Thursday, November 6, 2008

Know Your Needles: An Evergreen Tutorial

Can you tell a pine from a fir? A cedar from a spruce? Just like in my post from a couple of weeks ago, Identifying Trees: A Leaf Tutorial, all of this info and more is given in the extremely useful book Stikky Trees, which will teach you to identify the 15 most popular trees in the US in less than an hour. (You'd think I'd be satisfied with that, but no, I have to go and condense it down to a 5 minute blog post!)

I took a walk today in my neighborhood to see what I could find.

The best way to tell if a tree is a pine or a spruce is to look closely at the needles. If they're attached to the twig in singles, it's a spruce.

Cones on a spruce sag down.

Cones on a fir fly (point up)and they have flat needles.

A Douglas fir breaks the rules: it has cones sagging down with a trident-shaped flag dangling out.

If the needles are longer and bundled into twos, threes, or fives, it's a pine. There are about 115 species of pine.

Another popular evergreen is the cedar - the leaves look more like scales than needles.
What evergreens are in your yard?


Joanne said...

Love your blog tutorials. We have only one, a huge, huge pine way in the back corner of the yard. I think it's a Scotch Pine? Do they grow really tall? That's what it looks like, anyways!

Pam J. said...

I've got a bunch and before it gets really dark I'm going out to pinch off a bit of each one so I can identify them. I love that you've reduced the book, which sounds like one I'll have to have, to a 20-second read. With great pictures too. thanks.

Karen said...

Just a big old Port Orford cedar, not too many of them left around here due to a virus, which we're waiting to see if ours will get since the neighbor f-ed up the root system and killed off part of the tree with their stupid patio installation.

tina said...

Very good 5 minute lesson on evergreens. Nice and simple, the way I like it.

I have cedars (Juniperus virginiana), a chameacyparus 'Nana Gracilus', Leylands, and a short pitch pine. Some broad leaved evergreens too. I think my favorite are the cedars. They are so easy and add such a presence. The firs do not grow all that well down here.

Kim said...

I have a hemlock (down-pointing tiny cones), a Mugho pine, a Blue Atlas Cedar (needles, not scales), some Old Gold Junipers and a bunch of white pines. We also have many broadleaf evergreens. Our neighborhood has many 40 year old (huge and majestic) Norway Spruces and some positively grand Atlas Cedars. I liked the tutorial!

themanicgardener said...

Scads of spruce (okay, 5), a Douglas fir, and several pines, and now I'm going to have to learn which is which! You've shamed me into it.

lzyjo said...

Great post! That's very interesting that the Douglas fir has more of a spruce-like habit. I never knew how to tell the difference. I grew up in New Jersey, right near Rockland County, your blog makes me so nostalgic for the Rockland bakery. I'm craving oven-hot bagels and Jewish rye right now!! MMMMM! I never went but, I do remember everyone raving about the brownies a la mode from the Runcible Spoon! oh god, New York food makes me so hungry.

Anonymous said...

I have white pines. what do you suggest for a Christmas tree? We might get a real one this year. Where is Nyack is a good place to get a tree?

JGH said...

Joanne, Scotch pines do grow in CT, so maybe that is what you have.

Pam, only 20 seconds!? Maybe I do have to make it a LITTLE harder.

Karen, Hope your cedar resists the "Patio blight"

Tina, how impressive that you know the names of all of your evergreens!

Kim, welcome! Sounds like you have a nice variety there. Those Norway Spruces sound impressive.

Kate, welcome! I'm ashamed to admit I don't know the names of the cedars in my own yard. So I'm shaming myself too!

JGH said...

Hi lzyjo! How cool that you are from this area! We love the Rockland Bakery too. (maybe I will do a post about them some day!) I wonder if the Runcible Spoon brownies are the same - they have a new baker now, from what i hear.

Welcome, anon! We like to go to Fox Ridge up in Warwick to cut down a tree (well, they cut down the tree - but you pick it out!) You can visit their site at But we have also bought them from the Orangetown fire department.

Anna said...

I can never get that straight in my head! I need to get that book as it sounds wonderful. You did a good job explaining it all and it really is simple isn't it?

JGH said...

Anna, definitely get the book. There's more info in it about how you can tell how old a tree is and other good trivia.

Kate in NJ said...

Very cool.
We have 2 Cedars..not sure what "type" and a Virginia Pine.
We used to have many more pin-ey type trees when we bought the property(about 7) but they were either hanging dangerously over a neighbors house, or our own and we had them taken out.
We have "replaced" them with fruit trees to lessen the "guilt" of the kill...;-)

dennis said...

Dennis had a hemlock, but it got something bad --woolly adelgid--some evergreens were saved, as they just had a little and we cut them off one by one. but the hemlock suffered and died. Now we have a cypress where the hemlock was.

JGH said...

Kate, I would do the same thing (replace with fruit trees!)

Dennis, I hope cats are safe from wooly adelgid! I'll have to look that up... Glad you were able to save the others.