Keying out Conifers December 19, 2007
Learning conifers is not as confusing as it might seem. The first task is to look at the leaves, needles in most cases. Two local conifers have scale-like leaves which set them apart from all the other. Red-Cedar has a distinctly prickly leaf and the Arborvitaes or White-cedars have flat, soft leaves. Arborvitaes, often used in landscape, are generally oriental species, although there is a native one as well.
So now we are down to Needles 101. Needles should be examined to determine if they are long, short, sharp, blunt, scented and how they "break" when pressure is applied.
Tamaracks, Larch and Bald Cypress are easy: all are deciduous and have NO needles this time of year! :)
The needles of the pines we will study come in bundles. That is: more than 1 needle placed together. White Pine, far left in photo, has five soft needles in a bundle. Pitch Pine has 3 needles in a bundle and both species are pretty distinctive.
Several pines have 2 needles per bundle. The Scotch Pine has 2 needles with a slight twist. I have met a few Scots that were slightly twisted- so remembering this is easy. Scotch pine is 2nd from left in the photo. Red-Pine are "snappers" - their needles are brittle, but blunt on the tip. Austrians, both pine and people, are a rather serious lot, and are likely to inflict pain: two needled- very sharp.
Our hemlocks, spruces and firs are all single needled. Hemlocks (small, single needle) we covered earlier: parallel white lines on the back.
It may seem a bit daunting- but remember things will be easier because we got Mr. Tree Dude to help and the fabulous "McKee" to Conifers.