My new series What’s That Tree , will take you through the conifers one by one. Once a week, I will have a conifer to identify. I will hand sketch a representative of each group, starting with Picea glauca White Spruce. I will list the characteristics of each group and show ways to tell them apart. Not biology or taxonomy, just observation.
Is this a Northern White Cedar?
Photos of the trees will accompany the posts, but let us start with a few ways to tell them apart. General color, needle length and shape, cone, branch color and texture.
A Balsam Fir?
I have to admit, tree identification is probably the most difficult thing for me, even with all my training, using them in design, and being on a tree farm often. I do have my pet trees.
Maybe a Grand Fir?
So many of the conifers look similar and if a deciduous tree is in a stage of growth not commonly pictured, I am at a loss too.
Color and needle shape?
In the example at left, the White Concolor Fir or Abies concolor, does pretty well at retaining the ‘Christmas tree’ shape as it ages. But look at an older pine and it looks nothing like a Christmas tree.
This is my Concolor and it is a bit unhealthy. It suffered from our heat and dry weather last summer and does not have good needle growth.
You can see the yellowing on the ends of the needles below.
Here is a hint on the ID of a concolor, besides the color of bluish gray-green, soft feel and shape. Look at the image below. Notice how the needles appear singularly around the branch in whorls. Needle clustering indicates other types of conifers. Notice the bark too, light brown in color.
With so many varieties arriving on the market each year, unless you are a horticulturist or grower, it is difficult to keep up. So I am betting many of you are like me, sometimes befuddled when you see a particular tree to name it correctly.
Austrian Pine or Ponderosa Pine?
I have decided to start sketching them. This is a great way to burn the intricate details into my brain. There are many varieties that I am sure that you will not know. I didn’t. My friend the grower took me around showing me trees I never heard of.
Norway Spruce or Meyers Fir?
I figured to start with one I know well, then move on to those less intimately known to me. Did you know that needles can vary in how many sides they have? This is a good clue to what they are.
Old White Pine or Young Pine?
How we doing, do you know one pine from another? Black, White and Red, Scotch and Virginia?
Pointy end needles?…… Spruce?
How about the spruce trees, Black, Red, Blue, or White? How about a Norway or Serbian?
Rounded end needles?……. Fir?
And what about those less frequently seen such as Hemlocks and Concolors? Really, these are common, want a few that are not?
Hemlock or deer food? Not deer food.
What about Cedars, Arborvitae, and Cypress. Do some have flattened scales?
And those huggable firs? Grand, Noble, Balsam, Canaan, Douglas,and Frasier?
Norway Spruce or Blue Spruce Needles?
Check out the color, that helps a lot. Easy one below.
Colorado Blue Spruce
If I told you that in White Pines, the needles come in clusters of 5, does that help? Austrian Pines have clusters of two, but so does Scotch Pine. Pitch Pine has three per follicle, and so does Ponderosa Pine, but it can have two also. Confused?
So what is the pine above, an Austrian or a 350 year old mature Ponderosa? Natural habitat plays a part in ID too. If it is generally found at elevations of 6000 feet and over, could that be a clue? But the Austrian or Pinus nigra is not native, yet grows well here.
Some of you may not know the difference between a fir and a spruce. It just takes grabbing the needles of each to always remember an easy way to differentiate.
Balsam Fir in wet conditions, see the yellowing?
Did you see a lot of variation above? I’ve got many more.
Stay tuned and we will run down the conifers. The answers to the questions will be answered, plus some tidbits of fun facts. If you find this an interesting series, on to the deciduous trees. There are some clues for our leafy friends too. The answers are in red.