What is a witches broom and why is it special?

futurenurse(z9 FL)May 15, 2005


I've noticed what I believe to be a witches broom on my neighbor's Japanese Red Maple. It is a branch that sticks out from the regular shape of the tree, and has a dense branching of its own.

I know these brooms are favorites for propagators...but I'm wondering...why? Is there a difference in the genetics of these brooms...different than the rest of the tree? Why are these variations propagated?


P.S. Yes...I'll probably get a cutting and propagate it :-). My name is Darlene and I am a pertetual propagator... :-)

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Hi Darlene,
I am a z6 future nurse as well! I am not sure about the brooms you are talking about. From what I know a witches broom is a disease of a woody plant caused by leafhoppers and Aphids and such. It makes bunches of bare stems that resemble a witches broom. That's all I know. I suppose if this is the case they would be quickly removed as it would kill the rest of the plant. But, this doesn't sound like the broom you are reffering to. I'll have to check into that! Happy gardening and nursing!


    Bookmark   May 16, 2005 at 7:59PM
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futurenurse(z9 FL)


I have 3 more weeks until the end of this quarter and I can hardly wait!!! This quarter is Med/Surg and Peds. I am so burned out I can hardly stand it...summer will feel so good--

Another member suggested that I google "witches broom" which was an excellent suggestion...it is frequently propagated because it makes nice bonsai plants. The branch I saw is not a true witches broom (sadly), but I'm am on the lookout for one. It would be great to propagate and see if I can start a bonsai plant from "scratch".

I'm a nut about gardening too...I actually have a rainsuit that I put on when it is too muddy or raining. Most people stay inside!



    Bookmark   May 16, 2005 at 8:12PM
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LOL. Another gardener told me their nieghbor used to garden at night with a miner's helmet! Thank goodness I am done for the summer now! we just finished Peds/OB/Geriatrics. Loved OB--HATED Geriatrics!!!

    Bookmark   May 16, 2005 at 8:24PM
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Soeur(z6b TN)

Re: witches brooms: Cuttings taken from them usually retain the dwarfing characteristics of the witches broom, as well as any odd leaf formations, etc. That's why they're popular with plant hounds. Many dwarf forms of familiar plants originated as chance witches brooms. An example: A witches broom was observed on an otherwise normal male American Holly in Alabama. Cuttings were taken, and now, some years later, 'William Hawkins' is in the trade, a handsome, dwarf, deep green holly with an unusual and striking narrow leaf form.


    Bookmark   May 16, 2005 at 11:45PM
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rhizo_1 (North AL) zone 7

Witches' Brooms are very important in ornamental horticulture and have been for centuries. Keep your eyes out!

    Bookmark   May 17, 2005 at 2:39PM
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FlytrpL8E(z8b CA)

Good luck with your cuttings and you eduction.
keep 'em plants growin
Lois an old worn out nurse

    Bookmark   May 18, 2005 at 12:04AM
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If you enjoy propagating then you probably know all the following. Just in case...here are a few thoughts for you. Most of the dwarf conifers/hardwoods on the market were once witches brooms that sharp eyed gardeners spotted by chance. Usually a witches broom results from insect damage to a branch or storm damage. They are to be treasured and sometimes are more difficult to propagate. May I suggest that when you are ready to take cuttings that you only take a few. Don't remove the whole witches broom at once. Then, if you fail to root them you can return for more cuttings or, perhaps, take some cuttings to a professional who may have better luck. Often they have to be bud grafted onto suitable stock. I have found that the seeds of maple witches brooms are sterile. Sometimes these maple aberations will set scads of seed. Good luck!

    Bookmark   May 18, 2005 at 3:29PM
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Just read your message--never heard of a witches broom before. Think I have seen some, in fact may have one on a pine tree, but didn't know what they were. If I do find one how do I proceed with propragating it? I have done very little propragating and need to learn how, from step one. By the way, old gardners don't die they just spade

    Bookmark   July 23, 2005 at 6:56AM
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zjones(z6b TN)

You might find additional info on the conifer forum - some very experienced grafters lurking around over there. I have my eye on a broom on a white pine here but the broom is growing right over a high voltage line on a very busy street in town - why don't they ever grow within 5' of the ground in public parks? Darn witches!

    Bookmark   July 25, 2005 at 4:24PM
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I've spotted a local black walnut tree with a serpentine growth habit, somewhat similar to 'corkscrew' willow, and while I've not noticed WBs on it, it does tend to have some prominent fasciated(flattened, thickened) twigs that I haven't seen on the other local BWs.
Have been trying to graft/bud this selection - including some of the fasciated branches - to no avail, for the past 3 years.
Eventually, I'll get one started; curious to see if this growth habit is stable in grafted clones.

    Bookmark   July 28, 2005 at 6:19PM
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kcassidy(7 Maryland)

Witches Broom is usually caused by a viral infection, transmitted by various insects.

    Bookmark   July 28, 2005 at 10:48PM
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Vera_EWASH(z5 EasternWA)

Witches Brooms can also be a sign of a boron deficiency.


    Bookmark   October 16, 2005 at 4:51PM
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Mike Larkin

If it is a witches broom, you may have better luck grafting it. Or finding someone to graft. I have not had much luck taking cutting from maple. But you may get lucky. LOL
Also I am not sure that "usually" can be used to explain were or how witches brooms result. There are many reason why, this could happen. Not sure if there are definite reasons why though.

    Bookmark   May 24, 2006 at 12:11PM
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As a greenhouse/nursery student and from what I have learned.....a witches broom is often a sign of Boron deficiency.


Here is a link that might be useful: Diagnosing Plant Damage-A Systematic Approach

    Bookmark   May 28, 2006 at 12:36PM
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opps guess I replied before...lol! Sorry bout that :)))


    Bookmark   May 28, 2006 at 12:39PM
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kcassidy(7 Maryland)

The boron defficiency must be something new, my BS degree in Horticullture is only 20+ years old!!!
Nice thing about science, we are always finding new things
which enhance our knowledge

Mike Cassidy

    Bookmark   May 30, 2006 at 10:25PM
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Found this on the web & thought I'd post it.

WITCHES' BROOM, a bunch of many upright or spreading, abnormally clustered branches or twigs that is formed on plants as a result of attack by parasites. Witches' brooms are symptoms of infection. Although they can occur on nonwoody plants such as alfalfa, potato, and aster, they are most familiar on shrubs and trees, where some may exceed 10 feet in diameter. They may resemble a bush, a bird's nest, or a handleless broom attached to the host plant. Some may consist wholly or partially of dead branches; others, of living branches that can continue to grow for many years. The leaves they bear may be distorted; they may appear later in spring and drop earlier in fall than the normal leaves of the plant, and they may be yellowed. Flowers are rarely produced. The parasites whose presence stimulates the formation of witches' brooms include fungi (on alder, birch, red cedar, and white cedar); bacteria (on pine); dwarf mistletoes (on pine, larch, and fir); viruses (on peach and black locust); and mites (on hackberry and willow). The stimulus responsible for certain types of witches' brooms is not well understood. Some witches' brooms may cause stunting or even death of the host plant, especially when many brooms develop on one individual. Other kinds do not appear to damage the host appreciably; however, they are unsightly and therefore may be objectionable, especially on street and ornamental trees. Control of witches' brooms on woody plants is best accomplished by removing and burning the brooms.

John W. Thieret

Chicago Natural History Museum

Copyright Grolier Educational Corporation (C) 1996.

    Bookmark   August 3, 2007 at 9:23AM
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