All kinds of people used to visit our Lehighton, Pennsylvania home to see Coenosium Gardens and purchase some little plant treasures. If an ‘out of towner’ had trouble finding us, just about anyone in town could direct him to the house with ‘weird looking’ plants all around it. Those weird looking plants were a magnet for conifer collectors from many parts of the country. A wide variety of plants with many different shapes, sizes, textures and colors were located throughout our gardens. One group which attracted considerable comment was the golden group. To the uninitiated these plants appeared sick or dying, a fact that all collectors have come up against. For example, we had two golden oriental arborvitae (Platycladus orientalis ‘Conspicua’) flanking the entrance to our house. Every winter we were questioned about their bronzed appearance as visitors wondered what was happening to these plants.


Since we have moved to the Northwest, our collection has grown so that it now fills almost three acres with a wide range of conifers in all colors. The blues and golds add variety and interest to the planting with the golds providing a bright contrast to the basic greens, especially on cloudy days. The gold conifers that are used for landscaping our gardens are not the dull, chlorotic golds of sick plants. Rather they are the bright, vibrant golds and yellows of very healthy plants. These are golds that are either present throughout the year, varying in brightness with the season, or golds that are seasonal, becoming bright at certain times of the year while green the rest of thegldblu.jpg (62842 bytes) time.


Golden conifers are the Dr. Jekylls and Mr. Hydes of the conifer world. They are the gaudiest of the conifers. When used properly, they add allure and elegance to the landscape. A source of bright color throughout the year, once used they are often considered indispensable. Most people enjoy a splash of color in the garden. Flowers add such color but only ephemerally so. On the other hand, selected conifers serve the same function for extended time periods.


The best example I have seen of golden conifers utilized throughout a landscape was in the village of East Hampton, Long Island, New York. Here on an estate named The Creeks, Alfonso Ossorio and Edward Dragon  established an arboretum. An artist, Ossorio created a sixty acre work of art by painting with trees. By combining and blending colors, sizes, and textures, his everchanging artwork was pleasing to the eye through all four seasons. The most utilized color was gold, obtained by planting many different golden conifers. Conifers were preferred because the colors were present throughout the year. The success of Ossorio and Dragon was obvious since they entertained hundreds of visitors every year. Unfortunately Ossorio died several years ago, and the present owner of the estate has closed it to visitors.


The winter countryside can be quite drab and uninteresting with no bright flowers or colorful leaves on trees and shrubs. The typical winter landscape around many homes is also quite monotonous with a few different shades of dark green provided by varieties of Taxus media and Thuja occidentalis. Gold conifers are being discovered and do pop up upon occasion. When one homeowner on the block adds some color to the winter landscape, neighbors take notice and the local retailerthujagld.jpg (62462 bytes) will have requests for some of these plants.


When selecting a golden conifer, a person should consider the intensity of coloration. Some of the more weakly colored plants appear chlorotic, as if suffering from a nutrient deficiency, giving them a washed-out, yellow-green appearance. These must be avoided since they will only “turn off” the amateur looking for something gold. A gold plant that burns in the summer or winter sun can also cause a homeowner to be unhappy. Cultural requirements must also be understood by anyone purchasing a scorch-prone golden conifer.


Cedrus atlantica was introduced into Europe in 1839. Native to northern Africa, this species his produced several very important cultivars for the home landscape. There are only two golden forms, ‘Aurea’ and ‘Aurea Robusta’, both of which become large trees in time. Of the two, I prefer ‘Aurea Robusta’ due to the bluish undertones of the needles. The color is very yellow, and established plants resist burning in the full sun. This species does not tolerate harsh winter climates, an unfortunate characteristic that is quite common to Cedrus in general(with few exceptions).


The golden forms of Cedrus deodara can be quite confusing, with more being added from time to time. My choices for the best uprights would be ‘Gold Cone’, ‘Klondike’, and ‘Vink’s Gold’. Cedrus deodara ‘Gold Cone’ is a fast-growing tree with bright gold coloration and a narrow growth habit. The color is quite good throughout the year. ‘Klondike’ is most attractive in the winter, when it takes on a bronze-gold color, an excellent contrast to its summer coloration, which is quite close to green and not at all striking. A broader growing selection, ‘Vink’s Gold’ has good color with blue-green undertones, making it quite different from the others.  

goldcne.jpg (41982 bytes)Cedrus deodara 'Gold Cone'


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Cedrus deodara 'Gold Cascade'






cdhvstgld.jpg (55463 bytes)Cedrus deodara 'Harvest Gold'





cdklndik.jpg (34371 bytes)Cedrus deodara 'Klondike'





A prostrate cultivar of Cedrus deodara was selected as a seedling in 1975 and aptly named ‘Golden Horizon’. This cultivar grows quite fast and has very good color in the sun. It has a spreading habit and does not grow very high. It does develop an occasional terminal shoot, but immediate removal will keep the plant quite low. Another selection found about the same time is Cedrus deodara ‘Gold Mound’. This plant becomes a bright yellow, low, broad pyramid. It is very dense but does need some room to develop.  

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Cedrus deodara 'Gold Mound'





Cedrus deodara ‘Gold Nugget’ is a new miniature selection from Australia. I have been trying to build up numbers for eight years but find it a difficult process because the plant grows very slowly. The bright gold color does resist burning.


Cedrus libani ‘Aurea’ is a slow-growing, conical tree with golden yellow needles possessing green undertone (the Cedrus atlantica forms have a grey undertone). Cedrus libani ‘Aurea Prostrata’ and ‘Golden Dwarf’ are apparently side branch grafts of ‘Aurea’ that tend to sprawl or go upright at an angle rather than grow directly upward.


Chamaecyparis obtusa, which is native to Japan, has produced as many variants as any other conifer species. The geneticist would say that this species has ‘loose genes’. Its proclivity for mutation is amazing. Most of its named cultivars have come from seed, and a nice assortment of golden forms has resulted.


cofgldfrn.jpg (65472 bytes)Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Golden Fern'





cogldpyg.jpg (67934 bytes)Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Golden Pygmy'




cokamanhiba.jpg (51418 bytes)Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Kamaeni Hiba'


The dwarfest of the golden Chamaecyparis obtusa variants is ‘Golden Sprite’, which originated as a seedling from ‘Gracilis Aurea’. It is a moplike, little plant that requires almost ten years to attain the size of a cantaloupe. As with many of the golden conifers, ‘Golden Sprite’ has a tendency to burn in the harsh summer sun. Some afternoon shade will prevent this while still maintaining the rich, gold color.


Among the most popular and better known of the golden Hinoki Cypresses is ‘Nana Lutea’. A golden sport on ‘Nana Gracilis’, it was introduced to the nursery trade in Holland less than forty years ago. The gold coloration is very bright, and established plants exhibit little burn in the full sun. One of the early specimens brought into the United States is a compact bush about 5’ tall and 4’ wide at the base with very evident leaf sprays. The compact, tight plants bought from commercial nurseries have been trimmed to maintain their tight growth habit. And, interestingly, the growth rate of this plant may be increased 50% by grafting.


When grafted, most of the Chamaecyparis obtusa cultivars will grow faster, with only a minimal loss of compactness. They will also be more tolerant of clay soils, Thuja occidentalis works well as a compatible understock with Thuja occidentalis ‘Smaragd’ or ‘Pyramidalis’ being especially suitable.


The late Joe Reis of Long Island, New York collected and germinated Chamaecyparis obtusa seeds at every opportunity. He grew the resulting plants for ten or more years and even made propagations from them before considering attaching names to the choicest selections. Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Meroke’ is a very special plant developed by Joe. Growing just slightly faster than ‘Nana Lutea’, ‘Meroke’ is a very narrow, upright plant with a bright gold color.


A lesser known selection of merit is Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Verdoni’. Possibly a sport of ‘Nana Gracilis’, it grows faster than ‘Nana Lutea’. Not as compact as ‘Nana Lutea’ it is, nevertheless, quite dense and will create a landscape specimen in less time. On the other hand, since it is considerably slower than ‘Aurea’, it is quite suitable for the smaller gardens of today and will become very popular as it becomes better known. It has very good resistance to sun burn in any situation.


Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Aurea’ and ‘Cripsii’ are both very old cultivars and grow quite fast. They are bright gold and pyramidal, eventually attaining the height of a tree. ‘Cripsii’ is not quite as hardy as ‘Aurea’ but exhibits very attractive broadly, frondlike branchlets with decurving tops. ‘Aurea’ will subsequently be the denser of the two but not as graceful in appearance.

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Chamaecparis obtusa 'Cripsii'




The Sawara False Cypress, another species endemic to Japan, is better known by its scientific name Chamaecyparis pisifera. Having a strong inclination to mutate, this species has produced a number of cultivars with many uses in the landscape.


  The gold thread cypresses are the best known of the Chamaecyparis pisifera cultivars. The one most commercially available is ‘Filifera Aurea Nana’, not a true cultivar but a form propagated from side cuttings of ‘Filifera Aurea’. It is low and slow growing but will eventually achieve the size and appearance of ‘Filifera Aurea’. On the other hand, the cultivar ‘Golden Mop’ is definitely a slow growing sport of ‘Filifera Aurea’ and the brightest gold of all the golden threadleafs. Its one drawback is a tendency to burn in the full sun. The cultivar ‘Sungold’ will not burn in the full sun, is hardier than other selections, and is quite dwarf. Its resistance to burn is due to its less spectacular coloration.


    The ‘Plumosa’ forms of Chamaecyparis pisifera possess needles that are between the juvenile ‘Squarrosa’ type (long, free standing leaves) and the adult type (small, adpressed leaves). These distinctive foliages clothed in different golden hues are quite exceptional in the landscape. The cultivar ‘Plumosa Aurea’ is a fast growing plant that may be used as either background for other plantings or by itself as a specimen plant. Its bright color and feathery appearance should increase its popularity for the home landscape. There are also some excellent compact forms of ‘Plumosa’. For example, ‘Plumosa Juniperoides’ (‘Juniperoides Aurea’ in some catalogs) is quite dwarf for many years and has a bright gold color, especially in the early summer. Its foliage approaches that of the ‘Squarrosa’ types.


Chamaecyparis pisifera ‘Squarrosa Lutea’ has yellowish white foliage that is very bright in the garden. It is an upright grower and is compact. Interestingly, a specimen by this name once sported some golden thread‑like foliage. It has stayed consistently mixed when propagated, producing a very unique plant identified as ‘Lemon Thread’.


Two other species of Chamaecyparis  with attractive, golden cultivars not yet mentioned are Chamaecyparis nootkatensis and Chamaecyparis thyoides. Chamaecyparis nootkatensis ‘Aurea’ is not bright gold but has a frosted appearance to its foliage. The plant is pyramidal and fairly slow growing. I first noticed this cultivar at Watnong Nursery in New Jersey. I purchased a specimen for my collection, and several propagations from this plant crossed the United States with us on our move to the Northwest. Recently this species has been determined to be wrongly named and is now called Cupressus nootkatensis.


Chamaecyparis thyoides ‘Aurea’ is bright gold with a conical growth habit that becomes bronze in the winter. Its typical, adult  thyoides foliage is pleasingly matched to its golden coloration and is distinctive from all other golden forms of Chamaecyparis. I purchased my original plant from Joel Spingarn when he lived on Long Island. Later, when visiting Martin Brook in eastern Pennsylvania, I saw a mature specimen and realized just how attractive this cultivar actually was.


It seems as if many wholesale nurseries are naming new junipers at an alarming rate. Each year, when the new catalogs arrive, new names have been added. It can all become quite confusing, especially to someone who is still trying to master the junipers already on the market. And, of course, there are all kinds of discussions regarding which of the new junipers actually deserved being named, with more confusion resulting from the trademarking of a new name on a juniper that has been available in the trade under another name. Junipers are confusing enough without nurserymen only adding to it with these practices. The golden junipers, being distinctive and in limited numbers, are fairly easy to distinguish.

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Juniperus chinensis 'Aurea'




jcomaureosp.jpg (117749 bytes)Juniperus communis 'Aureospicata'




The more common golden junipers can be read about in many different catalogs. One of these is a very old cultivar developed in 1855 and introduced into the English trade in 1872. Juniperus chinensis ‘Aurea’ is bright gold and grows narrowly conical. It is not too fast growing and may burn as a young plant. But it is a bright gold upright that will become quite popular with time.


The late Gunter Horstmann, Schneverdingen, West Germany, discovered a golden form of Juniperus communis that makes a bright gold, fountain-like form with large, lush needles. It is not susceptible to fungal blights and was given the name ‘Schneverdingen Goldmachangel’, which in English means ‘Schneverdingen Golden Schnapps’. It is usually sold as ‘Golden Schnapps’ in America while in Europe it may show up as ‘Golden Showers’.


Juniperus communis ‘Gold Cone’ and ‘Hibernica Aurea’ are two other golden selections of this species with growth habits similar to ‘Schneverdingen Goldmachangel’. They differ in their more formal pyramidal shape. Their comparative performances in the North American climate will require some time to determine.


I am not familiar with all of the different golden forms of Juniperus x medii, a probable hybrid juniper that some taxonamists contend to be simply chinensis. It has recently been determined by conifer taxonomists that it should be called Juniperus x pfitzeriana to represent the original plant. There are two unique forms not readily found in the trade. Juniperus x pfitzeriana ‘Plumosa Aurea’ was introduced before 1885 in England, but its slow growth rate has kept the big growers from producing it. If not the goldest of the junipers, it is at least as gold as any other cultivar. It is a dwarf form with a broad, shrubby growth habit. In any garden it becomes a most outstanding plant. Juniperus x pfitzeriana ‘Daub’s Frosted’ is a low, spreading juniper that is very different from the other golden junipers. The exposed leaf surfaces are bright gold in the spring becoming a bronze gold with the shaded leaves taking on shades of blue and green. It is slow growing and the branchlets turn downward at their extremities.


One juniper that does not root and has to be grafted is Juniperus virginiana ‘Elegantissima’ (sometimes sold as ‘Aurea’). This plant is fountainlike and fairly slow growing. The coloration is deep gold in the new growth with dark green older growth. In the winter the gold color goes more toward bronze. The needles are both scale-like and needle-like. The branchlets are somewhat pendulous, and the seasonal color changes are quite interesting.  


  Unfortunately the true firs, Genus Abies are largely ignored by landscapers, with a few exceptions. Such neglect is hard to explain, unless it is due to the difficulties of producing landscaped sized plants in a reasonable length of time with a minimum of effort.


Most firs are tricky to grow in containers, need repeated root pruning when field grown, and must be staked as young plants to combat plagiotropism (tendency to grow prostrate). When grown to a marketable size, a fir does command a high price, due to the difficulties of cultivation.


There are several golden firs with garden merit. They will become quite popular as people discover them. Some of these cultivars are quite dwarf while others become large trees.


Abies concolor ‘Winter Gold’ grows at a reduced rate but will aconwgld.jpg (68878 bytes) eventually reach a reasonable size. Yellow green during the growing season, it becomes canary yellow with the onset of colder weather. I do not know if it is as hardy as the species, but it does do well in northern Germany where it originated.


Of all the large growing, golden firs, Abies koreana ‘Aurea’ is quite possibly the most attractive. Growing about six inches per year, it does attain a respectable size. A young plant may burn in the full sun, but resistance to burning does develop. In the summer it is not uncommon for a medium sized specimen to produce purple cones, creating an attractive contrast in colors. A selection recently out of Europe grows into a wide, flat-topped bush with more of a subdued golden color to the foliage. It has been labeled ‘Golden Dream’ and on occasion will become broadly conical.

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Abies koreana 'Golden dream'




An exciting discovery occurred in Europe about 1961. A anrdgspdr.jpg (37648 bytes) dwarf, golden Nordmann fir was found. Abies nordmaniana ‘Golden Spreader’ is bright gold, grows much broader than high, and is somewhat depressed at its center, Since it does display a tendency to burn in the full sun, it should be grown in partial shade where it still exhibits excellent color. As it ages, a slow-growing terminal shoot will develop, producing a mature specimen that is very dense, squatly conical, and very bright gold.


The Spanish Fir, Abies pinsapo, also has a golden variant. abpaur.jpg (76525 bytes) Symmetrically-growing and stiff needled, Abies Pinsapo ‘Aurea’ has bright gold new growth that turns green by winter. The gold is most pronounced on the upper surfaces of the new growth. Burning can be a problem until the plant is established, and it is not very tolerant of subzero winter temperatures. Some of the gold becomes white-gold and is retained well into the winter.


During 1933, a golden Noble fir was discovered at the Sherwood Nursery in Portland, Oregon. The needles are long and upcurved with a persistent bright yellow color. Although a young plant will burn in the full sun, the burning will cease as it ages. Some nurseries sell this plant as Abies procera ‘Aurea’, but it is more correctly listed as Abies procera ‘Sherwoodii’. At one time a rumor was circulating to the effect that this plant originated on Mt. Hood in Oregon as the top half of a lightning struck tree. Although this rumor was never substantiated, other nurserymen claim to have seen lightning struck trees with golden tops.


Overall, Cryptomeria japonica is even more under-utilized than the Abies. For many parts of the United States winter hardiness cjseksug.jpg (60796 bytes) of Cryptomeria japonica is a problem, but many areas can grow this species with no hardiness problems at all. I am familiar with only one cultivar that I could actually call gold: Cryptomeria japonica ‘Sekkan Sugi’. Not a dwarf form by any stretch of the imagination, this cultivar becomes a medium sized tree in the landscape. The very plumose, creamy yellow new growth soon turns a bright gold, creating a bicolored, very striking plant in the landscape.


Spruce are found throughout the Northern Hemisphere. This Genus has produced a large assortment of cultivars, a fact especially true of the genetically unstable Picea abies. Among the numerous cultivars of Picea are several choice golden forms.


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Picea abies 'Perry's Gold'




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Picea omorika 'White Tops'




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Picea orientalis 'Early Gold'




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Picea pungens 'Stanley Gold'




picrepaur.jpg (65079 bytes)Picea abies 'Repens Gold'



The Norway spruce, Picea abies, has a tendency to mutate much more readily than the other species, and yet it has a paucity of golden forms. The cultivar ‘Argenteospicata’ is supposed to produce long, white tips, but my specimen produces tips that are bright yellow. The bright color is striking for a few weeks, until it fades to green. The contrast between the gold tips and dark green foliage is most attractive, especially on large specimens. This selection rapidly becomes a large tree.


Picea abies ‘Aurea’ grows like the species but with glossy yellow foliage. Its gold color is most apparent on young plants. As a plant ages, the yellow is not as striking. However, I have been told that the color remains very bright in some parts of the United States. An improvement over this cultivar has recently appeared in America. Picea abies ‘Aurea Jacobsen’ is much brighter than ‘Aurea’ but since it is relatively new, its appearance as an old tree is not yet known.


In the old conifer collection at the Arnold Arboretum is a special Norway Spruce more than sixty feet tall. It is almost 100 years old and appears somewhat pale colored. Not an outstanding tree in this instance, propagations from it possess a very unique foliage coloration: a very pale yellow, almost white color. Named Picea abies Elegantissima’, its growth rate approaches that of the species. Although the color will never have mass appeal, it should be made available to the horticultural trade as it is striking in the proper location. I have photographed a specimen of it at a Long Island, New York estate (The Creeks) beside a multicolored concrete walkway. The combination creates a pleasing response whenever I show this slide during a plant lecture.


About ten years ago I discovered a golden branch on one of my weeping Norway spruces, Picea abies ‘Reflexa’. I picabgldrft.jpg (121582 bytes) propagated it and two attached branchlets. I now have three large plants and several younger ones growing in our gardens that are bright gold through the summer and gold frosted through the winter, turning green the following spring just as the new golden growth flushes. I have named this exceptional plant Picea abies ‘Gold Drift’.


The Black spruce, Picea mariana, is native to northern North picmaraur.jpg (62302 bytes) America, extremely hardy, and tolerant of swampy conditions. In Newfoundland the branches are boiled to make spruce beer. A golden form of the species, Picea mariana ‘Aureovariegata’, displays golden new growth in the spring and maintains this golden color on all of its upper surfaces through autumn. Growing rapidly, ‘Aureovariegata’ is an attractive landscape plant with varying shades of gold, blue, and green foliage.


A native of the Caucasus, Picea orientalis has given us some very striking golden cultivirs. Two of these, ‘Aurea’ and ‘Aureospicata’, both exhibit golden new growth in the spring. The difference between them is the retention of some gold coloration on the foliage of ‘Aurea’ while ‘Aureospicata’ soon turns completely dark green. Both grow to a large size and put on an eyecatching display in Spring when the gold of the new foliage is contrasted with the dark green of the older foliage. A new cultivar, ‘Early Gold’ is just like ‘Aureospicata’ except it flushes its new growth about two weeks earlier.


The best of the upright golden spruces, Picea orientalis ‘Skylands’ (‘Aurea Compacta’), pushes new growth that is bright gold and retains that color through Winter. As a young plant it may burn in the full sun. Once it is established, any burning becomes incidental. In shade the growth rate approaches species normal and the plant is dark green with just a hint of gold. In the full sun its growth rate is reduced and the gold is BRIGHT. If a new graft is not staked, the plant may merely spread outward and grow as a prostrate cultivariant. Removing any developing leaders as they appear allows this growth habit to be relatively permanent.


A witches’-broom was discovered on a garden specimen of ‘Skylands’ that was quickly propagated and did not pictomtgld.jpg (75469 bytes) disappoint anyone. Correctly known as Picea orientalis ‘Tom Thumb Gold’, it is a dense, bright gold cushion with an exceptionally slow growth rate.


The Colorado Spruce, Picea pungens, has several golden forms. Picea pungens ‘Aurea’ is an apt name for a plant that produces gold new growth and keeps its color throughout the year. Its gold is not as rich as that of Picea orientalis ‘Skylands’ but is still quite good, making an interesting contrast in the landscape. A similar plant, Picea pungens ‘Lutea’, produces dull green new growth that turns bright gold during the summer. The gold is deeper than that of ‘Aurea’, and the growth rate appears to be slower. By the end of summer the gold shows just as a light frosting on the tops of the branches.


‘Walnut Glen’ is my favorite of the Picea pungens cultivars. The new growth is a white gold color that the plant retains into winter. This variegation is retained on the upper surface foliage of the branches and presents a nice contrast with the rest of the foliage, which is blue. This cultivar grows about 2/3 species normal, developing a nice, compact tree. In the Northwest, if planted in the full sun, this plant burns badly, until it attains some size.


Picea pungens ‘Aureospicata’ and ‘Summer Gold’ are two newer slections that become large trees which flush gold in the spring. ‘Aureospicata’ shows the bright gold color for about four weeks while ‘Summer Gold’ shows it into the summer. A third new cultivar, ‘Sunshine’ also flushes bright gold but retains the color through winter, and the bottom parts of each branch become blue-green during the summer.

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Picea pungens 'Sunshine'




The golden Sitka spruce, Picea sitchensis ‘Bentham's Sunlight’, originated bnthsun.jpg (35091 bytes) along a river in British Columbia. It was a golden tree and was held sacred by the Haida Indian tribe. This plant must be grown in the shade, where it still exhibits a bright gold color, otherwise most of the needles will be burned and killed. Very rare, this plant will probably always be a collector’s item. It is very bright and coveted by true collectors. It was originally listed as 'Aurea' but that name is illegitimate for this plant and the name had been in long use for a large, chlorotic-appearing plant in Australia.


Picea jezoensis ‘Aurea’ is a small tree with a golden hue to the foliage that is brightest during the spring. Small plants will burn, but the color is quite striking on older specimens, especially when it contrasts with the normal blue and green needles on the branchlet undersides.


Picea omorika ‘Nana’ is a compact selection of Serbian spruce. Recently a golden form has appeared in America. The jury is still out on this one, but early observations indicate a plant that will be a nice addition to anyone’s garden. Picea omorika ‘Tijn’ grows much slower than ‘Nana’ and will apparently become a cushion-shaped dwarf for the smaller garden.


Picea omorika ‘Aurea’ is a golden selection that has a gold frosted appearance to the foliage with the golden color being most intense during the spring and into the summer. It grows much like the typical Serbian spruce in shape but at only about 2/3 the rate.


The Genus Pinus ranges through both hemispheres and has over 100 species. There have been many golden selections of pines. Many of them have proven to be quite spectacular.


Pinus contorta ‘Frisian Gold’ originated as a goldenpincntfrisg.jpg (59666 bytes) witches’-broom. It grows twice as wide as high with twisted, gold needles that become gold-tipped in their second year. This cultivar is one of those ‘can’t miss’ varieties that appears on occasion. Its color is good and the compact growth habit fits the gardens of tomorrow.


Another lodgepole pine, Pinus contorta ‘Taylor’s Sunburst’, pinctaysnbrst.jpg (63923 bytes) produces very bright yellow candles and needles that put on a vibrant display for almost two months. Then they turn green as the new growth hardens. This large tree grabs the attention of every visitor to Coenosium gardens in the spring.


Orange bark on new shoots and bright gold needles on the new growth distinguish Pinus densiflora ‘Aurea’ from the other cultivars of its species. It is a fast growing pine that exhibits its best color when grown under some stress. The glossy, brown mature buds complete a most attractive picture. This plant is a fast growing cultivar with good branching to create a dense plant.  

pinjefgld.jpg (69272 bytes)Pinus jeffreyi 'Gold'



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Pinus mugo 'Albospica Tomschke'




pinmcrstn.jpg (68092 bytes)Pinus mugo 'Carsten's Wintergold'



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Pinus mugo 'Fhruling's Gold'




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Pinus mugo 'Pal Maleter'




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Pinus mugo 'Per Golden'




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Pinus mugo 'Sunshine'



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Pinus mugo 'Zundert'


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Pinus mugo 'Carsten's Wintergold' (L) and 'Zundert' (R)


Pinus mugo ‘Aurea’ is a golden selection that grows like a typical Pinus mugo var. pumilio. As a young plant the color is quite good. With age the bright gold becomes somewhat yellow green, and unless the plant is sheared, it tends to open up and grow rather loosely. If the plant is somewhat stressed, perhaps the color would improve. There are several other golden Pinus mugo under evaluation that appear to be headed for a bright future in America.


Pinus mugo ‘Amber Gold’ is a selection with an almost fluorescent golden winter color to the foliage that is green during the summer. Another plant with more of a bright yellow gold color during the winter is Pinus mugo ‘Zundert’. At the head of the class, however, is Pinus mugo ‘Carsten’s Wintergold’ This plant is even brighten than ‘Amber Gold’ and dwarfer than either of the other two. In fact, it grows at about half the rate, becoming much denser as a specimen.


On our first visit to Holland in 1985, Dianne and I saw some pinnaur.jpg (62023 bytes) spectacular plants. Pinus nigra ‘Aurea’ was one of this group. Dick van Hoey Smith and I visited in old arboretum with a specimen of this cultivar. It was over 18 meters (60 feet) tall, light green, with bright yellow candles standing up at the end of each branch. The contrast was most attractive, especially since a Cedrus atlantica ‘Glauca’ stood behind it and towered over it by another 6 meters (20 feet). Discovered in 1909 in Hungary, it is a rare plant in North America.


Pinus parviflora has extensive variation among its cultivars pinprvogon.jpg (49237 bytes) with many selections chosen for needle and bark characteristics or exceptionally blue foliage, but there are only two golden selections. Pinus parviflora ‘Ogon’ is a sulfur yellow plant that grows almost 30cm (12 inches) per year with an open branch structure. The color intensifies during the winter and is quite attractive against a dark background.

Pinus parviflora ‘Goldylocks’ was brought into America a pinpgoldyl.jpg (62779 bytes) number of years ago by Billy Schwartz, a friend from the Philadelphia area, who was very important in establishing the American Conifer Society but is unfortunately unrecognized by the present membership. This plant grows into a squat, dense, little pyramid with bright gold foliage and twisted needles. It burns slightly in the full sun and has a frosted appearance in a setting with mostly shade.

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Pinus radiata 'Aurea'




The American red pine has produced few cultivars for horticulture. Among these few is a form with bright gold coloration and long, twisted needles, Pinus resinosa ‘Aurea’. It grows rapidly with limited branching and is difficult to propagate since the new growth is very thick.


Of all the pines, Pinus strobus has perhaps the greatest number of named cultivars, several of which are gold and quite interesting. Bill Bennett lived in eastern Virginia and had a knack for spotting unusual plants in the wild, mostly along the highway. He shared cuttings from his plants with Layne Ziegenfuss and Greg Williams, who propagated them and benetod.jpg (416289 bytes) shared them with arboreta and other collectors. Pinus strobus ‘Bennett OD’ was one of his finds. In the spring its new growth is bright gold, both the new bark and the needles. Gradually, during the summer, green bands develop upon the needles, giving it the appearance of a dragoneye pine, hence the name. It grows more slowly than the species, making it suitable for the midsized to small garden. It has to be grown in partial shade to prevent sun scald.


Another golden Eastern white pine, Pinus strobus ‘Hillside Winter Gold’, appears completely normal until winter arrives, when it turns completely gold. It is a fast growing plant, and its winter gold color is quite attractive. One winter Layne and Greg saw a hillside of golden white pines. They took scions from the brightest of the group and grafted them. Imagine their disappointment when every successful graft turned green in the propagation house. Layne was tempted to throw the grafts away but instead set them aside and forgot about them. He remembered them the next winter when surprisingly they all turned gold again. Luckily these grafts were successful because the hillside was cleared of trees soon after they discovered it.


Pinus strobus ‘Louie’ is a new selection out of Vermont. It has pinstlouie.jpg (52618 bytes) a nice golden color throughout the year. The intensity increases somewhat during the winter. It grows slower than the species and develops a nice, full branch structure. The soft texture of the foliage adds to the luster of the golden needles.


Scattered throughout northern Europe Pinus sylvestris has produced an abundance of cultivars. Once again there exists a cultivar named ‘Aurea’. Pinus sylvestris ‘Aurea’ develops a bright gold color by early summer which intensifies into the winter. As with some other cultivars, stress seems to improve its color. It develops into a medium sized tree, apparently losing some of its brightness as it ages.

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A newer selection from England, Pinus sylvestris ‘Gold Coin’ is a dwarf form of golden Scots pine. In addition to having all parts reduced in size when compared to the species, its color is much more intense than that of ‘Aurea’.


An improved selection of ‘Aurea’ has recently pinsylnisbg.jpg (62486 bytes) been finding its way around America. It was found by a collector in England named Nisbet, who made a number of introductions when he was alive. Pinus sylvestris ‘Nisbet’s Gold’ is brighter than ‘Aurea’ and appears to have longer needles and a faster growth rate.


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Pinus sylvestris 'Gold Coin'




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Pinus sylvestris 'Moseri' showing its winter color to the right in the picture.




Another pine with few known cultivars is Pinus virginiana. One of its cultivars, ‘Wate’s Golden’, was found by Bill pinvirgwate.jpg (65324 bytes) Bennett. A normal Virginia pine during the growing season, it turns bright gold in the winter. In fact, during the winter in Pennsylvania it was the brightest conifer in my collection. Rapidly developing into a large tree, its color is improved by colder winters. And it is extremely hardy. In the spring, as the gold color is fading, the plant will flower and the red female strobili (immature cones) make a striking contrast with.the remaining gold in the foliage. In the Northwest it is not nearly as impressive as it was in the Northeast.


There is one golden selection of Pinus thunbergiana and it is named ‘Ogon’, which is technically an illegitimate name since ogon means “gold”, but then so does ‘Aurea’. This cultivar has golden foliage through most of the year which becomes most intense during the winter. Each needle has the brightest color at its tip becoming yellow-green toward the base. It also seems to be more intense in younger plants but even my largest, which is about 5 meters (15 feet) tall has a nice golden hue throughout the winter.


There are several golden selections of Taxus. Taxus baccata ‘Adpressa Aurea’ is a dwarf form with good color and shortened, blunt needles. Taxus cuspidata ‘Aurescens’ on the other hand is a fast growing, spreading form with long, recurved, pointed needles.

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Thuja occidentalis assortment creating a future tapestry hedge'



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Thuja occidentalis 'Golden Globe'



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Platycladus orientalis 'Morgan' in summer.



Thuja occidentalis has produced a number of golden cultivars. ‘George Peabody’, ‘Pumila Sudsworthi’, and ‘Sunkist’ are upright pyramids while ‘Golden Globe’ grows into a globe with no pruning. None of these plants burn in the full sun, but the upright cultivars can be hard to distinguish from each other.


The Canadian hemlock, Tsuga canadensis , has produced a number of golden cultivars. There are two distinctive ones presently available from better conifer sources. Tsuga canadensis ‘Everitt Golden’ is a compact plant that develops excellent color when planted in the sun. It was discovered during 1918 growing in the wild in New Hampshire. The other gold form, ‘Golden Splendor’, is a fast growing plant that must be kept sheared to develop dense branching. It tolerates the full sun with little difficulty and grows like the species.


Hopefully more people will be encouraged to try some of the new golden conifers as they become available. These plants need not be avoided, especially if careful selections are made. It is important to select cultivars that do not appear chlorotic and to display them in a pleasing manner.


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