Evergreen means these trees keep their “leaves” throughout the winter. Though we may call them pine needles, they are actually very skinny leaves that serve the same function as the leaves on a deciduous tree. Identifying evergreens during the winter months is almost the same as in spring and summer, with the added advantage of having mature pine cones. Growth pattern, bark, cones, needle shape and number are used to identify the different species. Let’s learn how you can identify red pine, white pine, and eastern hemlock.
Last time we learned that leaves attached at the stem from the node. This is the same for evergreen trees, except these trees can have multiple needles attached to the stem in a bundle or sheath. This helps identify species since they differ by the number of needles they have per bundle.
See the example below:
Now we are ready to learn some tree species!
We will start with white pine. First let’s look at the bark and growth pattern:
White pine usually grows straight and tall with horizontal, upturned branches. The tree has a uniformly full foliage appearance. The bark is a light gray in color with shallow ridges. White pines can be found in well drained soils and are native throughout the state.
Now we will look at the characteristics of the twig and cone. There is a pencil in each picture for size reference:
White pine has 5 needles per bundle. The needles and stem are flexible and slender. The cone is long and narrow and about 3 to 8 inches in length. Needles are light green in color.
Red pine is a tall, straight growing tree with horizontal or dropping branches. The foliage looks clumpy, instead of uniformly full like white pine. The bark can have a reddish coloring and is flaky/ scaly. This tree grows in well drained areas; such as rocky or sandy habitat. Red pines are native to a small area of the state, but are often planted around reservoirs or in parks.
Red pine has two long needles per bundle. The needles and stem are thick, unlike white pine. The needles are dark green and stiff – they break in half easily. The cone is short and round; usually about 1.5 to 3 inches in length.
Eastern hemlock has a tall straight growth pattern. The branches grow horizontally. The foliage is more of a yellowish green in color compared to white pine. In this picture there are white pine trees in the left background for comparison. The bark is scaly when young, becoming ridged with age. The trunk is reddish-brown in color. These trees grow in shady-moist habitat, often along streams, on slopes or at higher elevations. Eastern Hemlocks are native to NY.
Hemlock does not have bundles of needles, just one short needle per node. The needles are yellow-green in color and are soft and flexible. The underside of the needle is whitish. The cone is small and round, under an inch in length. The twig is thin and flexible.
Learn more about winter tree identification by reading the Winter Tree Identification Part I: Deciduous Trees and Winter Greens blogs.
Post and photos by Lilly Schelling.