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Mr. Smarty Plants - Questioning native status of Alberta Spruce in New Jersey

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Friday - November 11, 2005

From: Phillipsburg, NJ
Region: Mid-Atlantic
Topic: Trees
Title: Questioning native status of Alberta Spruce in New Jersey
Answered by: Joe Marcus

QUESTION:

I am in the process of transforming my yard to native plants. Several years ago I planted a Dwarf Alberta Spruce. I want to be sure this isn't native before I remove it but haven't been able to find anything to confirm this. Could you please verify it isn't native before I dig it up.

ANSWER:

 

First, we commend you for your laudable efforts to create a native plant garden! The question of nativity comes up often and in cases like the one you're asking about the question can be difficult.

 

In a strict sense, Dwarf Alberta Spruce is not remotely native to your area; in a less strict sense, it comes close. Dwarf Alberta Spruce, Picea glauca 'Conica', is a cultivar of White Spruce, Picea glauca. It was discovered and collected near Lake Laggan, Alberta, Canada in 1904 by Alfred Rehder and J.G. Jack, two Arnold Arboretum botanists. They brought the plant back to Boston, found it easy to propagate and released it to the nursery trade a few years later. Dwarf Alberta Spruce and its many progeny have become very important components of the landscaper's palette.

 

In theory at least, Dwarf Alberta Spruce could have arisen and been discovered at any place within its broad range which sweeps across the extreme northern United States and most of Canada. If it had been discovered at the southeastern edge of the species' range in Pennsylvania or New York, you might consider it to be "very nearly native" to New Jersey. So if your garden is to include only those plants native to New Jersey, then it's not a good choice for you. If your criteria are less exacting, let's say the native species of the northeastern US, then Picea glauca will certainly work for you, if not Picea glauca 'Conica'. Finally, if you wish to exclude cultivars of northeastern US native plant species that actually arose in western Canada, then I'm afraid that Dwarf Alberta Spruce will have no place in your garden.

 

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