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Forever Green

the tamarack

Evergreen trees give us vibrant green color in winter when the rest of the world has turned brown or is covered with a blanket of white. These trees also provide a magical scent as you stroll through a snowy evergreen forest on a crisp winter's day. In case you didn't know, evergreens are trees that keep their needles and are never totally without leaves. Most conifers are evergreens, but not all. The tamarack is the only conifer in our state that changes color (to yellow) and sheds all of its leaves each fall. It is really easy to spot one in October in the northern forests. The rest of the conifers that are evergreens, remain green year-round and will lose brown needles occasionally as the tree grows. Evergreens are able to make food throughout the early and late parts of the growing season. All Wisconsin evergreens are conifers, that means trees that produce their seeds in a cone. They also have narrow round or flat needles instead of broad leaves like an oak. The cones and needles can help you tell the trees apart and identify them.

evergreens in winter

Where do evergreens and conifers grow in Wisconsin?

They are scattered from central Wisconsin to the northernmost parts of the state. Although, you'll see them planted throughout Wisconsin. Each tree type has different needs and not all live in the same conditions. Spruces love cold and moisture, firs like warmer temperatures, pines like coarse, dry soil and lots of sun. Here's a list of forest types and the evergreens you'll find there:

Boreal Forest
Located in the most northern corner of the state, you'll find stands of white spruce, balsam fir, tamarack, and white cedar, mixed with white birch and aspen.

Coniferous Forest
White and red pine mixed together.

Mixed Forest Types
Found in a larger area across the upper one half of the state, it includes hemlock, white pine and red pine, mixed with birch, maple, beech and aspen.

Barrens
There are scattered sections of barrens in the central and northern parts of Wisconsin. Jack pine and scrub oak grow here on sandy soils.

Forest Wetlands
Swamp conifers and lowland hardwoods grow here in wet soils.

What are evergreens used for?

Many species of wildlife live among the conifers and use them for food. Red squirrels love to dig out the seeds and stash them for a winter snack. Mourning doves nest in the protective shelter of large trees. Chickadees pick boughs clean of insects. Hawks use the treetops as lookouts. Groups of trees camouflage deer, lynx and bobcats. Low hanging branches provide a corridor for the snowshoe hare. Branches lying on the ground make perfect homes for snakes, salamanders and shrews. White-tailed deer will strip white cedar branches clean to feed themselves in the winter, while porcupines eat the bark off of cedar stems. Owls also find comfortable perches in the tree tops.

Many people like to have conifers in their yard to give shade, provide habitat for animals and because people like they way they look. We also use conifers in other ways. Just think of all the products that we use each day that are made from conifers. Read the descriptions of each tree above to learn what each tree type is used for by people and wildlife. Many people also use evergreens for use in holiday celebrations. There are several varieties to choose from, some that are native to our state and others that are not:

These are just a few. Wisconsin has 10 species of conifer native to the state. Click on the list at the top of the page to see a picture and description of each one.

What is it?

How can you tell what type of conifer you're looking at? Evergreen identification is similar to any tree identification. First, take a look at the leaves. Are they long and narrow like needles, or flat and scale-like? Are the needles single or in a cluster? How many needles are in a cluster? What shape are the needles? What does the cone or fruit look like? Take a close look at the bark as well, what does it look like? Here's a tree key to help you figure it out.



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