Members of the Akron Zoo’s Horticulture Team can identify a wide variety of trees and plants in our park, and sometimes even your yards. Of the many tree species, evergreens (also known as conifers) seem underappreciated – but Christmas is their time to shine! This National Christmas Tree Day, we wanted to share a few handy tips we use to help us remember which conifer is which. Try this out on your tree.
- Pines (Pinus genus)
- Pine trees have long, needle-like leaves that are grouped in bunches of 2, 3, or 5. Their cones are cute, but pretty woody and hard. Plus, they smell like Christmas!
- Spruces (Picea genus)
- Spruce trees have short, needle-like leaves that are singular, square, and sharp (SSS). Ouch! The needles have distinct edges that you can feel if you roll them longways between the fingers – that’s what “square” means. SSS is easy way to remember “spruce!” Additionally, their cones are flexible.
- Firs (Abies and Pseudotsuga genera)
- Fir trees have short, needle-like leaves that feel flat and soft. The cones grow upward from the branches.
- Eastern Hemlock (Tsuga canadensis)
- The Eastern hemlock has short, needle-like leaves that are flat-ish and soft. There’s two small white lines on the underside of the needles, and it doesn’t mind the shade.
- Juniper (Juniperus genus).
- Juniper trees have scale-like or short, needle-like leaves, which can be pokey. This tree also gets cute blue “berries” which are actually modified cones!
- White Cedars, aka Arborvitae (Thuja genus)
- White cedar trees have overlapping, scaley leaves that look like flattened braids, with branches similar to two-dimensional sprays.
Evergreens are an important part of the ecology of Northeastern Ohio. Cones bear seeds, which are food for squirrels, birds and even humans. Ever had pine nuts in your granola? Those come from pine trees! Plus, no one likes sitting out in the wind all day in the winter. Conifers provide a windbreak for small animals, as well as hiding them from predators.
Use this handy guide to identify the evergreen trees you see this winter! You can also visit the Akron Zoo’s Grizzly Ridge to see junipers, hemlocks, spruce and arborvitae, as well as hundreds of other unique plant and animal species!