- Education and Science
Conifers And Other Plants In Our Garden
Conifer is a Latin word meaning ‘one that bears cones’. Many trees and shrubs are conifers comprising multitude families, genera, and species.
Before we focus on the conifers in our garden, let's try to get an idea of taxonomic ranking and the Kingdom of Plants.
BTW: Humans are the only living creatures on this planet who have the desire to put everything under and beyond the sun into a proper, systematic order. Keeping these orders sensible and feasible demands more than merely general knowledge.
Being a layman - an amateur botanist – but a keen gardener, I have tried endlessly to understand the taxonomic hierarchy. Aiming to show off the CONIFERS in my garden, and also some other plants, I am once again trying to understand some of the basic biological terminology in the taxonomic hierarchy of plants. Since July 2011 taxonomists use the International Code of Nomenclature for algae, fungi, and plants, known as the Melbourne Code. (Read more about it here. This code replaced previous codes.
Of course, I have no idea what this is all about. Eager to understand, I stick to the eight major taxonomic ranks.
Eight major taxonomic ranks:
Life – everything that is not dead.
Domain - (also called superregnum, superkingdom, empire, or region) – A living organism is either in the non-cellular (viruses and bacteria) domain, or cellular (animals and plants) domain. Domain is divided into six kingdoms.
Kingdom – A living organism, whether non-cellular or cellular, falls in only ONE of SIX kingdoms: Animals, Plants, Fungi, Bacteria, Archaea (single-celled organisms like bacteria, but with a different sort of life), and Protista (organisms that don’t fit into any one of the established five categories.)
Phylum (plural: Phyla) - In plain English ‘divisions’. The Kingdom of Plants is divided into twelve divisions. The division relevant to CONIFERS is called Pinophyta, also known as Coniferophyta, which means pine-like, cone-bearing plants. ‘Conifer’ is therefor a layman’s word for Pinophyta/Coniferophyta. A phylum can be divided into classes. NB: In 1751 the botanist Carolus Linnaeus used the word ‘family’ to divide the major groups of plants: palms, trees, herbs, shrubs, but all of these now fall under Phylum.
Class – It’s getting complicated now! Every division has a subdivision. Each of these subdivisions have more subdivisions. In the division Pinophyta/Coniferophyta we have the class GYMNOSPERMOPHYTA, meaning plants having naked seeds that are not enclosed in an ovary. Relevant to this hub are conifers.
Conifers are –
Division (Phylum): Pinophyta/ Coniferophyta (Conifers)
Class: Gymnosphermophyta - Plants having naked seeds not enclosed in an ovary.
Sub-Class – This specific class (Gymnosphermophyta) has 5 sub-divisions, among others ‘Pinopsida’ – the group name for plants that are generally small with simple leaves and with the ability to reproduce by secondary growth of stem and root. Most conifers are in the sub-class Pinopsida,
Order – Like class, this category is artificial in the hierarchy of plants. In the Kingdom of Animals it would be inter alia the order Carnivora. In the Kingdom of Plants, specifically in the division of Pinophyta/ Coniferophyta (Conifers), we have several orders: Coniferales (evergreen trees and some shrubs having narrow or needlelike leaves), Pinales (plants reproducing via cone and cone-like structures), etc. (Too much for the layman to comprehend!)
Genus – Is a term meaning "descent, family, type, gender". The layman leaves the complicated taxonomic ranking of plants to professional taxonomists.
Species – (plural: species) - is the largest group of living organisms. They all have to be categorized in all of above taxa. Naming of species have to be in accordance with the rules. A species gets a two-part name. The first part is the scientific name of the genus to which it belong and the second is a specific descriptive word or phrase. On top of this are countless sub-species and cultivars for each species!
(And so, I have decided to spend more time in our garden than with my nose in the books trying to understand this complicated hierarchy of plants.)
Leaves of a Thuja orientalis 'Aurea Nana'
Conifers growing in our garden -
Conifers are slow growers, but also beautiful while they're still small. Let's see if I can encourage readers to fill their gardens with conifers.
But let me kick off with a golden rule: Never feed conifers with artificial (chemical) fertilizer. A mulch of compost and maybe a little cow manure during spring is all they need. Never allow the roots to dry, but also don't allow waterlogging.
In our garden grows the following -
Species: The 'genus' Thuja comprises 5 evergreen species and numerous subspecies:
- Thuja koraiensis (Korean Thuja),
- Thuja occidentalis L. (Northern Whitecedar),
- Thuja plicata (Western Redcedar),
- Thuja standishii (Japanese Thuja),
- Thuja sutchuenensis (Sichuan Thuja).
Division: Pinophyta/ Coniferophyta (Conifers),
As a homeopathic remedy Thuja acts on the skin, blood, gastro-intestinal tract, kidneys, and brain. It has a distinguished antibacterial action. It is used for respiratory tract infections such as bronchitis, for bacterial skin infections, and painful conditions such as osteoarthritis. It is also a diuretic and able to instigate abortions. However, it also contains chemicals that can cause problems in the brain. (Ref.: supplements/ingredients THUJA.) Several warnings that all parts of the plants, especially the tips of the branches, are highly poisonous, should rather be taken to heart.
The Thuja occidentalis
Most of our conifers are cultivars of the Thuja occidentalis. It is a tree native to the North-East of the United States and the South-East of Canada, growing naturally in wet forests,but it seem to be happy in most regions all over the world.
Some sub-species have a beautiful pyramid-shape, while others are round or slim.
The common name for all Thuja occidentalis is American Arborvitae or White Cedar.
The Thuja occidentalis is frost-hardy, fume-hardy, and wind-resistant. Its ornamental value and small, non-evasive root-system makes it the ideal plant for small gardens.
Thuja occidentalis 'Woodwardii' -
The Thuja occidentalis 'Woodwardii' is a small evergreen tree with rich golden-yellow foliage deepens to coppery-gold in winter. It is a slow, but strong grower and an excellent ornamental plant in the garden or in a tub. (More info here)
Thuja occidentalis 'Smaragd"
Thuja occidentalis 'Smaragd'
Common Name: American arborvitae
The Thuja occidentalis 'Smaragd' needs to be in full sun, but will also grow in shade. However, too much shade loosens its foliage density. It has a beautiful pyramid-shape and is evergreen even during the coldest winters. (Get more info here.)
Thuja orientalis / Platycladus orientalis
Previously the Thuja orientalis was considered to be a species of the genus Thuja, but due to its distinct quadrangular foliage and cones with four thick, woody scales, it is now considered to be a genus of its own, namely Platycladus orientalis. Its common name is “Oriental arborvitae”.
I had mine in a tub for many years before I finally decided to plant it in the garden. To my surprise it started to flourish. Within two years it has grown into a beautiful tree.
It can grow about 20 feet (6meters) and spread about 15 feet (4.5 meters). More info here.
Thuja orientalis ‘Aura Nana’
The ‘Aura Nana’ is one of many cultivars of the Platycladus orientalis. We're not supposed to call it a Thuja. It is more a shrub than a tree, as it’s maximum height is 1,5 metres.
Like its cousins, it is frost resistant and keeps it’s green colour even in the coldest winters.
Blue cones of a Platycladus orientalis cultivar
Junipers are also conifers of the cypress family Cupressaceae, but in the genus Juniperus. There are ± 67 species of junipers all over the world.
I believe I have 3 Juniperus virginiana ‘Skyrockets’ in our garden. Its common name is Eastern Redcedar. Or maybe mine are merely a cultivar of the Redcedar, as I was told that it will not grow taller than 2 meters (6 feet).
I can't find more information about this beautiful "Donald's Gold" conifer in our garden -
More Conifers in our garden
Conifers: Common Diseases
Conifers can be harmed and even killed by fungi, bacteria, viruses and all kinds of disease-causing organisms known as ‘pathogens’.
Giant conifer aphids and conifer lice can cause tremendous damage.
Fungi such as Seiridium cardinal, Seiridium unicorne and the the Sphaeropsis sp. similar to the fungus known as S. Sapinea f.sp. cupressi in Israel, are fatal conifer pathogens causing Canker.
The western conifer-seed bug, Leptoglossus occidentalis Heidemann, is a nuisance and accidental invader in homes.
Nevertheless, nothing lives forever......
Plant a conifer today!
I have posted a slideshow of our garden in my personal site HERE..... ....
© Martie Coetser
© 2014 Martie Coetser