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Colorado Master Gardenersm Program Colorado Gardener Certificate Training

Colorado State University Extension

CMG GardenNotes #152

Identifying Conifers
Arborvitae, Douglas Fir, Fir, Juniper, Pine, Spruce, and Yew
Outline: Characteristics of Conifers, page 1 Leaves, page 1 Seed production, page 2 Key to Conifers, page 2 Key to Abies, (Fir), page 3 Key to Picea, (Spruce), page 3 Key to Pinus, (Pines), page 3 Key to Thuja, (Arborvitae), page 4

Characteristics of Conifers
Most conifers (cone bearing plants) are easy to identify to genus, based on leaf type. [Figure 1] • • • Pinaceae family (pine, spruce, fir and Douglas fir) – needle-like leaves Cupressaceae family (juniper and arborvitae) – scale-like or awl-like leaves Taxaceae family (yew) – leaves flat and feather-like in arrangement

scale-like Junipers and Arborvitae

awl-shaped Junipers

linear, feather-like Yews

single needles Fir, Douglas Fir & Spruce

bundled needles Pine Figure 1. Conifer leaf types

clustered needles Larch


Cones grow upright on the branch. and fir are made up of leathery or woody bracts. Fruit berry-like cone with scales fused together. The Pinaceae family (pine. scale-like hugging the stem. Leaves scale-like or awl-like. – Cupressaceae family (junipers and arborvitae) 1. spruce. – Abies (Fir) b) Needles square in cross-section and stiff. Key to Conifers Key to Conifers A. May be deciduous. remaining on the tree until (or after) the seed matures. Junipers are dioecious plants (separate male and female plants). Woody and fleshy cones of conifers.Seed Production Conifers do not flower. Needles single a) Needles flat in cross-section and flexible 1) Leaf scar oval. [Figure 2] Figure 2. fir. berry-like fruit. – Juniperus (Junipers) 2. rather than flattened. Cones of pines. The cones of junipers have fused scales. – Larix (Larch) C. linear-shaped in a feather-like display. Short needles in tufts of ten or more. and Douglas fir) and arborvitae are monoecious plants (separate male and female flowers on the same plant). resulting in a more berry-like appearance. Older twigs studded with the persistent stumps of fallen needles. Needles sheathed at the base in bundles of two to five. they produce seed in a structure made up of modified leaves called bracts that become the ‘cone’. Cone scales thick and woody with swollen tips – Pinus (Pine) 3. Red. Yews are generally dioecious. Cones berry-like with scales pressed together. often closely pressed to the branches. fir. Male cones produce pollen and are normally short lived. – Taxus. Leaves flat. Shrubs with dark green leathery leaves. Leaves needle-like – Pinaceae family (pine. bud tips pointed. and Douglas fir) 1. Cones berry like with thick scales – Thuja (Arborvitae) B. Conifers are part of the Gymnosperm taxa (along with ginkgo and cycads). – Picea (Spruce) 2. bud tips roundish. Leaves scale-like or awl-shaped. – Pseudotsuga menziesii (Douglas Fir) 2) Leaf scar round. usually disintegrating before falling to the ground. Female cones are generally larger and longer lived. Foliage in flattened plate-like display. (Yew) 152-2 . spruce. spruce. which open as the seed matures. Gymnosperm means “naked seed” and refers to the exposure of the female reproductive structure during pollination rather than the actual seed being naked. Cones have three-pronged lobed tongue-like “bract” that extend out beyond the scales. Foliage arranged around the branch. Leaves small.

pointed/ragged. – Pinus mugo. persisting 4 plus years. Native to the plateaus and mesas.Key to Abies (Fir) 1. Cones grayish green. Cones 1½inches long. Young stems somewhat hairy. Native to higher elevations. (but can be misleading). – Pinus flexilis. finely toothed. Key to Picea (Spruce) 1. – Pinus aristata. hard. dense on the branch. Young stems not hairy. persistent 2-4 years. (Ponderosa Pine) 2. Native from outer foothills to subalpine regions. (Dwarf Alberta Spruce) 2. Native. Cones small. (Subalpine Fir) 2. persist for 5-6 years. Cones less than 2½ inches long. Branches out abruptly from trunk base. Needles very stiff. (Colorado Spruce) Needles somewhat blunt. slightly flexible. Cones 2½ to 4 inches long. Landscape shrub. margins smooth. (Mugo Pine) c) Needles 1-3 inches long. curved. (Englemann Spruce) Needles ¼ to ½ inches long. slightly twisted. scatter throughout the tree. yellowish-green. 3. rigid. without prickles on scale. Older bark dark gray. (Pinon Pine) b) Needles 1-2 inches long. some resin droplets. Native. stiff. (Bristlecone Pine) b) Needles 1-3 inches long. eventually breaking into reddish plates. Key to Pinus (Pine) 1. 2-4 inches long. Bark silvery white to light gray. 1-1½ inches (25-38 mm) long. less than 2 inches long. Cone scales long. Small tree with irregular trunk and branching pattern Native to higher elevation and high plains. – Pinus edulis. with no prickles on scales. – Picea glauca ‘Conica’. Cones 3-5 inches long. armed with sharp prickles on scales. Scots Pine) e) Needles 3-6 inches long. pointing outwards from stem. Native in dense forest stands in higher elevations – Pinus contorta. Buds whitish. sharp prickles. Cone scales rounded. ¾ to 1½ inch long. one-sided with prickled tips on scales. Seeds large (pine nuts). Cone scales papery. Branches slender. Cones small. – Abies concolor. Bracts of the cone scale long with sublated tip. 3. (White Fir) Young stems hairy. dark green. (Austrian Pine) Two and three needles per bundle. dark green. Bark scaly. Cones 2-3 inches long with small prickles on scales. medium green. Bark smooth. – Pinus ponderosa. not as stiff or sharp. – Picea englemannii. – Pinus sylvestris. furrowed. slightly twisted. (Limber Pine) 152-3 . Bark black to dark grey furrowed. central leader not obvious. dark green. Older bark orange. twisted. often bluish. furrowed. not becoming platy. (Lodgepole Pine) d) Needles 1½ -3 inches long. sharp. Bark furrowed. generally below 9000 feet elevation – Picea pungens. often clustered near branch ends. Branches very flexible. Native to higher elevations – Abies lasiocarpa or Abies bifolia. 2½ to 5 inches long. with purplish-brown to russet red scales on mature trees. medium green with white lines. Two needles per bundle a) Needles ½-1 inches long. Bracts of the cone scales with a short triangular tip. rough. pointing forward. Shrubby tree. Each branch very short (2-4 inches long). pointed toward end of twig. often on open sites. crowded at end of branches on older trees. persisting 5 plus years. persisting 3 years. Needles usually longer than 1 inch. – Pinus nigra . curved. without prickles on the scales. Cones dark brown/purple. 3-10 inches long. Cones 4-8 inches long on short stalk. Needles usually shorter than 1 inch. (Scotch Pine. Stems not hairy. more shrub-like. Five needles per bundle – White Pines a) White resin dots scattered on dark green needles.

Colorado Master Gardener training is made possible. (Southwestern White Pine) Key to Thuja. Copyright 2008-2011. by a grant from the Colorado Garden Show. CMG GardenNotes may be reproduced. American (Eastern Arborvitae) Authors: David Whiting and Linda McMulkin with Joanne Jones. Colorado State University. persistent 2 years.). Department of Agriculture and Colorado counties cooperating. (Arborvitae) 1. Cones are short-stalked. Minor Revisions December 2011 152-4 . in part. Line drawings by Scott Johnson o o o o o o Colorado Master Gardener GardenNotes are available online at www. Native to San Juan Mountains. without change or additions. very soft.c) d) Needles 2-5 inches long. Alison O’ Extension programs are available to all without discrimination. 2. Tall tree with straight. Branches green-brown. thin. Foliage in vertical plate-like displays – Thuja orientalis.colostate. blue-green. margin toothed. Cones 3-8 inches long with 1 inch long stalk. (Oriental Arborvitae) Foliage in horizontal plate-like displays – Thuja occidentalis. Cone scales bend back. U. (Eastern White Pine) Needles with a few small teeth near tip. don’t bend back – Pinus strobus. for nonprofit educational use. Branchlets yellow-brown or red-brown. No endorsement of products mentioned is intended nor is criticism implied of products not mentioned. Sangre de Cristo and Rampart ranges. unbranched trunks. Cone scales thin. All Rights Reserved. Colorado State University Extension. Inc. and Laurel Potts. not as soft as Eastern White Pine. – Pinus strobiformis. Colorado State University Extension.cmg.S.