A THOUSAND WORDS - Alex Waterhouse-Hayward's blog on pictures, plants, politics and whatever else is on his mind.


On Mexican Pines, Things Evergreen & Cedars Not From Lebanon
Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Since 1986 I have purchased many dwarf conifers and conifers for the garden. At first my inexperience meant that I had several coniferal deaths. Many of the formerly called chamaecyparis (false cypresses) which have been recently promoted to cupressus (the cypress family)and many pinus (pines) did not like the winter wet and relatively poor drainage of my garden. But many survived and even thrived.

Some years ago I purchased three Abies koreana 'Nana' or dwarf Korean firs at a UBC plant sale. The moniker nana was incorrect as the three grew quite tall and the tallest is now 9 ft high.

Korean Fir, (Abies koreana; 구상나무, Gusang namu in Korean) is a fir native to the higher mountains of South Korea, including Jeju-do island.

What is startling about this conifer is that the underside of the leaves (conifers have leaves even if those needles don't look like them) are silvery white so that in a wind the whole tree shimmers. Startling, too are the upright cones which in spring can be blue, purple of light green.

When I married Rosemary some 40 years ago she used to smile when we purchased a Canadian Christmas tree every year. In Spanish all conifers are pinos or pines. The more discerning might know the existence of abetos (abies or firs) or the existence of the extremely Mexico City pollution tolerant juníperos or junipers. Thujas (Western Red Cedars) true cedars and other exotic conifers are all but unknown. All conifers are pinos!

In our travels through Mexico in our VW beetle we saw many pines. In the mountains of Oaxaca, in Xalapa, Veracruz and elswhere. It was only here in Vancouver just a few years ago that I learned that Mexico is home to the greatest variety of pine species in the world.

It was also in Vancouver that I found out that the Western Red Cedar is not a cedar but a Thuja and that the one in my garden is a Thuja plicata and is not related to cedars but to the pine family. Furthermore I found out that the Douglas Fir is not a fir or (in the proper botanical name an abies) but a pseudo hemlock. Because a Douglas Fir looks somewhat like a hemlock (Tsuga) it is botanically called a Pseudostuga and are all part of the pine family. The useless fact to remember is that a cedar fence is really not a cedar fence (Western Red Cedar or Thuja plicata) and that a true cedar or cedrus is a conifer family from Europe. I have several true cedars in my garden and most are weeping cedars or Cedrus deodara .

Also salient, in my opinion, is the knowledge that one should never have a roof with cedar shingles. Years ago when I visited veteran broadcaster Jack Webster in his Saltspring Island retreat he started our barbecue dinner fire with cedar shingles.

As a parting shot I would like to rectify the idea that all conifers are evergreen. There are several that are not. I wrote about one of them here. You can see a branch of Larix kaempferi and its cones here alongside the Abies koreana's cone and a branch showing the silver underside.


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