Is It An Evergreen Or A Conifer?

“I love evergreens. Or is it a conifer? I don’t know! I’m confused.”  I heard statements like this many times over the years while I was working at the garden nursery. It’s understandable. These terms are easily misunderstood and some plants are both. Let me explain.

What Are Evergreens?

Evergreens are plants that hold their needles or leaves throughout the year. Evergreen simply means the plant does not go dormant at any time during the year.  The plant stays “green”, or rather, it holds its leaves or needles and photosynthesis does not cease, although growth usually slows or stops all together.  Plants that are evergreen may vary depending on which climate zone you live in.  Some plants are evergreen in warmer climates and deciduous in colder climates. Others plants are evergreen no matter which zone you live in. Evergreens can include such plants as pine, spruce, holly, juniper, viburnum, bay leaf, camellia, lavender -the list goes on and on.

Buffalo Juniper
Buffalo Juniper photo by Wanette Lenling

In contrast to evergreens, deciduous plants lose their leaves and go dormant during certain times of the year.  For example, maple and oak trees generally go dormant in Fall and all their leaves drop to the ground.  Anyone who has to clean up leaves in Fall knows this concept well.

Then What Are Conifers?

The word “conifer” literally means “cone bearing”, so conifers are plants that reproduce by growing a cone to hold their seeds rather than producing a flower.  The class Coniferinae includes such plants as spruce, pine, and juniper.  But this class also includes plants that drop their needles or leaves like the tamarisk, larch, bald cypress, and dawn redwood.  Conifers that drop their leaves or needles are called deciduous conifers, meaning they shed all their needles or leaves at certain times of the year but they still produce cones.

Black Hills Spruce
Black Hills Spruce photo by Wanette Lenling

So What Are Evergreen Conifers Then?

Simple. Evergreen conifers are plants that produce cones and hold their needles or leaves all year round.  This would include such plants as spruce, pine, yews, and junipers.

Globe Blue Spruce
Globe Blue Spruce photo by Wanette Lenling

There you have it.  The answer to the conifer/evergreen conundrum. No matter what you call them, they are amazing plants that are absolutely gorgeous and fun to grow. These plants can be giants, like the ancient dawn redwood which can grow up to 60 feet in height or more, or teeny tiny plants like the Mitsch Mini Mugo Pine that grow to only 14 inches tall. If you have never grown evergreens or conifers, I highly recommend trying it. There are so many to choose from, you are bound to find one (or two!) that you love.

Happy Gardening!

Quote of the Day

“The pine stays green in winter…wisdom in hardship.”

 – Norman Douglas

 

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