Plant of the Month October 2017

Americans with roots in the Ammerland – Picea omorika, ‘Pendula Bruns’

The Americans love them – conifers as hanging forms in all variations. Large productions of Picea omorika ‘Pendula Bruns’ in renowned operations in Oregon attest to the popularity of these forms. In 2007, this variety was chosen by the American Conifer Society as the Conifer of the Year. Like Picea omorika ‘Pendula’, this selection is characterised by its slender growth with an upright central shoot and strongly hanging branches. In contrast to Picea omorika ‘Pendula’, Pendula Bruns exhibits an even tighter, serpentine-shaped growth and denser branches. The needling is evergreen, shiny, with two white, broad stomata around the needles. An interesting plant for many spots with an exciting history.

The species name omorika comes from the Serbian and translates to spruce. The species was originally discovered near the village Zaovine on Tara mountain in 1877 and was first described by the Serbian doctor, botanist and first president of the Serbian Academy of Arts and Sciences, Josif Pančić. In his honour, this plant was called “Pančićeva omorika” (Pančić Spruce) in Serbia. In 1881, seeds were sent to the Otto Froebel nursery in Zurich, Switzerland for the first time.

Particular forms of growth of Picea omorika are mentioned in the “Jahrbuch der Mitteilungen der Deutschen Dendrologische Gesellschaft” (Almanac of reports by the German Dendrological Society) as early as 1929. Among other things, reference is made to Picea omorika pendula Schwerin: Long, sleeping branches, straight trunk, DGG, 1919.

The origins of Picea omorika ‘Pendula Bruns’ can be traced back to the Northern German region of Ammerland. The original seeds of Picea omorika were scarce and expensive in the 1920s. Head gardener Heinrich Bruns, Westerstede, was stationed in Serbia as a soldier in the First World War. Through this connection, he obtained a lot of seeds during the inflation. The first seedlings were partially marketed for forestry purposes.

Among the seedlings, some hanging growth forms also appeared. Heinrich Bruns thought they were valuable and reproduced these seedling selections further through grafting. This selection was first commercialized in 1955 by the H. Bruns nusery in Westerstede under the name of Picea omorika ‘Pendula Bruns’. Versatile contacts, among others, with American nurseries like FW Schumacher in Boston and the Harvard University in Boston led to a constant popularity of this variety in American businesses.

Yet even at the Johann Bruns nursery in Bad Zwischenahn, Germany, operations were not put on hold in selecting plants in later years. In 1965, during clearing operations, Georg Hinrichs discovered a so-called ‘cripple’, as he called it, on the grounds of a nursery called ‘Neuland’ near Bad Zwischenahn, also a hanging form of Picea omorika – the origin of later stocks of Picea omorika ‘Pendula Bruns’ at the Bruns nursery in Bad Zwischenahn. The mother plant stood for a long time in the arboretum of the former reproduction facility of Bruns in Rostrup, Germany. Individual plants of this origin can still to be found in Ammerländer house gardens today and now have a stately size.

Regarding the history of the Picea omorika 'Pendula Bruns' it is now clear that the Bruns nurseries in Bad Zwischenahn only share the name and not the origin, since the nursery Bruns from Westerstede and the nursery Bruns from Bad Zwischenahn were never related to each other.