As busy as the holiday season can be, I always look forward to the quiet and hush of winter in nature. It’s a great time to get outside with your family and focus on something you might miss the rest of the year.
Our evergreen, coniferous trees give us a bit of green all year round. And with a little practice, kids can learn to tell the difference and find out what these trees have to teach us.
So what is an evergreen, and what’s a conifer?
Washington is called the evergreen state for a reason. We have about 18 different species of native evergreen coniferous trees, 15 of which live in our area. These include Ponderosa pine, Douglas-fir, western red-cedar and grand fir, among many others. (Find a full list at https://wwrld.us/2r5JhTC).
An evergreen is a plant that keeps green leaves all year long. Evergreen can describe a tree, a bush or other plant. A conifer (or coniferous plant) is a plant that produces cones to carry its seeds. Their leaves usually look like needles or scales.
Most conifers are evergreens, but a few are not. For example, our western larch and subalpine larches are conifers that lose their leaves every year in a beautiful show of golden color.
The oldest individual tree in the world is a Great Basin bristlecone pine growing in California. It’s over 5,000 years old — older than the pyramids of Giza. In fact, the largest trees in the world are evergreen conifers in California, too — the giant Sequoias, also known as giant redwoods.
Evergreen conifers often grow in cold climates. The pointy shape of the tree and thin needles mean the tree doesn’t have to carry as much snow and is less prone to breaking. The needles are also covered in a layer of wax that protect them from cold. Because evergreens don’t lose their leaves, they can photosynthesize later in the fall and earlier in the spring. This means they can handle short growing seasons better than trees that lose their leaves.