Conifers are some of the most versatile genera the gardener can use in creating a landscape.
The name conifer comes from two Latin words: conus and ferro, which together mean cone-bearing.
Conifers are monoecious. That is, they have both male and female cones on their branches.
Conifers come in all shapes and sizes. There is the classic Christmas tree shape. There are rounded, bush-like varieties. There are those which weep and bend; those which snake their way across the landscape.
-placead-There are large conifers, dwarf conifers, intermediate-sized conifers, and miniature conifers. Dwarf conifers, which can reach 30 feet in height or length, are the largest class-sized conifers, growing 6 inches annually. Conifers make for intriguing bonsai. Some conifers look like cactuses, such as the Araucariaceae, ‘Monkey Puzzle’ being one.
Then there are the multiplicities of colors and color-combinations: grays, blues, blue-grays, yellows, greens of all shades. Some have three colors on each needle.
Conifers have needles, and then some don’t. There is lacy foliage, soft needles and rigid, pinchy needles. All are solar-collectors for the plants, just like leaves. In fact, needles are leaves and are often referred to as such.
Conifers are pest- and disease-resistant, for the most part. Some conifers lose their foliage in the fall. They are deciduous conifers.
Conifers can be pruned and shaped so that they become niwaki, bonsai-like, but in the ground.
Conifers exhibit an array of colored cones in spring. They are like flowers. Purples, reds, whites, greens, chartreuses, blacks. The cones themselves display all shapes and sizes too. Some look themselves like miniature conifers, while others look like bullets. There are even foot-long cones.
The gardener’s palette of conifers can mix and match all the characteristics of conifers to create a multi-textual and multi-colored backdrop for a sea of interest in the landscape.
Conifers may be grown as container plants.
Conifers thrive in all USDA Zones of the US, including Alaska and Hawaii. Tropical conifers are some of the most interesting ones.
The American Conifer Society maintains a free data base on its website of all the genera and species and even cultivars (i.e. cultivated varieties), conifersociety.org.