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Sunday, December 9, 2018

Holiday Botany Review

I was in a garden shop full of Christmas trees the other day, trying to remember the differences between pine, spruce, and fir. Here are some clues to tell them apart. 
Pines, spruces, and firs are all in the pine family and have needle-like leaves, but their needles are arranged differently. Pines have needles in bundles or clusters, like the white pine pictured here. Can you make out the five-needle bundles? Click to enlarge. 
Firs and spruces have individually attached needles, but attached in different ways. The fir needles pictured here are flat and blunt and typically feel soft. If you pull one off, you'll see the attached end looks like a tiny suction cup. 


The single needles of spruces are stiffer and sharper than those of firs. I got poked a few times while moving this little spruce branch around to photograph. Spruce needles are four-sided or triangular, not flat, so if you pull one off you can easily roll it between fingers. They are attached with tiny woody peg-like structures that stay on the branch when the needles fall, making the branches feel rough. 
Here's a bit of leafless peg-rough spruce branch. So... that's the kind of thing I was thinking about when I went to the garden shop.
Imagine my surprise when I saw these. 
And this. 
And these. 
We may need a whole different kind of field guide here. 

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