Ever Green

It’s nice to see a little green around as winter advances.  The land is still pretty at this time of year, but it needs some definition and an evergreen is just the thing for it.  Some folks are easily able to identify deciduous trees (ones who lose their leaves in fall)  just by the bark, and there are loads of chirpy books about identifying such trees in winter, full of instructions about terminal buds, lateral buds, lenticels and leaf scars. But give me a nice evergreen any day.  Life is hard enough without adding to it the seemingly useless skill of recognizing leafless trees.

Not to say that evergreens don’t lose their leaves, in fact, they are always losing them in small numbers so we don’t much notice it. Many believe that evergreen trees have no leaves, but that’s not so, either.  The things we call needles are leaves, just really skinny ones. These needles are very waxy, too, so they keep their moisture, unlike deciduous trees whose leaves grow brittle.

Especially near Christmas people start thinking about which kind of evergreen is the best.  Many people like to bring home a nice spruce.  But how do you know you’re bringing home a real spruce to your relatives, who are busily hauling out the ornaments and fighting over who put the star on top last year? Those fellows at the firehouse parking lots are firemen, not dendrologists, so it might be a good idea to learn a few common evergreen trees to make sure you don’t get fleeced, not at least until you visit the American Girl Doll website.

There is a simple rule of thumb for identifying spruces.  Spruce needles are distributed along the twig singly, not in bunches.  Think spruce=single.  Also take a look at the cones, if there are any  left on your future holiday focal point.  Spruce cones point to the ground.  Some describe them as “sagging” from the branches.  There is a an alitterative memory device for this, too.  Spruce=sag (as in cones).   People in my family like a fir, and you see many firs for sale at this time of year.  Being evergreens, they have cones, too.  But fir cones point at the sky.  They “fly” up. Fir=fly.  This doesn’t apply to Douglas-firs.  Douglas-firs are a western tree and whoever named them might formerly have been an easterner.  He was probably homesick because firs and Douglas-firs are not at all the same kind of tree, and there is an entirely different way of identifying them. Maybe the chap who chose the name was himself named Douglas, or his dad was, or his son or favorite dog, I don’t really know. I just know the trees are not the same.

Pines are easy.  They are the number one most populous tree in America, but if you value family harmony don’t bring home a pine for use as a Christmas tree.  Their needles come in bunches, and it is like nailing jelly to the wall trying to get ornaments to stay put on a pine.   Watch for the needle bunches that identify pines.  Buy a tree that has single needles and everyone will be happy when you get home.  Another evergreen that theoretically could be used as a Christmas tree might be the hemlock, whose needles also grow singly along the twig.  I’ve never seen them sold for that, but it might not be a bad idea since so many of them are dying from the Wooly Adelgid virus anyway.  For now, my only advice on the hemlock front is not to stand underneath one in a high wind.

The fire fighters might try to get you to buy a cedar, and you should if you like the look of them and no one in your family is a hemophiliac.   Here’s the problem:  cedars don’t have very noticeable needles.  Some people and books say they have “scales”. These scales feel like sharp little pins. They may “stick” you when you try to pick the tree up to hoist it on top of your car.   The kids will be crying from being “stuck” by the “cedar” before there are five ornaments on the tree. Think about sticky, scaly, sanguinated cedars and you won’t even want to look at one, let alone buy it.

Here’s my best piece of advice.  Buy an artificial tree*.  They have really nice ones these days, some that even have the lights on already and a stand at the bottom so you don’t have to hold the tree for hours while someone snarls at you, “More to the right!”  You’ll be helping the environment.  You can use that same tree next year and for many years to come.  You also save loads of “green” by not buying cut trees that have been taken from the disappearing boreal forests of Canada and trucked here producing masses of greenhouse gasses, turning “evergreen” into “never green again”.   After the holiday you can look around at all the nice, living pines, firs and cedars and feel as though you’ve given just about everybody a really nice Christmas present.

*or a locally grown, cut down by you and yours, sustainably grown live one.

See you on the trails,
Diane Tucker, Estate Naturalist



2 Responses to “Ever Green”

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