We see so many blue spruce and Austrian pine that you might think there are no real alternatives for us in the landscape. Nothing could be further from the truth. There are a multitude of options for those willing to look.
One of my all-time favorites is lacebark pine (Pinus bungeana). The year was 1986 and I had my first design job at an old line nursery in Toledo, Ohio. The owner, Melvin Matthews, was a committed nurseryman who always grew what pleased him in addition to market staples.
And one of his many nursery projects was a small block of lacebark pine. I stumbled on them during my first walk of the nursery. I had no clue at the time what they were.
A couple of them had been in the nursery long enough to be over 15’ tall. The mottled bark looked like military camouflage and the bright green needles shone against a gray March sky. They cast a handsome silhouette and were still in their pyramidal form. I was fascinated by the discovery.
And ever since then I have been designing with lacebark pine. In the Chicago landscape you can expect Pinus bungeana to grow to perhaps 30’. The pyramidal shape will open up with age and they become more irregular, but the bark becomes more handsome each and every year.
They are usually found in clump form and can be ‘limbed up’ like birch trees exposing the irregular bark platelets that give lacebark pine its character.
In my first two years I designed and sold all the lacebark pine in the nursery. Melvin was thrilled but I had run out of “my new favorite evergreen tree”. It’s a good thing there were plenty of Swiss stone, limber and bristlecone pine to supplement my appetite for evergreen trees that were not in the mainstream.