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Conifers And Other Plants In Our Garden

Thuja orientalis 'Aurea Nana' © Martie Coetser

Thuja orientalis 'Aurea Nana' © Martie Coetser


Conifer is a Latin word meaning ‘one that bears cones’. Many trees and shrubs are conifers comprising multitude families, genera, and species.

Before we focus on the conifers in our garden, let's try to get an idea of taxonomic ranking and the Kingdom of Plants.

BTW: Humans are the only living creatures on this planet who have the desire to put everything under and beyond the sun into a proper, systematic order. Keeping these orders sensible and feasible demands more than merely general knowledge.

Being a layman - an amateur botanist – but a keen gardener, I have tried endlessly to understand the taxonomic hierarchy. Aiming to show off the CONIFERS in my garden, and also some other plants, I am once again trying to understand some of the basic biological terminology in the taxonomic hierarchy of plants. Since July 2011 taxonomists use the International Code of Nomenclature for algae, fungi, and plants, known as the Melbourne Code. (Read more about it here. This code replaced previous codes.

Of course, I have no idea what this is all about. Eager to understand, I stick to the eight major taxonomic ranks.

Taxonomic ranks



Eight major taxonomic ranks:

Life – everything that is not dead.

Domain - (also called superregnum, superkingdom, empire, or region) – A living organism is either in the non-cellular (viruses and bacteria) domain, or cellular (animals and plants) domain. Domain is divided into six kingdoms.

Kingdom – A living organism, whether non-cellular or cellular, falls in only ONE of SIX kingdoms: Animals, Plants, Fungi, Bacteria, Archaea (single-celled organisms like bacteria, but with a different sort of life), and Protista (organisms that don’t fit into any one of the established five categories.)

Phylum (plural: Phyla) - In plain English ‘divisions’. The Kingdom of Plants is divided into twelve divisions. The division relevant to CONIFERS is called Pinophyta, also known as Coniferophyta, which means pine-like, cone-bearing plants. ‘Conifer’ is therefor a layman’s word for Pinophyta/Coniferophyta. A phylum can be divided into classes. NB: In 1751 the botanist Carolus Linnaeus used the word ‘family’ to divide the major groups of plants: palms, trees, herbs, shrubs, but all of these now fall under Phylum.

Class – It’s getting complicated now! Every division has a subdivision. Each of these subdivisions have more subdivisions. In the division Pinophyta/Coniferophyta we have the class GYMNOSPERMOPHYTA, meaning plants having naked seeds that are not enclosed in an ovary. Relevant to this hub are conifers.

Conifers are –

Life: Yes

Domain: Cellular

Kingdom: Plants

Division (Phylum): Pinophyta/ Coniferophyta (Conifers)

Class: Gymnosphermophyta - Plants having naked seeds not enclosed in an ovary.

Sub-Class – This specific class (Gymnosphermophyta) has 5 sub-divisions, among others ‘Pinopsida’ – the group name for plants that are generally small with simple leaves and with the ability to reproduce by secondary growth of stem and root. Most conifers are in the sub-class Pinopsida,

Order – Like class, this category is artificial in the hierarchy of plants. In the Kingdom of Animals it would be inter alia the order Carnivora. In the Kingdom of Plants, specifically in the division of Pinophyta/ Coniferophyta (Conifers), we have several orders: Coniferales (evergreen trees and some shrubs having narrow or needlelike leaves), Pinales (plants reproducing via cone and cone-like structures), etc. (Too much for the layman to comprehend!)

Genus – Is a term meaning "descent, family, type, gender". The layman leaves the complicated taxonomic ranking of plants to professional taxonomists.

Species – (plural: species) - is the largest group of living organisms. They all have to be categorized in all of above taxa. Naming of species have to be in accordance with the rules. A species gets a two-part name. The first part is the scientific name of the genus to which it belong and the second is a specific descriptive word or phrase. On top of this are countless sub-species and cultivars for each species!

(And so, I have decided to spend more time in our garden than with my nose in the books trying to understand this complicated hierarchy of plants.)

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Leaves of a Thuja orientalis 'Aurea Nana'

© Martie Coetser

© Martie Coetser

Conifers growing in our garden -

Conifers are slow growers, but also beautiful while they're still small. Let's see if I can encourage readers to fill their gardens with conifers.

But let me kick off with a golden rule: Never feed conifers with artificial (chemical) fertilizer. A mulch of compost and maybe a little cow manure during spring is all they need. Never allow the roots to dry, but also don't allow waterlogging.

In our garden grows the following -


Species: The 'genus' Thuja comprises 5 evergreen species and numerous subspecies:

  1. Thuja koraiensis (Korean Thuja),
  2. Thuja occidentalis L. (Northern Whitecedar),
  3. Thuja plicata (Western Redcedar),
  4. Thuja standishii (Japanese Thuja),
  5. Thuja sutchuenensis (Sichuan Thuja).

Genus: Thuja

Family: Cupressaceae

Order: Pinales

Class: Pinopsida

Division: Pinophyta/ Coniferophyta (Conifers),

Kingdom: Plantae

As a homeopathic remedy Thuja acts on the skin, blood, gastro-intestinal tract, kidneys, and brain. It has a distinguished antibacterial action. It is used for respiratory tract infections such as bronchitis, for bacterial skin infections, and painful conditions such as osteoarthritis. It is also a diuretic and able to instigate abortions. However, it also contains chemicals that can cause problems in the brain. (Ref.: supplements/ingredients THUJA.) Several warnings that all parts of the plants, especially the tips of the branches, are highly poisonous, should rather be taken to heart.

The Thuja occidentalis

Most of our conifers are cultivars of the Thuja occidentalis. It is a tree native to the North-East of the United States and the South-East of Canada, growing naturally in wet forests,but it seem to be happy in most regions all over the world.

Some sub-species have a beautiful pyramid-shape, while others are round or slim.

The common name for all Thuja occidentalis is American Arborvitae or White Cedar.

The Thuja occidentalis is frost-hardy, fume-hardy, and wind-resistant. Its ornamental value and small, non-evasive root-system makes it the ideal plant for small gardens.

Thuja occidentalis 'Woodwardii' © Martie Coetser

Thuja occidentalis 'Woodwardii' © Martie Coetser

Thuja occidentalis 'Woodwardii' -

The Thuja occidentalis 'Woodwardii' is a small evergreen tree with rich golden-yellow foliage deepens to coppery-gold in winter. It is a slow, but strong grower and an excellent ornamental plant in the garden or in a tub. (More info here)

Thuja occidentalis 'Smaragd' © Martie Coetser

Thuja occidentalis 'Smaragd' © Martie Coetser

Thuja occidentalis 'Smaragd"

Thuja occidentalis 'Smaragd'

Common Name: American arborvitae

The Thuja occidentalis 'Smaragd' needs to be in full sun, but will also grow in shade. However, too much shade loosens its foliage density. It has a beautiful pyramid-shape and is evergreen even during the coldest winters. (Get more info here.)

Thuja occidentalis 'Smaragd' © Martie Coetser

Thuja occidentalis 'Smaragd' © Martie Coetser

Thuja orientalis / Platycladus orientalis © Martie Coetser

Thuja orientalis / Platycladus orientalis © Martie Coetser

Thuja orientalis / Platycladus orientalis

Previously the Thuja orientalis was considered to be a species of the genus Thuja, but due to its distinct quadrangular foliage and cones with four thick, woody scales, it is now considered to be a genus of its own, namely Platycladus orientalis. Its common name is “Oriental arborvitae”.

I had mine in a tub for many years before I finally decided to plant it in the garden. To my surprise it started to flourish. Within two years it has grown into a beautiful tree.

It can grow about 20 feet (6meters) and spread about 15 feet (4.5 meters). More info here.

Thuja orientalis ‘Aura Nana’ © Martie Coetser

Thuja orientalis ‘Aura Nana’ © Martie Coetser

Thuja orientalis ‘Aura Nana’

The ‘Aura Nana’ is one of many cultivars of the Platycladus orientalis. We're not supposed to call it a Thuja. It is more a shrub than a tree, as it’s maximum height is 1,5 metres.

Like its cousins, it is frost resistant and keeps it’s green colour even in the coldest winters.

Thuja orientalis ‘Aura Nana’ © Martie Coetser

Thuja orientalis ‘Aura Nana’ © Martie Coetser

Blue cones of a Platycladus orientalis cultivar

Platycladus orientalis © Martie Coetser

Platycladus orientalis © Martie Coetser


Junipers are also conifers of the cypress family Cupressaceae, but in the genus Juniperus. There are ± 67 species of junipers all over the world.

I believe I have 3 Juniperus virginiana ‘Skyrockets’ in our garden. Its common name is Eastern Redcedar. Or maybe mine are merely a cultivar of the Redcedar, as I was told that it will not grow taller than 2 meters (6 feet).

Juniperus virginiana ‘Skyrocket’ © Martie Coetser

Juniperus virginiana ‘Skyrocket’ © Martie Coetser

I can't find more information about this beautiful "Donald's Gold" conifer in our garden -

© Martie Coetser

© Martie Coetser

© Martie Coetser

© Martie Coetser

More Conifers in our garden

Thuja occidentalis © Martie Coetser

Thuja occidentalis © Martie Coetser

Thuja occidentalis © Martie Coetser

Thuja occidentalis © Martie Coetser

Thuja occidentalis © Martie Coetser

Thuja occidentalis © Martie Coetser

Thuja occidentalis © Martie Coetser

Thuja occidentalis © Martie Coetser

Thuja occidentalis with Pepper Tree at the back. Damage done to the lawn by termites clearly visible © Martie Coetser

Thuja occidentalis with Pepper Tree at the back. Damage done to the lawn by termites clearly visible © Martie Coetser

Conifers: Common Diseases

Conifers can be harmed and even killed by fungi, bacteria, viruses and all kinds of disease-causing organisms known as ‘pathogens’.

Giant conifer aphids and conifer lice can cause tremendous damage.

Fungi such as Seiridium cardinal, Seiridium unicorne and the the Sphaeropsis sp. similar to the fungus known as S. Sapinea f.sp. cupressi in Israel, are fatal conifer pathogens causing Canker.

The western conifer-seed bug, Leptoglossus occidentalis Heidemann, is a nuisance and accidental invader in homes.

Nevertheless, nothing lives forever......

Plant a conifer today!


I have posted a slideshow of our garden in my personal site HERE..... ....

© Martie Coetser

 foto76 @

foto76 @

© 2014 Martie Coetser


Martie Coetser (author) from South Africa on February 04, 2014:

Hi, Genna, a winter without evergreen plants will surely have a very negative effect on me. Most of the plants in our garden are evergreens, and some are even more colourful in winter than in any other season. Thanks for your visit and comment -:)

Martie Coetser (author) from South Africa on February 04, 2014:

Nellieanna, I am so glad you enjoyed my garden. I have put a lot of thought in the planning, as I did not want it to become a burden. Now it keeps on surprising me with splashes of colour -:) I hope you are catching up on your lost sleep....

Genna East from Massachusetts, USA on February 03, 2014:

You have beautiful conifers in your garden, Martie! We have a few as well, and I was surprised to see that they can grow quite tall for bushes. There is an evergreen lightness to the branches that I like, and they are impervious to tough winters. Excellent hub, Martie that is well researched and written. :-)

Nellieanna Hay from TEXAS on February 02, 2014:

Oh, my, Martie - I visited your garden page and I certainly did love it! You have created a garden anyone would lust for!

I’ll make a note to look up those regions over there which may be comparable to my ranch region, too. That should be most interesting!

Between writing, tending to things and birthdaying, I’ve been missing too much sleep of late and here it’s gotten to be nearly 2AM and I still have dishes to wash and myself to get ready for bed. So I’ll have to let you know about my research on those at a later time. But I’ve really enjoyed these articles about your gardening!

Martie Coetser (author) from South Africa on February 02, 2014:

Suzanne Day, I have not yet regretted the planting of a Thuja in my garden. You can even transplant it according to the rules.

Suzanne Day from Melbourne, Victoria, Australia on February 02, 2014:

Wow, I didn't know plant classification could be so complex! However, I did find a rather nice Thuja orientalis ‘Aura Nana’ which would suit me down to a tee, because it is evergreen and looks like a well behaved conifer with minimal maintenance. Voted useful.

Martie Coetser (author) from South Africa on February 01, 2014:

@ Hi b.Malin, After I have left my first garden in 1992 - or was it 1993 - I rented what you call condo's, and also at a time a cottage on a farm - but I was not willing to spend money on plants I could not take with me when I move. I had plants in pots on the balconies and even on the stairways, and inside my house, all over, but it was not the same. All the time I nurtured an intense and painful wish to have my own little garden again. So, imagine my joy when I eventually got one to create and take care of again?

@ teaches - We tend to take our indigenous plants for granted. The conifer is an exotic plant in South Africa, and fortunately not an invader, like so many other foreign plants.

@ DDE - Maybe it is time to come home for a long visit?

Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on February 01, 2014:

Conifers And Other Plants In Our Garden is an absolute beautiful hub. I like the shape of beautiful trees and the color is stunning in these photos. Makes me homesick. Gardening is such a pleasure if you put your mind into it.

Dianna Mendez on January 31, 2014:

I have never seen such a beautiful array of conifers. When we lived in Virginia, they grew all over the mountain side and seemed ordinary. After reading your post, I now see how extraordinary they really are. Thanks for the education.

b. Malin on January 31, 2014:

Wonderful and so Educational read, Martie. Living in a Condo does not leave to much area for Gardening...Although we do have Gardeners, and a lot of the women here enjoy taking part in pruning etc., The planting is left to the professionals. Of what will grow in S. Florida.

I really enjoyed looking at the wonderful photos and your explanations of such.

Voted Up, Interesting as well as useful.

Martie Coetser (author) from South Africa on January 31, 2014:

Victoria, you know there are two ways of knowing stuff - you either have the knowledge in your brain, or you know where to get it when you need it. I know a lot about gardening, but I still have to use my books, and also Google - thank heavens - when I want to share what I know effectively in a professional way. So, really, just call me a writer. Lol! Have you noticed the truth in the saying, "The more you know, the more you realize how little you know." Nevertheless, your compliment makes me feel good. Thank you -:)

Martie Coetser (author) from South Africa on January 31, 2014:

Nellieanna, your ranch reminded me of the semi-desert regions in my country, called Groot Karoo and Klein Karoo. You may like to google them. But some of your Texas is like our North West Province, hot and dry highveld. Most of the plants in South Africa also grow in Australia - our climates are quite similar. I have a slideshow of our garden in my blog. I know you will love it -

Martie Coetser (author) from South Africa on January 31, 2014:

Hi Gail, you have just inspired me to write a hub about South Africa's indigenous plants. We have some very unique plants. Lots of hugs to you -:)

Martie Coetser (author) from South Africa on January 31, 2014:

Faith, how can we not feel closer to God while we observe the perfectness in nature? Even what we call weed has a specific function and purpose; weed is but only whatever grows where it should not grow -:)

Martie Coetser (author) from South Africa on January 31, 2014:

Pamela, thank you for your lovely comment. I, too, learn a lot while I am verifying my knowledge. Always on all topics. We just never know everything there is to know; we seem to register only what we need to know at a specific time :)

Victoria Lynn from Arkansas, USA on January 31, 2014:

Wow, Martie, you are so knowledgeable! The conifers are so beautiful.

Nellieanna Hay from TEXAS on January 31, 2014:

This is like an education in conifers! Yours are gorgeous, by the way. My mother loved botany above all other sciences and would have enjoyed this discussion too. I always liked the study of biology and the scientific ranking of living things. I'm a natural systematizer on the one hand; but, like with you, the actual alive examples are the most inviting to me.

I just love how you've presented this focus on conifers and your own garden examples are truly amazing!

Also I believe I should water my little cypress more often to keep its roots moist though drained so as not to ever be standing in water. That's how I water my plants in pots, but the timing is different for different ones.

You've reminded me that I grew up at the ranch with a kind of semi-desert brushy juniper which is everywhere, mostly short and stubby except in the canyons, where they can get a bit taller. Trees are rare there.

Gail Sobotkin from South Carolina on January 30, 2014:

Wow! The one by the pool really caught my eye. I would never think to grow a tree in the middle of such lovely brickwork.

I love trees and gardens and have planted quite a few on my property but I don't know the kind of info you have provided in this comprehensive article. I try to stick with native plants whenever possible, to keep maintenance down.

Voted up across the board except for funny.

Hugs & Love,


Faith Reaper from southern USA on January 30, 2014:

I understand too, for when we moved from the city, I had all sorts of wonderful flowers and plants growing there, and wish I could have transplanted them all here to the small town/country. This house does have many shrubs and beautiful plants already, but I still need to get busy and adding my own touches to make it special to me.

Enjoy your garden. I love getting my hands in the dirt, as I just feel closer to God that way for some strange reason. Just me, I guess lol.


Faith Reaper

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on January 30, 2014:

This is such an interesting hub and you took such a large number of fantastic pictures. I always learn something when I read your hubs. This information is useful and very interesting. Voted up and awesome!

Martie Coetser (author) from South Africa on January 30, 2014:

Hello, Mike, I don't want to be negative in my garden, but sadly I also have to watch the street while I am walking and working in my garden. The crime rate down here is way too high. Too many criminals are roaming the streets, searching for victims. Too many women and men had been murdered by their own gardeners since Apartheid has been demolished. So, yes, I have to keep reality in mind as well, without becoming paranoid. Thank you for taking the time to watch the slideshow. I am going to add some more pictures :)

Martie Coetser (author) from South Africa on January 30, 2014:

Good to know you enjoyed the read, Eiddwen :)

Martie Coetser (author) from South Africa on January 30, 2014:

Faith, this is the second garden I have had the privilege to establish. In 1992, after my divorce, I have left my 1st garden, which was also large and beautiful, and I have mourned it with a vengeance. I never thought that I would get another opportunity to create a garden. And then it came again in 2004, when my daughter and her husband bought a house on a large plot, big enough to add a little house for myself. And so I was once again in my element, establishing a brand new garden. I did plan far ahead, and I have always looked forward to enjoy the final result, although a garden never really reach a final stage. Nevertheless, when my children talk about emigration, or even moving to the coast, I hold my breath, for I know how hard will it be for me to say goodbye to each and every tree/shrub/perennial/etc.

Martie Coetser (author) from South Africa on January 30, 2014:

Hi, Billybuc, there are so many cultivars, too many for this layman to know. I just learned the name of those I have introduced as skyrockets. Will do the appropriate update tomorrow. I wish I could see those in your country with my own eyes -:)

mckbirdbks from Emerald Wells, Just off the crossroads,Texas on January 30, 2014:

Hello Martie. Such a serious piece of work you have done here. You found an excuse to sit out in your garden and the writer in you insisted on finding out just what it was. I hope the subject draws many curious readers. I enjoyed the slide show you cleverly posted to your web page.

Eiddwen from Wales on January 30, 2014:

This great hub is so interesting and well presented. Voted up for sure Martie.

Enjoy your day.


Faith Reaper from southern USA on January 29, 2014:

We have conifers where I live too, and these look somewhat like what we call spruce and some cypress trees, except cypress are small taller and thinner. I love them because, here, they stay green all year long!

Dear Martie, you put so much thought into everything, whereas I just think of what would look pretty in the garden. Thank you for the education!

Up and more and sharing.


Faith Reaper

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on January 29, 2014:

Martie, I live in the conifer capital of the United States. Our state name is "The Evergreen State." We who are from here know all about conifers. Having said that, it was interesting to learn about some species I had never heard of. What a fascinating world we live in. Well done my friend.

Martie Coetser (author) from South Africa on January 29, 2014:

@ My dearest marcoujor, your compliments almost made me cry, because I feel the same about you. You, too, never cease to amaze me :)

@ bravewarrior, I saw a video the other day of a friend's tour of several states in America. I could have sworn he was touring South Africa. Thanks to the Internet we have the most wonderful opportunity to see and comprehend each other's worlds :)

Shauna L Bowling from Central Florida on January 29, 2014:

Martie, this is so interesting. I love the way you clarified etc. as "(Too much for the layman to comprehend!)" - the perfect definition!

The conifers you feature here also grow in the US, many (if not all) of which do well in Florida.

I viewed the slide show on your blog and was equally impressed. It's always nice to see what grows in other parts of the world and recognize them. It reminds us that we are one big family.

Maria Jordan from Jeffersonville PA on January 29, 2014:

Oh my goodness gracious, Sista, the mystery is finally solved ... you are by far the more intelligent of the two of us...even though you 'allege' I am older (LOL)!

I am struggling to make a coherent comment but I can say without a shadow of a doubt that you have some cunning, charming and classically beautiful conifers in your garden.

You never cease to amaze me with the range and diversity of your writing. I am on "pins and pine needles" to see what you come up with next, you sassy thang!

Voted UP and UABI. Love you, mar

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