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Witches’ brooms occur on many different woody plant species, especially conifers. They are mutations that consist of tightly congested formations of twigs and foliage, and are generally caused by pathogens and insects. When cuttings are taken from these mutations, new plants can be propagated, usually by grafting, and generally but not always, display the same characteristics as the original broom.
Conifer collecting can easily become an obsession, and some collectors are so passionate about their plants they will often go out to the woods, forests and mountains looking for new witches’ brooms. We refer to these collectors as ‘broom hunters’. Many of the dwarf conifers available from garden centres and nurseries are derived from witches’ brooms, unfortunately many of these tiny treasures are not commercially viable to propagate and can only be found in private collections.
Of course you don’t have to go trekking in the forests and mountains to find a witches’ broom, it’s just these particular places there is a greater concentration of trees, therefore more chance of discovering a new broom. Luckily for me I live close to the New Forest in Hampshire, so this is my preferred destination when looking for brooms, but I have also discovered new witches’ brooms on trees for example, in a school’s grounds, recreation grounds, a churchyard, and a private garden. I feel obliged to add that hunting for brooms, especially in forests does include a certain element of risk – on more than one occasion I have ended up flat on my face when I have had my eyes firmly fixed on the tree canopy above instead of the brambles and pot holes on the ground.
So, next time you decide to take the dog for a walk in your local forest or woods just stop occasionally and look up into the tree canopy, you never know you just might discover your own witches’ broom.
The following photos are just a few of the brooms I have recently found and the subsequent propagations resulting from those brooms.

Below – Me in the canopy of a Pinus sylvestris (scots pine) in the New Forest collecting material from a newly discovered witches’ broom.

Below – A closer look.

Below – This is one of two brooms I discovered as the name suggests in Hurn Forest, which is sort of between Ringwood and Christchurch on the Hampshire, Dorset border.

Below – A young propagation (3yrs) from the above broom – Pinus sylvestris ‘Hurn Forest no.2’

Below – This particular broom was shown to me by a friend, and is situated on the boundary of a private garden near Winchester, Hampshire.

Below – A 4-5 yr propagation of the above broom, I named this Pinus nigra ‘Keightley Broom’, after Margaret Keightley, the lady who owns the property that the mother tree and broom is situated on.

Below – This broom I found on one of a group of large douglas firs situated in another private garden of a customer whose house I happened to be working on in Burley in the New Forest last year.

Below – A one year graft from the above broom, I named this one after my new born granddaughter – Pseudotsuga menziesii ‘Katie-Jane’

Below – This is my partner Lynne, with one of what I consider to be one of my best finds, unfortunately all propagations failed as I mis-identified the species, thinking it was Pinus nigra, and grafted it onto what should have been a compatible 2 needled understock in Pinus sylvestris. Turned out to be from a Pinus pinaster which apparently is the only 2 needled pine compatible only on its own species understock. Lynne even had a good name for it – ‘Ficky Finger’ because of the very thick dense branches within the broom – never mind, that’s how it goes sometimes!

Below – A small weeping Taxus (yew) broom on an old tree in the grounds of Wimborne Minster. Very rare to find a broom in a yew.

Below – A 2 yr graft in my garden, named this one Taxus baccata ‘Minster Broom’

Below – This Pinus sylvestris broom is the largest and probably oldest broom I have ever come across. It covered at least 75% of the total canopy of the tree and is huge!, my photo does not really do it justice. found on St. Catherine’s Hill, Christchurch, Dorset.

Below – 3 yr graft of the above broom, already making a very compact plant, and I named it Pinus sylvestris ‘Big Boy’ due to the size of the original broom.

Below – I could not get a good photo of this Ginkgo broom because it was situated in the middle fork of the parent tree and could not be readily seen from a normal position, so the only clear shot was from underneath.

Below – I have shown photos of this broom before, plant is now about 5 yrs old and named Ginkgo biloba ‘Everton Broom’ – found at Everton near Lymington in Hampshire.

Below – This is a photo taken of a broom 5 years after I originally found and propagated from it. It was then a nice round open broom, but has since deteriorated rapidly, possibly due to the amount of leaf litter accumulating within the broom and too much shade. Location, Vinney Ridge, in the New Forest.

Below – Still the resulting plant has turned out quit well, not as slow as some, but still compact so far, with a nice blue colour, – Pinus sylvestris ‘Vinney Ridge’

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Ab-so-lute-ly fascinating! Looks like a dangerous quest, too! Not one I could do, bluespruce, as I don't like heights! You most definitely have green fingers - we'll have to call you 'greenspruce', I think!

23 Nov, 2008


Interesting. I'd never heard of such things.

23 Nov, 2008


A great informative blog and lovely photos-Thankyou for posting it.

23 Nov, 2008


Very interesting blog bluespruce. Hope I can keep your present to me going through the winter

23 Nov, 2008


How fascinating, dont think I've ever seen one! Thanks for passing your knowledge of these on to us.

23 Nov, 2008


I find witches brooms fasinating, There is a great example at the lost gardens of Heligan. Will post pic on G.O.Y.

23 Nov, 2008


Thanks for your comments guys, and Lynwoodview, I look forward to seeing a pic of the broom at Heligan.

23 Nov, 2008


I didn,t know about this ,it is fascinating .
Thankyou for the blog !

24 Nov, 2008


Interesting blog, loved the photo's.

24 Nov, 2008


Thanks for this blog.
I know you've been planning to write it for some time, and it was worth the wait.
Very interesting and with good photos. :o)

24 Nov, 2008


Well I never!
I shall never look at trees in the same light again.
Which came first, Bluespruce, your interest in conifer gardening or broom hunting?
Is there any link between the brooms witches traditionally fly through the air on and the ones you find in trees?
This is verily a fascinating blog!

30 Nov, 2008


Xela - my interest in conifer gardening came before my interest in broom hunting.
witch's broom and witches' broom (note the difference between the two words, the former being a broom belonging to a witch, the latter being the mutation found in woody plants.)
The link comes from the German word for witches' broom - Hexenbesen,- a besen broom being the usual transportation for a witch and constructed from a bundle of branches and twigs, which in turn loosely refers to a description of a witches' broom (mutation found in woody plants)
Xela, I do hope this makes some sort of sense ?

30 Nov, 2008


I think it is interesting to know how people get involved in what they do. It often results in quite different takes on the same thing. I wonder if your garden would have been so artistically composed if broom hunting had come first?
I thought there would be a link between witch's broom and witches' broom but my knowledge of German didn't stretch that far, now I understand why a besen broom is so called too.
Many thanks for your post, now I am another day older AND a bit wiser too.

1 Dec, 2008


I have a picture of a witches broom in Avery Hill Park in London SE9. It looks much bigger than those on the site so far and wonder if it's unusual.

22 Jan, 2009


How fascinating. I didn't realise this. They look like Mistletoe growing in the trees!

30 Jan, 2010

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