Picea abies 'Columnaris' / Columnar Norway spruce

Picea abies ‘Columnaris’ is used as a collective term to describe the myriad moderate- to fast-growing, narrowly conical forms of Norway spruce with dense, short, horizontal branching. Since many individual clones are implicated under this name, no precise growth data can be accurately stated. These plants have been well-known and popular throughout history. At some point taxonomists should once again formally assign these trees under a “form-status,” i.e. Picea abies forma columnaris. However this has not yet happened.

Henri Antoine Jacques (1782–1866) first described a plant growing at Cochet Nursery, France as Abies excelsa var. columnaris in 1853 in Annales de la Société Royale d'Horticulture de Paris. When Abies excelsa was reassigned as Picea abies in 1923, the plant was first further classified as Picea abies forma columnaris, but at some point, broken out as a cultivar. Similar plants are quite common growing in forests in Scandinavia and Switzerland and many of these selections were lumped in the 'Columnaris' cultivar name rather than given unique names. Given that, and the fact that the original plant from Cochet Nursery is either dead or unrecognizable, Picea abies 'Columnaris' makes little sense for use as a clonal designation.

Picea abies 'Columnaris' growing in a Russian nursery field.

Comments

Ej

Thank you for the very helpful conifer information. Is Picea abies ‘Columnaris’ the same as Picea abies 'Cupressina'? Here on the ACS website, the "Columnaris" is listed with a 6-8 in. annual growth rate, and the "Cupressina" is listed with a 12 in. annual growth rate. Also the Cupressina has a warning about snow loading, while many websites say it does well with snow loading, like the larger Norway Spurce.

David Olszyk

Hello Ej ... this is actually a pretty tough question. As you can read above, 'Columnaris', at this point, probably isn't a freestanding cultivar any more as it this form occurs spontaneously in Scandinavia and there's definitely more than one clone that can be implicated as the "mother plant."

In the case of 'Cupressina', it was selected from a single clone in Germany which was also found growing in Nature. Based on all this, it would be probably best for those in charge of botanical nomenclature to create the varietal name, Picea abies var. columnaris and use it to describe the other as Picea abies var columnaris 'Cupressina'.

The growth rate of "Columnaris' above is an average of all of the various clones carrying this name, while 'Cupressina' can be more specific.

I have observed 'Cupressina' under snow load and can convey first-hand that snow splay in snowy / icy conditions is a definite risk.