Conifers generally are evergreen trees that produce their seeds in cones. Familiar friends in this family include the fir, spruce, juniper, pine and yew. There exists, however, a small secretive subgroup of conifers that dares to be different. Perhaps trying to copy their cousins the maple and the oak, these ‘evergreens’ are decidous! This select group of conifers shed their needles in the fall and regrow them every spring. Crazy, I know, but that’s nature for you. Here are three examples that are commonly sold at nurseries.
The Dawn Redwood (Metasequoia glyptostroboides) is fast growing, from 70-100 feet tall. Similar to the Bald Cypress, but the leaves on the Dawn Redwood are opposite rather than alternate. Foliage appears in the spring a bright, vivid green, slowly changing to a medium green color. The shredded red/brown bark is attractive on older specimens. Plant this tree in moist, well-drained, slightly acidic soil in full sun. The Dawn Redwood is considered a living fossil, because it has lived on the earth since prehistoric times. In 1941 it was ‘discovered’ in China, seeds were brought to the USA and they have been successful here ever since.
The Weeping European Larch (Larix decidua ‘pendula’) is a beautiful specimen tree that can be used in the ground or a container. Creating a mounded shape up to twelve feet tall and wide, this tree is tolerant of moist and dry soils and extreme cold, growing in zones 2 to 6 (brrrr!). Fresh and bright the needles appear in spring, maturing to darker green and finally turning golden yellow before they drop in the fall. The new spring growth is my favorite part of this tree. After a winter filled with shades of gray, it’s like a party when the needles of the larch appear, festive, brilliant and luminous light green. The weeping nature of this tree allows it to be trained and shaped. In other words, don’t be afraid of pruning and staking, it doesn’t look good dragging all over the ground. One picture I saw had it growing up a trellis against a wall and cascading down from 8-10 feet, stunning.
The Bald Cypress (Taxodium distichum) is native to North America and found in swamps and wet areas throughout its range. This is a good tree if you have a problem wet area. It grows 50 to 70 feet high in zones 4-9, shaped columnar to pyramidal. A dwarf selection is the variety ‘peve minaret’ which grows 5-6 feet and forms a dense, compact spire, with soft, feathery leaves. The fall color turns a reddish-brown color and will persist on the tree for several weeks. The name ‘peve minaret’ reminds me of something from Narnia, like the castle Cair Paravel. The definition of minaret is a lofty slender tower or turret and Peve, I believe, is a name. A small, but royal tree.