The long, silver-blue needles of a white fir (Abies concolor candicans) grace the shore of the Waterfowl Lagoon. This dwarf conifer species will later develop blue-purple cones.
A Convergence of Conifers
Sometimes good things come in small, green packages.
The zoo’s horticulturists recently planted two dozen dwarf conifers in carefully selected locations. These cone-bearing plants—more commonly known as evergreens—arrive just in time to provide an extra dash of winter interest as the holiday season approaches.
They are no ordinary conifers. “These are rare, unusual species with interesting habits, colors and textures,” says Director of Horticulture Brian Houck. “A lot of them are slow-growing, which is wonderful because their architectural shapes will complement zoo gardens for decades to come.”
The architectural comparison isn’t poetic hyperbole. Pyramids may be an archetypal shape familiar to many, but conifers feature a spectacular variety of geometric forms, from the mounded Blue Star juniper to the pendulous branches of the weeping Norway spruce with its windswept profile. White firs sport long silver-blue needles reminscent of sea anemones, while the umbrella canopies of Tanyosho pines resemble green drifting clouds. Dawn redwoods and golden Scots pines have the Midas touch, with foliage that turns golden in winter.
These and other fascinating specimens are included in the recent plantings, made possible by the generosity of conifer connoisseurs.
The American Conifer Society awarded Lincoln Park Zoo a $3,000 grant that was matched with another $3,000 by Rich and Susie Eyre of Rich’s Foxwillow Pines, which furnished the prized plants. Rich Eyre has been raising rare conifers at his nursery in Woodstock, Illinois, since 1988, and was also the benefactor behind the impressive conifer garden encircling the nearby Lincoln Park Conservatory on its south and west sides.
“It’s in line with our goals to add interesting specimens to our collection, show off the zoo’s exhibit areas and improve our winter garden appeal,” says Houck. The conifers also help achieve a balance with the profusion of mature deciduous trees and herbaceous perennials on grounds.
“Dwarf conifer” is something of a misnomer. Some will grow much larger in 20 to 30 years. The term, devised by the American Conifer Society, refers to growth rate and size over the first 10 years. Dwarf conifers average 1 to 6 inches of growth per year, which makes them ideal for home gardens on small lots as well.
See if you can spot the zoo’s dwarf conifers at these locations during your next zoo visit:
Regenstein Small Mammal-Reptile House
• North of entrance at wooden fence
• Along wall facing Hope B. McCormick Swan Pond
Hope B. McCormick Swan Pond
• North end and southeast corner near bridge entrance
• Southeast corner
Wild Things! gift shop
• Surrounding waterfall on hillside west of building
Craig Keller • Published November 26, 2013
SLIDESHOW: Conifers at Lincoln Park Zoo