Friday 1 December 2006

Christmas Holiday Tree Nuts

December 1, 2006,

This time of year our thoughts turn to the holidays, trees and feasting. While no festive season is complete without the smell of a real home grown tree, tree nuts are also a part of many people’s holiday celebrations. I’m not talking about inviting your arborist over to enjoy holiday cheer, although that’s one way to ensure you will have a certified tree nut in your house!

Almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts and Brazil nuts are the tree nuts associated with this time of year. Although many people enjoy these delicious treats few stop to think of the origins of these delicious treats.

The ancient practice of eating nuts and other fatty foods is tied to the winter solstice festivals of ancient Europe. In the winter days are short and nights are long. Nuts, a food that causes the body to release endorphins, can create a feeling of well being and mirth. In addition nuts increase the amount of serotonin in the brain. In Low serotonin levels in people have been related to despondent, lethargic and irritable behavior. Eating nuts makes you feel happy!

The almonds in your store typically come from California. This fruit of the tree Prunus dulcis,

is known as “sweet almond”. This nut was carried as a ground mixture on the ancient caravan routes between Europe and Asia. Travelers spread this seed from its origins in Mesopotamia to Greece and the entire Mediterranean climate area of Europe. It is a distant relative of stone fruits like peaches and plums.

Hazelnuts typically come from growers in Oregon, although varieties are native to eastern North America right up to the sub arctic. All hazelnuts are from the genus Corylus and are also called filberts. Filberts are native to the higher elevations of the Mediterranean. They are delicious roasted or ground into a flavoring in lamb stews.

Walnuts have been in cultivation for over 8000 years. The Romans referred to walnuts as Jupiter’s royal acorns. The most popular ones we eat are European walnuts grown in California. All walnuts are in the family Jugulans. Locally you can find Jugulans niger, the black walnut. The fruit of this variety is more shell than meat.

The most intriguing nut story goes to the Brazil nut, the nut that a country was named after. Brazil nuts grow only in the intact rain forest of South America. The Brazil nut, Bertholletia excelsa is a major non timber forest product for the peoples of Brazil as well as Peru. These giants of the rain forest can reach 150 feet in height and can be over 800 years old. In the rain forest only one species of bee can pollinate the Brazil nut tree. This bee needs a specific orchid to complete its life cycle. These orchids only row in association with the Brazil nut tree in areas of intact rainforest. The Brazil nuts come in hard pods, harder than the shell of the nut. Only one rodent indigenous to the region can chew through this shell and disperse the seeds. The Brazil nut tree is at the top of this unique ecological web. If one species is missing from this triangle the Brazil nut is doomed.

So if you want to carry on a long holiday tradition, feel good while doing it, and save the rain forest, get a bag of mixed nuts this holiday season. You could invite a certified tree nut to join you, your Arborist.

Wednesday 29 November 2006

Old Friends

While walking in a friend’s garden the other day I stepped on a stepping stone with the following inscription; “It takes a long time to grow an old friend”.

Trees are long lived organisms that can easily have life spans across human generations. While not all trees live hundreds of years some can live thousands. Large mature trees are adapted to extreme forest environments and threats. There are many strategies to help trees survive various natural catastrophes. For example fire resistant bark, roots that can regenerate after disasters and seeds that take years to germinate are genetic adaptations for survival. These survival strategies don’t always work for the trees in your front yard.

Changes in nature can be sudden or they can take years. Sudden changes include ice and wind storms that rip and tear branches from trees. Lightning, fires and floods also happen quickly. Long term changes that effect tree survival are soil erosion or deposition, encroachment by grass, and competition for light from other trees.

How does this relate to your front yard trees and their survival?

Simply, change requires adaptation and adaptation in trees is pre programmed. If the tree isn’t able to adapt to changes in it environment it declines and dies. If the tree does not have, within its genetic bag of tricks, the ability to survive fire, the tree will die. A burr oak tree, with thick fire resistant bark, would be able to survive a runaway grass fire without major consequences. A thin barked cherry tree would not survive.

If your tree isn’t able to survive changes in grade or soil compaction it will not survive construction of a new addition to your home.

Trees like American elm will survive changes in grade and soil compaction while white oaks will most likely decline as a result of root disturbance.

In the modern world we are able to affect great changes on our landscapes. Heavy equipment can literally move mountains. Why do we expect trees to survive after the mountain has been moved? Obviously we overestimate the ability of trees to survive construction damage. Trees are alive. Damaging roots has serious impacts on plant health. Tree roots are living plant organs that take moisture and nutrients from the soil environment. The top eight inches of soil contains 90% of all tree roots. Take a look at a storm toppled tree and you will see a broad shallow fan of roots.

So when we think of changing our landscape we should consider the impact that these changes will have on our “Old Friends” before we make the changes. If you’re not well versed in the capabilities of your trees contact your arborist well before construction begins. They will be able to help you minimize the impact of changes in your landscape and maximize the survival of all our green friends.

Sunday 29 October 2006

Dedicated to the Preservation of People

October 29, 2006

It is the small stuff that can kill you. And if it doesn’t kill you it can cost you lots.

Having operated a chain saw for 28 years I may be more at risk of injuring myself than

the novice user. There is in arboriculture a phenomenon that leads to headlines like

experienced operator injured by chainsaw”. It’s called complacency. I had the opportunity to attend a professional chainsaw operator instructor certification course a few years back and was surprised that we would be spending 3 of the 5 days in a hands on field school. I was at the time operating a chainsaw on a daily basis and was confident in my ability to drop the tallest tree with little effort. What I didn’t know was that the smallest tree still requires more than a little thought to land it safely where it should go.

The basic geometry of tree falling has remained unchanged from the Stone Age.

In fact beavers, rodents not known for there cerebral abilities, use the same methods as we do. Cut or chew a notch in the side of the tree that has the greatest lean,

then go to the opposite side and make a back cut. Unfortunately Mr or Mrs Beaver sometimes never return to the lodge, they fall prey to the uncertainty of tree felling and get crushed. I’m not sure what goes through a beavers mind when he is felling a tree

but if you are not focused and concentrating on the basics you may not make it back to the lodge either.

The basic technique with a chainsaw involves making a horizontal cut no more than 1/3 of the way into the tree ninety degrees from the intended direction of fall. The tree generally will fall in the direction it is leaning. The next step is to cut a notch by making a cut on a forty five degree angle from above the first cut to meet in a perfect apex. This cut should not run over, under or behind the first cut. It is called a pie cut because it results in a perfect pie shaped piece. The last cut comes in from behind parallel to and slightly above the first; it should stop before it meets the pie by at least one inch. This small piece of remaining wood is called the hinge or holding wood. It will direct the tree and may save your life.

Any variation from this procedure and you will have problems. What problems?

Lack of control is the primary problem. With a large tree the problem becomes larger. If the hinge is cut incorrectly the tree may fall in an unintended direction. If the hinge is cut through, the tree will fall without control and in any direction. Take the time to review basic tree felling technique and don’t let your mind wander while chain sawing. Each cut involves risk and should be performed with care and caution. If you don’t it could cost you not only your lodge, but your life.

Friday 29 September 2006

Good Leaf Bad Leaf

Now that the yearly crop of leaves has fallen it may be of interest what to do with them next. In this age of recycling it is all the rage to compost your leaves to recycle the nutrients. Well this is a great idea in principle depending on the trees on your property you may want to reconsider this approach. Back in the good old days people used to burn all there leaves and spread the ashes on there garden. While this practice isn’t the best from an air quality standpoint it does eliminate over wintering disease and insect problems on the leaves that may survive composting or just piling up in the woods. While it’s no longer recommend to burn your leaves, selected recycling and compost may be your best solution.

Trees that have old insect infested fruit, like apples, should have this disposed off site or buried to prevent the insect pests from over wintering in the fallen fruit. Similarly leaves from trees that frequently have outbreaks of fungi like lilacs, dog woods and ash trees should be gathered and thoroughly composted for more than one year away from the affected trees. Many trees have gall or other mites that disfigure the foliage with cocks combs or nipple like lumps. These should be moved off site or disposed of to prevent re-infection. Leaf shredders are an excellent way to speed up the process of composting, mixing leaves with other vegetable waste from the house and turning it frequently will promote proper composting.

Now that leaves have fallen and trees are dormant there are things you can do to help them get through severe winter weather. Even though the tops of your trees look dormant there is plenty of action in the root zone. Ensuring the plants have lots of available water at this time can improve survival when temperatures start to rise in the spring. Fall fertilization and watering your evergreens are two cultural practices that can make a big difference in winter survival and help your trees thrive next spring. Be careful when fall fertilizing follow label directions carefully and use low nitrogen slow released fertilizer. Watering and fertilizing can take place from now until the ground freezes. If you want more information on fall tree care contact an ISA Certified arborist, they are experts on tree care and plant health.

Tuesday 22 August 2006

Free Digital Moisture Meter

Given that we all have twenty digits; I will point out which ones to use to see if your trees and shrubs are in need of water. Most people wear shoes or boots in the garden eliminating ten digits. As you may have guessed the most cost effective digital moisture meter is your index finger.

Stick it in the ground and if it feels moist and cool you don’t need more moisture. If the ground feels hard and dry, even dusty as you stick your finger in the soil it’s time to water!

It really is that simple and you will never have to buy batteries.

Trees and shrubs need ample, timely water to thrive. Plants need a certain minimum amount just to survive. Soil moisture normally constitutes 1/3 of the volume of soil; the remaining two thirds are occupied by the soil particles and air. Depending on the composition of the soil a varied amount of the water in the soil is available to the plants. Some water will be bound so tightly to the soil particles that it will be unavailable for plants. Water that isn’t bound to soil particles is said to be available soil water and this is what trees and shrubs can use.

Plants use water in a wide variety of plant processes including transporting nutrients and minerals throughout the plant. The greatest percentage of the water in most plants is used to cool the plant. Trees and shrubs cool them selves by allowing moisture to evaporate from leaf surfaces. This process is called evapotranspiration. Essentially evaporation and transpiration combined. Cells in the roots passively gather water through osmosis; they soak it up like paper towel, or a dry sponge. The water is then transported upward in the plants cells some times actively like a bucket brigade, or passively from cell to cell by osmosis. As it gets to the top of the plant it is exposed to the air and evaporates. This cools the plant much as you would be cooled if you were in a wet t-shirt on a windy day. Wind and heat affect the amount of transpiration that occurs at any given time. Trees and shrubs have small openings in the leaves called stomata that act as windows or valves controlling the amount of water vapor and other gasses that escape through the leaves. Trees and shrubs that are adapted to dry climates will have fewer and smaller stomata to reduce the amount of moisture loss. Thick waxy leaves also reduce water leakage between cells. Hairs and thorns on leaves slow wind speed over the leaf and reduce moisture loss. If the process is running smoothly the leaves will remain cool and firm inflated with water and turgid.

The pressure that keeps the leaf firm is called turgor pressure. When the leaf can no longer get enough water it loses turgor pressure. The first thing that happens when the pressure drops is the stomata close like windows keeping water vapor in. If moisture continues to be lost the leaf droops like a limp balloon. This may happen on hot days, usually the tree recovers from its moisture deficit in the evening and processes return to normal. If water is not available the tree will continue to struggle until it takes all the available water out of the soil. Then the passive process of osmosis reverses itself and the tree loses moisture to the soil. The tree responds by shedding roots and leaves. If this isn’t enough to restore the moisture balance the plant may reach permanent wilting point. This is the end for the tree and shrub. No amount of water will help it now it’s dead.

If your plants are looking a little wilted check the soil with your digital probe, is it dry and hot? Water your plants deeply rather than frequently; let your index finger be your guide!

When in doubt ask an ISA Certified Arborist, they will have the latest information on watering.

Saturday 29 July 2006

Mulch Problems

Given the benefits of properly mulching your trees you may be surprised to hear that mulching can cause problems. The problems can be divided into two categories: composition and application.

Typically mulch is composed hardwood chips, carefully shredded into uniform pieces. Mulch that is not properly shredded contains large chips and many twigs that make it difficult to spread and unsightly. This may this may be suitable for less formal areas of your landscape, or in your wood lot. Chips from fine textured trees like willows will have numerous fine twigs. Sharp blades in the chipper will usually solve the problem of stringy chips.

If the mulch is composed of pine, spruce or other soft woods, as it breaks down it will make the soil more acidic. This can be a problem if your trees and shrubs prefer a more basic soil. This can be of benefit if you have plants that thrive in acidic soils. Mulches made from rocks and gravel are ground covers and don’t provide the same benefits as wood chip mulch. Limestone crushed into mulch sized pieces will make the soil become very basic and damage your plants.

Some trees produce chemicals that eliminate the competition with natural chemical herbicides. Sugar maple, hackberry, cotton wood and black walnut are a few of the worst offenders. Allowing the mulch to sit in a pile for a season reduces the concentrations of these chemicals. You should avoid putting these materials directly into your vegetable garden. Tomatoes and some herbs are particularly sensitive to these natural herbicides. If your mulch is composed of sawdust or newspaper it will steal nitrogen from your trees as it decomposes. Composted mulch is best.

Beware the Mulch Volcano! Many people make the mistake of piling mulch too high against the base of the tree. Mulch that is applied too deeply can cause rot on the bases of trees. Mulch should not be in contact with the bark at the base of the tree. If this happens, the root flare area will rot or sprout adventitious roots both which injure the tree. Mulch should be 2 to 4 inches away from the bark of the tree to allow for air movement. The mulch should then be an even 3 to 4 inches out to the drip line. If you are putting plastic or weed barrier under your chips you will be excluding oxygen from the roots of the tree and suffocating the roots.

Commercially made mats of compressed mulch look very nice. These mats often maintain there shape and don’t decompose or allow the tree to grow. This can result in bark damage. Mulch that has been used to soak up road debris may have excess salt. If you have an area where salt splash or spray is a problem change your mulch after each winter to prevent the salt from leaching into the soil. Refresh your mulch as needed and don’t allow it to burry the plants. Mulching is easy and effective if you know the basics and understand the benefits it can provide. When in doubt ask an ISA Certified Arborist, they will have the latest information on mulching.

Thursday 29 June 2006


Mulching your landscape can have tremendous benefits. Mulching incorrectly can cause significant problems.

Mulching is the practice of layering two to four inches of shredded, chipped bark or wood chips to cover the root zone of trees and shrubs. Mulching mimics the natural process of leaves and debris falling to the forest floor in the fall. If you walk in the forest in the late fall this leaf mulch layer will be at its maximum depth. Decaying over winter this mulch layer decomposes into nutrients. This thick layer will have been reduced to a thin mushy crust by spring when the plants begin to grow.

The primary benefit of mulch is moisture retention. Maintaining moisture in the soil increases the amount of fine root growth. Increased root area results in improved tree health and drought tolerance. Keep in mind that too much mulch can decrease the amount of air in the soil and suffocate roots. Ideal soils contain equal parts of air, water and physical soil. Mulching can be expensive if you use bagged imported materials. A low cost locally available material may make sense for your landscape. With the increased popularity of industrial wood chippers used by arborists to recycle tree waste, an affordable mulching material is at hand.

Mulch has varied properties based on the parent material. Typically composted hard wood chips are the preferred material for most mulching. Ideally the mulch should sit for a period to break down and age. During this process bacteria partially digest the fresh brightly colored wood chips and turn them a darker shade of brown. This process is more than just cosmetic. If you put freshly chipped material in your landscape the decomposition process may rob your trees and shrubs of essential nutrients, especially nitrogen. In the initial stages of decay microbes take nitrogen from the surrounding soil. As the mulch ages this process reverses and the decaying mulch provides a slow released source of nitrogen and other macro and micro nutrients. Wood chips from pine or spruce will acidify the soil as they decompose. You can use this to your advantage if you have plants that prefer these conditions.

Once you have your supply of aged wood chips, weed the area to be mulched. Put the mulch in an even layer 2 to 4 inches thick. Do not allow the mulch to touch the bark of the trees and shrubs directly. Leave a gap of 3 to 6 inches between the bark of the tree and the mulch layer. Don’t pile the mulch against the tree like a mulch volcano. Try to be consistent with the depth of your mulch.

Mulch should be spread out to the drip line on most small trees. The drip line is an imaginary line drawn from the tip of the longest branch to the ground. When rain falls this is where the drops of water will drip to the ground. While it’s not necessary to completely remove your mulch in the spring it is a good idea to refresh it. Refresh your mulch annually by raking it out and adding new material to maintain the 2 to 4 inch depth. If the mulch is breaking down slowly you may only have to level and adjust the depth with out adding new material. Make sure the mulch is not becoming compacted an excluding air. Mulch is a great benefit to your landscape when applied wisely. We will continue with mulching problems and solutions next time.

Sunday 28 May 2006

Basket Case

When you’re thinking of planting large trees you will be making a choice between two popular types of nursery stock. Traditionally trees between two inches in trunk diameter and four inches in diameter have been available with their roots wrapped in a burlap ball. The trees were excavated by hand in the growing field. Once the sides of the tree were excavated burlap was wrapped around the root ball to help maintain the soil around the roots. Then, carefully the wrapping material was worked under the roots. The burlap was all eventually stitched together into a ball. This type of stock is called balled and burlapped. This was the industry strand for many years. The problems with this labor intensive system are two fold. The first problem is the loss of roots. A typical ball and burlap tree has had over eighty percent of the roots removed. Many times the ball will fall apart when planting, resulting in more root damage. The second problem is the incomplete removal of the balling twine and burlap. The twine may be wrapped around the top of the roots, the root collar. This will result in the tree being girdled as it grows and the trees dying as a result. Synthetic burlaps and treated natural burlaps decompose slowly in certain soil environments.

Many times you will find burlap intact on trees that have been wind thrown years after they were planted? Roots can have a tough time penetrating these materials. Natural burlap also acts as a wick and will draw water away from roots resulting in moisture stress in newly planted trees. It is important to remove all twine and burlap from the top of the root ball once trees are in the planting hole. It is recommended to remove the burlap from the sides to a height 4 inches below the final soil grade. This will allow roots to establish quickly in the top 4 inches of the soil and prevent the burlap from wicking. It is also a good idea to cut several slits to aid root penetration in the lower portion of the root ball burlap. It is best to do this once the tree is in the hole. In recent years a new format of tree planting container has emerged.

Planting baskets are galvanized wire baskets lined with burlap that allow trees to be dug moved and planted with much less labor. Trees are typically dug with a tree spade on the front of a small front end loader. They are then placed into a wire basket lined with burlap. The burlap is then folded over the top and the handles of the basket are folded over the top and bound with twine to complete the root ball. The same cautions apply when planting wire baskets. Remove all burlap and twine from the top of the ball. Remove all wire that may girdle the roots or stick above the soil level. Remove all burlap from the top 4 inches of the basket to allow for root growth one planted. Failure to allow the roots to establish will result in increased chance of wind throws and tree mortality. I have seen trees that were planted fourteen years previously still have intact burlap when they blow over and the roots popped out of the ground. Large trees give instant results, small trees establish quicker and will eventually over take their larger counterparts in the landscape.

Monday 24 April 2006

The Essential Rot

Trees are long lived organisms living in hostile environments that are full of wood rotting fungi and bacteria. It may come as a surprise that trees are essentially composed of sugar! Cellulose, the basic building material for all woody plants, is composed of long strings of sugar joined together.

Bacteria and fungi have the ability to break down the complex sugars in cellulose and digest it. Trees have developed the ability to resist this process through the development of additional chemicals that resist the initial infection and colonization of wood tissue by these pathogens. These resistive chemicals are mostly specialized oils and aromatic hydrocarbons called turpenes and phenols. The tree creates these chemicals in response to the presence of fungi or bacteria and they clog the living cells and passageways in the wood preventing the spread of these wood digesters into new tissue. The resulting process is called compartmentalization.

The process of compartmentalizing the damaged tissue results in it being walled off with an impervious protective layer. Much like the unfortunate crew member that was on the wrong side of a water tight barrier in a sinking ship, living cells on the other side of this protective wall are sacrificed.

If you want an example that is closer to home, look in your wood pile and you can see areas of discolored wood surrounding dead branches or cavities in your split wood. These discolored areas are the chemical barriers that formed the walls of the compartment that contained the spread of the fungi or bacteria in the tree. Wood is a complicated matrix of tissues that have connections upwards, downwards, laterally and towards the center of the wood. Boundaries must be set up in all these directions to prevent the fungi and bacteria from spreading. This process is very energy intensive. Creating the chemical barriers takes energy and the lost energy resources behind the barrier are sacrificed. These resources are lost forever and will be converted to simple sugars and digested by rot organisms. If the tree is successful, it keeps living and grows around the compartmentalized area with new tissue. If it doesn’t the rot will overwhelm the tree and it will fall to pieces. Once the tree is no longer living, no new boundaries are set up and the decay organisms have the advantage. The only thing that stops rapid decay is the lack of a suitable environment and the resistive chemicals left by the living tree.

The decayed tree falls back to the forest floor and is eventually converted into nutrients that will feed the future forest.

Monday 20 March 2006

In the Zone

Are you thinking of replacing a tree that has been damaged by winter storms? This can be an excellent opportunity to improve the look of your landscape. Many times we plant trees because they are available and not because the tree is right for the location.

Price is right planting”may have left you with the wrong tree in your yard.

The most important factor in choosing a tree is its growth habit and mature size. I know of two people who have large spruce trees directly aligned with their front doors. The front of a house should invite visitors to enter, not confuse them with which door to use. Even if cultural norms dictate using the back door, the front door should be highlighted.

The way to accomplish this easily is to consider your yard as a group of 5 zones, Zone number one is the area directly adjacent to your house, or the foundation area. This area should be limited to trees that have a mature height of less than 1/2 the height of your house or approximately 5 feet. This assumes that your house is one story. This will ensure that your pyramidal cedar is not growing into your eaves. This zone should extend to a distance equal to the height of your house or 10 feet from your house. Zone number two is the area directly in front of your house this area should be limited to trees that do not mature to a height of more than one story or 10 feet. This will ensure that your house isn't buried under a huge tree or your lawn shaded out of existence. These plantings should never break the sight line from the approach to your house and the front door. The third and forth zones are the two areas to the sides of your house. These side yards are where you should plant medium trees that will mature to a height of one to two stories. The fifth and final zone is the rear of the house this zone starts at a distance equal to two to three stories from the rear foundation or 30 feet. This is the area to plant those large trees that will be giant specimens and form a back drop to your home.

These guidelines are, by necessity, overly simple and can be adapted to a wide variety of situations. If your lot is smaller, you may not have a location for a large tree. Similarly, if you are on a large acreage, you may be able to plant large trees in your front yard. Just remember to keep the front door as your focus even if it’s revealed to you as you pull up the front drive of your acreage. Mastering a few easy concepts in tree selection and placement can reduce your overall maintenance and increase your satisfaction with your landscape as it grows. If you need detailed recommendations on the correct tree species to plant in your specific area, contact an ISA certified arborist.

Saturday 18 February 2006

Philip's Amazing Mad Capped Horse

We are all students of arboriculture, learning and expanding our knowledge every day.

A simple phrase proposed by a student from Deloraine, can unlock the mystery of tree identification.

The first thing that you must know when looking at a tree is what tree you are looking at. Previously we had discussed ways of identifying conifers, also referred to as evergreens. Mad cap horse is a simple way to remember the most common trees that have opposite branch arrangement. The way buds and branches are arranged on trees is one easy way to tell them apart. Maple, Ash, Dogwood, Caprifoliaceae, and lastly Horse chestnut all have this bud arrangement. Caprifoliaceae is a group of plants that include honeysuckle and elderberries.

When you look at a twig and the buds are exactly opposite each other on the twig, the buds are said to be oppositely arranged. The most common arrangement other than

opposite is alternate. This means the buds are arranged in a zig-zag pattern one on one side, then one higher up on the other side. Trees that have this arrangement include, elm, oak, birch, willow, locusts, hackberry, hazel and many others. With this basic information you can identify many of the trees on your street or in the woods. To go beyond this you need a good field guide with a proper key.

The first question in most keys is bud arrangement, opposite or alternate. If you remember Philips mad cap horse you may be able to get the answer without having to work through your key. Once you identify a tree several times you may be able to pick it out quite easily.

Humans are hard wired to differentiate subtle visual differences. This instinct helps babies identify their mothers. Later life the same instinct helps to identify your friend’s car! Once you know the characters in the forest lets you begin to know the interplay that goes on between them. Take time to remember the word key and practice your tree ID.

A high quality field guide is a great investment. When in doubt contact an ISA certified arborist as they are experts in tree ID. Every arborist is a student and if they are lucky they learn something new each day.

Sunday 8 January 2006

Conifer Boot Camp

Over the holidays people spent two weeks with a tree in their house that they would not be able to identify if they saw it in the forest. Christmas trees, and holiday wreathes are usually evergreen trees from the group called conifers. Conifers are an ancient group of trees that have been present in the earth’s forests for over 400 million years. They have a well adapted system of survival that has allowed them to prosper up till the present time.

Typically your needled evergreen will be one of three species of trees, pines, spruces, or firs. The easiest way to tell them apart is to have a close look at their needles. Needles are the equivalent of leaves and perform all the usual leaf functions of photosynthesis and water transpiration. Needles have the following distinguishing features that allow you to identify your tree: length, colour and shape.

Pines have the longest needles, 5cm ( 2 in ) or more in length, grouped in bundles that contain various numbers of individual needles. White pines will have 5 needles in a bundle, red pines will have three needles and Scots pines will have 2 needles with a pronounced twist. Jack pines have two shorter needles with no twist to them. Pine needles may have a yellow tinge to them in winter. Most trees for the holiday trade will have colour applied to give them a blue green hue.

Spruces have shorter, 2.5 cm ( 1 in ), needles that are thick and four sided when you break one in half. They may have a slightly skunky smell. You can also easily roll them between your fingers because they are four sided and not flat. They may be very sharp and waxy blue on a blue spruce or smaller and green on a white spruce. Black spruce needles are generally the shortest and may be dark green.

Firs have shorter needles than pines, similar in size to spruce needles. Fir needles are flat and when you break one in half it is decidedly flattened. You can not roll them in your fingers like a spruce tree and they have a strong aroma.

There are many exceptions to these rules as genetics and environment can create a great variety of forms. There are also other species of conifers that have different features than described. These few key points should have you headed in the right direction whether it’s in the forest or just out looking at the last handful of needles from under the couch.