A spring guide to Powell Gardens’ Conifer Garden and collection

Tips, Candles, and Cones

Powell Gardens
May 6, 2024

Blog post is written by Zoe Aber, Horticulturalist

Spring has arrived at Powell Gardens! While it is easy to focus on the brilliant blooms all around us, don’t miss the stunning display the conifers are beginning to put on. Conifers everywhere (at Powell Gardens and in your neighborhood) are putting on their new growth for the year and covering themselves with new pinecones!  

Spruces, Firs, and Yews will grow “tips,” tiny bundles of new needles all over their branches. Pines grow “candles” which add new length to their branches. The tips of Spruces are edible! They can be eaten right off the tree or made into syrup.  

BEWARE: Do not eat yew tips – they are toxic to humans! Never eat any foraged item without total certainty.  

In Powell Gardens’ Conifer Garden, there are some truly stunning specimens, especially this time of year. As lead of the Conifer Garden for the last several years, I have come to have favorites that you should be sure to notice when you visit this spring. 

Picea abies ‘Acrocona’  

It would be pretty hard to miss ‘Acrocona’, it is one of our largest specimens and practically spills out of its bed onto the sidewalks on the main corner as you walk through the Conifer Garden. Not only are its large swaying branches impressive, but it is completely covered in hot pink pinecones in the spring! These will mature in summer and eventually be the familiar brown cone we are all used to.  

Picea bicolor ‘Howell’s Dwarf’  

This specimen is a bit more tucked away, but it is worth the effort to find it. If you walk on the grass between the Conifer Garden and  Fountain Garden, you will find this low bushy conifer nestled behind Picea orientalis ‘Skylands’. All year long the needles on this spruce have a unique bicolor appearance. One side is deep green, and the other is a silvery color. In the spring, lime green bundles of tips emerge all over along with beautiful dark purple cones. The four colors work very well together and make this conifer truly impressive for about two months out of the year.  

Picea omorika ‘Bruns’  

A newer addition to our garden, this spruce stands upright and is a striking blue all year long. In the spring, it puts on even lighter blue tips and long deep purple cones! It is also a favorite spot for songbirds to survey our garden and is located right next to our small natural Riverstone birdbath.  

Pinus densiflora ‘Umbraculifera’  

Powell Gardens’ Conifer Garden was first planted in 2001. Some of its original conifers came out of a winter miniature train exhibit in the Conservatory! In this original planting, they started two very small ‘Umbraculifera.’ Now they are enormous specimens that could be said to resemble cotton candy cones. They put out candles in the spring that are each several inches long, making it clear to see how the trees have managed to grow so large so quickly.  

Abies fraseri ‘Wingle’s Blue Bonnet’ 

One of our newest additions and one of the only firs in our Conifer Garden, it is still quite small but full of promise. Its striking blue color is made only more lovely in the spring by its even lighter blue tips!  

Conifers are hidden gems when it comes to spring color. While not as outspoken as most other trees and shrubs this time of the year, the tips and cones of conifers are worth pausing to admire. As you look at the bright young growth, consider how this yearly show contributes to conifers growing into the stately ancient trees found in our forests and parks, how they grow to be the perfect size to brighten a living room at Christmas, and how they grow into a beautiful addition to any home landscape.