauca), initially spotted in Alberta, Canada, in 1904, hence the common name. So it’s not grafted or intentionally hybridized. Essentially something went whacky caused by a genetic mutation that became a popular new cultivar in the landscape industry. Matthew’s plant’s “alien tree” is a portion reverting to its regular growth.
While you can prune out the section sooner than later to avoid a big hole, “once you have it, you’ll always have it,” coached my go-to nurseryman Ben Jansen. The good news is because it’s a reverse mutation, not a disease, it won’t spread to other plants. So don’t worry about the other Alberta Spruce reverting, though I read up to ten percent of them do.
Alberta Spruce Design Tips
Speaking of Alberta Spruce, I often come upon a lineup along a road presumably planted to offer screening which always brings a giggle as they are very slow-growing. They’ll grow 10-12 feet in 25-30 years, so I suppose if used as screening in 25 years, mission accomplished. But until they mature, spacing them apart with a gap in the lineup makes me think of an ellipsis (…) at the end of a sentence.
Alberta Spruce remains conical in shape unless pruned into an ornamental shape such as spirals or poodles called a topiary. So once they grow together, they’ll look like a lineup of cones. But I’ve seen them in clever groupings, making me think of gnomes. You know, the mythical human-like figurines that Travelocity made famous.
Garden Gnome Folklore
Did you know that garden gnome lawn ornaments brought on trips and photographed in front of famous landmarks is a practice called gnoming? Maybe the trend is fading, though the topic came up during a weekly volunteer sing at Hospice. There’s a garden gnome there gracing the countertop, and a nurse thought we should place it outside under the tulips in the garden.
Tulips symbolize deep love, rebirth, and charity— meaning helping someone in need. And garden gnomes are a symbol of good luck and protection. So the idea of placing a garden gnome under the tulips at the Karen Ann Quinlan Home for Hospice warms my heart.
Regarding their role in garden design, consider Alberta Spruce a specimen, so strategically placing one, say at the side of a walkway or next to a door, is fitting and perfect for adding holiday lights. Or why not have a gathering of planted gnomes in your garden. Maybe add some eyes, a beard, and a pointy hat to dress them up. Though I suppose they can’t travel like gnome ornaments can (smile).
Genetic mutations can be harmful – a personal note.
In the case of Alberta Spruce, the genetic mutation was beneficial, turning into a lovely specimen plant. But mutations can be harmful. If I may end on a personal note – my nephew Austin’s wife was airlifted to Vanderbilt Hospital in Nashville last week. Sammi has been diagnosed with a very aggressive form of Lymphoma that grew secretly inside her. Please join my family and me in prayer that the heroic treatment measures and the power of prayer heal her. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.
Link to the column about Reverting Weeping Cherry
There’s more to this story in Episode 57 of the Garden Dilemmas Podcast: