Know your evergreens
Have you heard the expression, “they can’t see the forest for the trees”? It describes a person too involved in details of a problem to be able to see the situation as a whole.
How I wish I could look at a forest and just see the trees! Your Nature Nut knows all the different species of trees that grown in our local woods, and sees these individuals everywhere, rather than just a forest. But sometimes it’s nice to know what you’re looking at. Here’s a quick guide to those trees that keep their leaves (needles) all year – the evergreens.
IMPORTANT NOTE: When you’re out exploring the wonderful evergreens that surround us, please, DO NOT pull leaves off trees – “Take nothing but photographs, leave nothing but footprints.”
All my observations are based on needles I saw either on living trees or fallen branches. They’re easy to find on the ground or on snow under a tree.
You’ll need to answer some questions to narrow things down. Do the needles grow from the branch in bunches, or as singles, or as overlapping scales? If they’re growing in bunches, you’re looking at a pine. But which pine? How many needles are in the bunch? In our area it’s either two or five. Five needles is a white pine (clue: w-h-i-t-e is five letters!). If there’s just a pair, then how long are the needles? If they’re as long as your hand (or longer), it’s a red pine. If they’re about as long as your pinkie finger (or shorter) then you’re looking at a Scots (or Scotch) pine.
If the needles grow singly on the branch, do they have a tiny stem or not? If they have a stem, then how long are the needles? If the needles are about as long as your pinkie is wide (about 1 cm) then it’s an eastern hemlock. (This is NOT the plant that poisoned Socrates! That’s another story.) If the needles are at least as long as your thumb is wide, or longer, it’s a balsam fir. If the needles do not have a tiny stem, then it’s a white spruce.
For further clarification, hemlock and balsam needles are flat, and tend to grow out from the side of the branch. They’re soft to the touch. Spruce needles are four-sided so they will roll between your fingers. They’re arranged all around the branch and feel very prickly.
Do the needles grow as overlapping scales rather than individuals? It’s an eastern white cedar. You may have a cedar chest to keep moths from eating your wool sweaters. It has a distinct aroma! Fun Fact: there are cedar trees more than 700 years old that grow on the Niagara Escarpment!
Our local forests have many different kinds of trees. Now you can look at the evergreens and decide what type each individual is, while you’re out enjoying the trails or your own woodlot here in the Trail Capital of Canada. I hope we meet on one of my walks.
Nancy Melcher is The Nature Nut. Send details of your sightings or questions about the natural world to: email@example.com