New Plants from Witches' brooms

You can find new plants in the most unusual places and you might be surprised that some are right under your nose. Most likely you pass them by every day and never even notice. Such is the case with Witch's Broom mutations. I found this witch's broom along a busy highway and I’m certain that hundreds of people pass it each day without any notice.

What’s a witch’s broom you ask? They’re point mutations that cause the formation of dense, dwarf growth in an otherwise normal tree or shrub. Horticulturists and plant collectors utilize these mutations to create cultivars such as dwarf conifers and weeping trees. If you root cuttings or graft stems onto seedling rootstock you get a new variety.

Now before get visions of cash and start sending me bags of sticks, I should tell you that most of these types of new plants have already been discovered. There are already a hundred different forms of bird’s nest spruce and we don’t really need another. Sure send me you broom photographs, I’ll be glad to post them, but please don’t send scion wood!

Brooming, the technical term looking for witch's brooms, is a fun and interesting thing to do when hiking a trail or riding in a car. The odds are that if you start looking you’ll find many of these mutations. Some will be high up in the tallest tree while others will be closer to the ground. Joe Stupka, an old brooming buddy from Western Pennsylvania, showed me my first broom back in 1984. We spent the afternoon driving around Mill Creek Park in Youngstown, Ohio and found dozens of interesting brooms. Once you find your first broom the next one is a lot easier. Joe was so broom crazy he would actually breed with brooms. This hobby is not for everyone; it requires lots of time and patience. You rarely find flowers and/or seeds on a broom, but if you grow enough plants and look hard enough it can be done.

The thing I like most about brooming is that it teaches us to look closer at nature and the world around us. Typically we go through life and miss a lot; the miracle of a living tree, the sweet smell of a flower, the community of plants, the diversity of seed and seedlings, the smile of a child, or the tears of someone in pain. But with a little practice, we can learn to notice. And we just might discover a new plant right under our nose, (and a lot of other wonderful things as well).

Have you discovered a witch's broom? Send me a photograph so I can share it with the group.