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Nature Notebook – Conifers

‘Tis the season of evergreens, also known as conifers. Michigan is home to many different native and non-native species of conifers, commonly called evergreens because we perceive these trees to be ever green, with the leaves of the trees living a few years instead of shedding all their leaves every year like deciduous trees.

There is one exception to the coniferous evergreen rule, however. Tamarack trees, a medium-sized conifer found in wetlands and bogs, shed their needles every fall after a display of beautiful burnt orange.

Conifer lineage is traced back more than 300 million years ago, millions of years before angiosperms (flowering plants like maple trees) appeared. Today, Michigan has ten native species of conifers, with the native white pine being the state tree of Michigan. Pines, like other members of the family, produce their seeds in cones. The cones of white pine require two years to mature, and each tree contains cones of both reproductive structures. The yellow pollen matures in May or June and is wind disseminated in great abundance to create more white pines.

White pines can be identified by counting the leaves in each cluster. White pine has five, unlike other evergreens in Southwest Michigan.