Fastigiate Trees, ‘Starry Night’

There is something about fastigiate (fass-ti’-gee-it) trees.
You either love them or hate them.  Or so it seems.
Fastigiate means columnar and I could not help but contemplate this arboreal form upon a recent encounter with a golden cultivar of the familiar Mediterranean or Italian cypress, that most unmistakably vertically growing of trees.

‘Swane’s Gold’ Italian cypress

The cultivar I espyed is known as ‘Swane’s Gold’ and it is a clone — or the clone of a clone of a clone — of an Italian cypress mutation that occurred in Swane’s Nursery in Australia in 1944.  About the same height as the familiar deep green Italian cypress, the golden version is skinnier and sometimes referred to as gold pencil pine.

Any plant that has a cultivar’s name in single quotes following its Latin name — such as Cupressus sempervirens ‘Swane’s Gold’ — is a clone.  Clones of shrubs and trees are usually produced by taking shoot tip cuttings — the terminal 3-8 inches of vegetative, flowerless shoots — from mother plants and dipping them in root hormone before insertion into a fast draining soil or, more often, soilless medium that typically contains various percentages of perlite and peat moss or perlite only.
Nearly every shrub you encounter in a nursery has been clonally propagated and a number of trees are clonally propagated, too.  Conifers with scales, such as cypress, redwood, juniper, and arborvitae, are relatively easy to clone.  Poplars and willows are probably the easiest of all trees to clone.  In the fall or winter,  you can even take branches from poplars and willows that are several feet in length and an inch in diameter and stick them directly into the soil or into a bucket of water.  Roots will begin to form within two weeks.  Magnolia trees are also commonly cloned, although the process is more involved but definitely within reach of the average propagation enthusiast.
Roses are relatively easy to clone so if you have a cultivar you love that is no longer commercially available, do not despair; you can make perfect copies of it through cloning.  Plenty of online videos demonstrate how to clonally propagate shrubs, trees, and roses.
Fastigiate trees, in the manner of plants generally, are shown off to best effect when they are either mass planted or inter-planted throughout a garden.   Of course, you can utilize a mass planting of fastigiate trees for a practical purpose as well.  If you have a tall building near your property, for example, and desire to remove its facade from your line of vision, plant a row of Italian cypresses along your property line to block the view.

Italian cypress (Cupressus sempervirens)

Italian cypresses, going back to ancient Greek and Roman times, have been the trees of preference when it comes to cemetery landscaping.  There are a number of reasons that have been advanced for this tradition.  The first is that Italian cypresses are evergreen and death defying, often eclipsing 1000 years of age with a notable specimen in Iran having lived for more than 4,000 years.  Furthermore, Italian cypresses point unmistakably towards heaven, the eternal residence of departed souls.  A year before his death, locked up in an asylum, Van Gogh painted ‘Starry Night,’ in which an Italian cypress connects between a brilliantly lit sky above and a dimly lit village below.

In ancient Israel, a cypress tree was planted when a girl was born and a cedar tree was planted upon the birth of a boy.  When a marriage was performed, the chuppah or wedding canopy under which the bride and groom stood was constructed from the branches of their two grown trees. (Babylonian Talmud, Gittin: 57a).
Other fastigiate trees of note include Ginkgo biloba ‘Fastigiata,’ whose fan shaped foliage turns to gold each autumn, Liquidambar styraciflua ‘Fastigiata,’ whose maple leaf foliage turns to gold, orange, red and burgundy in the fall, and Juniperus virginianus ‘Taylor,’ a blue juniper spire that reaches 30 feet in height.

yellow bird of paradise (Caesalpinia gilleseii)

Tip of the Week:  Bird-of-paradise bush (Caesalpinia gilliesii) is the easiest plant to grow.  Once established, it is as drought tolerant as the most desert bound cactus or thorn tree.  Its flowers are as gaudy as they come, with loud red stamens and glittery yellow petals, perfectly complemented by soft and quiet, feathery foliage.  Native to South America, it attracts hummingbirds and its seeds self-sow in sandy soil.  Seeds also germinate after boiling water is poured over them and they then soak in that same water for 24 hours before being planted.

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