Tower Perennial is home to a magnificent collection of specialty and dwarf conifers. A gold conifer is hardly something we see every day in nature. People sometimes ask me, where do these grow? There are not any Montana hillsides loaded with gold conifers, unless you count the fall display of the larch. These gold conifers are mutants, or “sports” of otherwise normal species.
The lead photo shows a sport of a mugo pine that has the brightest gold color of any gold mugo. ‘Buttercup’ is a truly special mutation, and here it is shown in the parent plant. Only a piece of the plant mutated, and that’s the gold part surrounded by the regular mugo. That’s typical. Dwarf conifers are typically “witch’s brooms” that grow in a much larger plant. The dwarf piece is propagated, yielding the new introduction.
There are many gold conifers in the trade. One not so commonly seen is the gold form of the popular weeping Norway spruce. ‘Gold Drift’ has its color all year and is dramatic wherever you place it, so long as it is a sunny spot. Like a number of gold conifers, the brightest color is obtained in full sun.
Some gold conifers have a softer gold color, such as Abies pinsapo ‘Aurea’. The gold color is clear, but it appears primarily on the newer growth on the tree. Even with the softer accent, this plant still makes a specimen statement in the garden. The pinsapo firs, or Spanish firs, have a very attractive arrangement of the needles on the stem, so it is decorative in more than one dimension.
Beyond the typical, one can also graft a gold conifer onto a “normal” trunk, and yield a very unique specimen. I show a young plant of such a specimen. When the heads have reached 2′ or more in diameter, this plant will be remarkable. Note the 3 gold heads that have been grafted onto a contorted trunk for additional character. If you want to take it to a new and more artistic level, this will do the trick.
Each of these gold conifers and all those others began the same way. An observant hiker or plantsman noticed the mutation and had the knowledge and skill in grafting to bring the plant home and into the trade. It takes years to build up inventory on a new variety. Don’t look for ‘Buttercup’ at your local nursery for several years (and if you do find one, expect it may be at Tower first).