The initial large conifer collection at the Iowa Arboretum was established in 1982 in the area that is now just north of the Hughes Education Center. The construction of the new building limits the amount of space available for large specimens and many new conifers have now been planted elsewhere on the grounds. Large conifers can also be found in the Founders’ Grove, the Jacobson Conifer Collection, and adjacent to the parking lot and walking paths.
The collection highlights species that are best used as specimen trees, in windbreaks, or on larger properties. Most conifers are evergreen, giving elements of color and texture all year round. One of our most unusual specimens was a deciduous conifer, the ‘Olga Bay’ Larch (Larix gemlinii var. olgensis), whose needles turn a golden yellow before falling off for the winter. Sadly, it did not survive the August 2020 derecho. Another unique specimen which did survive is a now large fir labeled Abies nordmanniana. It appears to be a hybrid, perhaps of A. nordmanniana and the Turkish fir Abies bornmuelleriana or even the Greek fir Abies cephalonica. Its exact lineage has not been determined despite its cones and needles being examined by the conifer registrar at the Dawes Arboretum some years ago. Interestingly, there is a similar mystery fir of around the same vintage on the Iowa State University campus.
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