Even though all evergreen trees are routinely called “pine trees” by the casual observer, there are other unique species that deserve to be called by their proper names. To begin, we can differentiate between evergreen tree species (conifers) by identifying them as being either a Pine, Fir or Spruce tree. Some of the distinguishing characteristics of the three conifers are their needles, cones and bark. First let’s discuss the needle differences between the three evergreen trees types. Pine tree needles are normally carried in groups of two or more (2, 3 or 5 per cluster) and are 1 to 3 inches long. Fir and Spruce needles are individually attached to the branch and are only 3/4 to 1-1/2 inches long. A spruce tree needle will roll easily between your fingers (four sides to each leaf/needle) and is somewhat pointy where a fir needle is more flat (having only two sides) and a bit softer. All conifers shed their needles and normally do so in the fall. Since all conifers produce cones, it is another great way to differentiate between the three. Pine cones are quite woody with a rigid feel. Spruce cones have thinner and more flexible scales than pine cones (usually growing down – pointing toward the ground). Mature Fir tree cones grow upward (pointing toward the sky). Since the bark of all conifer trees vary greatly, it is not a very reliable way to identify an evergreen tree. Pine tree bark tends to be smooth when the tree is young, but becomes flaky and reddish-brown colored as it ages. The bark of a Spruce tree is usually rough and becomes furrowed and scaly as it matures. Fir trees have somewhat smooth bark that is often grayish when young, yet becomes furrowed as it matures.
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