Plant of the Week
Latin: Juniperus chinensis 'Pfitzeraiana'
Of late, I've been amusing myself looking at nursery catalogs and old books
from the turn of the 20th century to see what plants were being grown back
then. We all like to celebrate important milestones, and it’s likely that
the traditional press will miss this one, so the task falls to me to inform
you, faithful reader, that this year marks the 100th anniversary of the
introduction of Pfitzer juniper into the United States.
This interesting factoid will no doubt show up on Who Wants to Be a
Millionaire and could pave your way to financial independence.
The Pfitzer juniper is one of those old-fashioned junipers gardeners quickly
inform me they hate. There are two plants often confused when the phrase
"spreading juniper" comes up. The gray-green spreader that grows about 6
feet high and 10 feet wide is the Pfitzer. The other plant, the Hetizi
juniper, has blue-gray foliage and grows larger, maybe 10 feet tall by 15
wide. The Hetizi has a more rambunctious nature than the Pfitzer.
If you spend much time around old places – say a college campus, a cemetery
or the like – you no doubt know Pfitzer well. It has typical juniper-like
foliage, which tends to be somewhat droopy at the ends. It’s a male clone,
so it doesn’t produce the typical waxy blue balls of other junipers.
The roots of Pfitzer are rather obscure. According to Krussmann's "Manual of
Cultivated Conifers," it’s likely that seeds of Chinese juniper were
collected in the Ho Lo Shan range in Mongolia in 1866 when a Jesuit Priest
named Armund David was serving as traveling naturalist for the French
church. The seeds would have gone to the botanic garden in Paris.
It was Father David who became the first Westerner to catch a giant panda
and ship it to the West, where it promptly died because it's finicky diet
was not yet understood.
At any rate, a plant that sounds a lot like the Pfitzer juniper was offered
in 1876 by Simon Louis Nursery in Metz, France. It became widely known in
Germany and Belgian during this period. The naming of Pfitzer fell to L.
Spath, who named it after his friend, W. Pfitzer, in 1899. I find mention of
a Spath Nursery in Germany that was breeding plants around the turn of the
century, but details are scanty.
The arrival of one of the 20th century's most important landscape shrubs in
the U.S. is equally obscure. It likely came in to one of the large Eastern
nurseries with a reputation of new plant introductions, such as the Hick's
Nursery on Long Island. At any rate, it was widely spread throughout the
U.S. nursery industry by the end of WWI.
The nursery industry back in 1900 was an industry in transition. The
industry largely originated to grow fruit trees for farmers. As late as
1890, about 75 percent of its production was fruit trees. By 1900 it had
shifted to 50-50 fruits and ornamentals. By 1925 it was 75 percent
ornamentals and 25 percent fruit.
Most of the nurseries were located in zones 5 and 6, and nearly all of the
plants were sold bare root and shipped to distant markets by boxcar. The
deciduous shrubs common around old homes – forsythia, japonica, fragrant
honeysuckle and mock orange – date from this era of bare root nursery sales.
It wasn’t until the 1930's that the practice of balling and burlapping
shrubs, a requirement for a conifer such as Pfitzer juniper, became common
in many wholesale nurseries.
Pfitzer juniper is a survivor. Gardeners often favor more colorful or more
beautiful plants, but many of these lack the gumption to survive long term.
Pfitzer will take an extreme amount of heat, cold and drought conditions,
which it no doubt had to survive on the steeps of Mongolia. The only real
enemy of the Pfitzer, other than hedge clippers in the hands of an
unlicensed novice, is the bagworm. We will explore this troublesome pest in
a future article.
By: Gerald Klingaman, retired
Extension News -
January 26, 2001
The University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture does not maintain lists of retail outlets where these plants can be purchased. Please check your local nursery or other retail outlets to ask about the availability of these plants for your growing area.
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