Evergreens more noticeable during Christmas

Rob Zimmer

The holiday season is here, and regardless of what we celebrate, we can enjoy the beauty of Wisconsin’s many evergreens, or conifers, throughout these festive times.

Wisconsin is home to a number of native conifers, along with a few non-natives that have been heavily planted throughout the state and have naturalized themselves in many areas.

Conifers, or cone-bearing trees, are for the most part evergreen. There are a few exceptions, however. Native conifers in Wisconsin include a variety of pines, spruces, junipers, firs, hemlocks and white-cedars.

In the pine family, white pine and red pine are best known, while Jack pine is common in our area, as well. White pine is loved for its softer, more feathery look, while the stiff needles of red pine and Jack pine set them apart. Examine the needle clusters to determine the type of pine. White pine clusters appear in groups of five softer, flexible needles, while red pine and Jack pine needle clusters contain two sharp, firm needles.

White spruce and black spruce are our two most common native spruce varieties. In addition, you’ll find Colorado blue spruce and its many hybrids in many landscaped areas, as well as old homesteads. This spruce features unique, powdery blue foliage in all of its forms. Norway spruce is another non-native spruce that features elegant, downward-sweeping boughs and short needles on its branches.

Northern white-cedar, commonly known as arborvitae, is found throughout the area and features broad, scaly, evergreen foliage. Eastern red cedar, technically one of the junipers, features foliage that is thinner in appearance and bluish-green in color, along with plentiful blue juniper berries.

Our area is also rich in firs and hemlocks. Balsam fir is one of the most well-known with its perfect spires of flat-needled branches and beautiful, silvery bark. Eastern hemlock grows quite large with short, soft needles that give the tree a elegant and pristine look, especially when tufted in snow.

Another of our well-known conifers is the glorious tamarack. Most of tamaracks in our area are now bare of their needles as this is the only conifer that characteristically drops its needles every year. Before they fall, they turn the most brilliant shade of golden yellow during late October into November.

Now that most of our deciduous trees have lost their leaves, it’s a great time to get out and explore our nature centers, parks and gardens to enjoy the texture and colors of our beautiful conifers.

Rob Zimmer is a nature and garden author, public speaker and radio show host on WHBY. Readers can find him on Facebook at www.facebook.com/RobZimmerOutdoors.