Conifer Confusion: An Identification Guide for Pine, Spruce, and Fir Trees

One of my earliest memories involves planting a spruce tree.

We grew up in a very rural part of Pennsylvania, so when I say that my dad and I drove his pickup truck into the woods, I literally mean we drove his pickup truck into the woods.

He was on the search for a tree to plant in the front yard, and after a bit of hunting he found the one he wanted. Carefully digging it up from the ground, he placed it in the bed of the truck.

Excited me looked through the rear window at that tree, and I said, “Cool pine tree!”

A large white fir tree fills image framed with a blue sky.

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My dad kept his eyes on… well, not on the road. I guess on the field… and he said to me, “That’s not a pine tree. It’s a spruce.”

From that point on, I became enthralled with identifying trees and plants – especially with noting the differences between pine, spruce, and fir trees.

The secret to becoming the equivalent of a human dichotomous key for conifer identification isn’t much of a secret.

Can you differentiate a pine from a spruce? Our handy guide can help: https://gardenerspath.com/plants/landscape-trees/identifying-conifers/
A young pine (not a spruce!). Photo by Matt Suwak.

Like almost everything else in life, learning the difference between pine, spruce, and fir requires an investment of time and energy.

Luckily, this is one of the fastest lessons you can learn, and it pays back in surplus.

Can you tell the difference between a yew (like the one pictured) and other types of evergreen? Explore our guide: https://gardenerspath.com/plants/landscape-trees/identifying-conifers/
A yew. Photo by Matt Suwak.

In this article you can expect to see some pictures paired with descriptions and an organized approach examining the nuggets of information.

You’ll learn the steps to conifer identification in order of most to least helpful. Lastly, there will be a brief look at other conifers that are not pine, spruce, or fir.

Now, let’s get to it.

The First Step: Let’s Narrow It Down to the Needles

Without doubt, the most important information to identify whether a tree is pine, spruce, or fir is observed in the needles.

This is the most helpful and beneficial tool to add to your repertoire, and that’s why it’s first!

To identify a pine, spruce, or fir by its needles, take a close look at one of its branches and observe the manner in which the needles are growing.

Pine

These needles are especially unique among this trio of trees.

Closeup detail of pine needles. | GardenersPath.com
Photo by Matt Suwak.
  • Always grow in clusters from a single origin point on a branch.
  • Are often sensually soft and tend to grow to greater lengths than other conifers.
  • Always grow in clusters of 2 (red pines), 3 (yellow pines), or 5 (white pines).
  • Can grow to be up to 16 inches long!
  • The wind blows through pine needles with a characteristic and soothingly beautiful whooshing sound.
Closeup pine needles. | GardenersPath.com
Photo by Matt Suwak.

Spruce

  • Like my favorite cocktails, these needles tend to be short and stiff.
  • Unlike the needles of a pine, these tend to grow from a single origin point and are attached to small, stalk-like woody projections.
  • Needles are often square and can easily be rolled between fingertips when removed.
Learn to compare different types of conifers with these visual clues: https://gardenerspath.com/plants/landscape-trees/identifying-conifers/
Photo by Matt Suwak.

Fir

  • Needles are soft and flat.
  • Grow from a single point of origin like a spruce, but are attached to the branch in a manner resembling a suction cup.
  • When the needles are removed they do not leave behind a woody projection.
  • Tend to have two white stripes on the bottom of each needle.
Fir needle shape close up. | GardenersPath.com
Photo by Matt Suwak.

So, let’s say you’re stuck in the field and are trying to identify what type of tree you are looking at.

The easiest way to figure that out is to observe the needles; only pine tree needles grow in clusters. At the very least, you can deduce whether a tree is pine or… something else. Not a bad start!

The Second Step: Cones and Branches Further the Study

Although less definitive for identifying these three conifers, examining the cones and branches of a tree offers more helpful hints.

Pine

  • Branches tend to be upturned, but are fewer in quantity than on a spruce or a fir.
  • Tend to grow from a single, circular area on the trunk of the tree.
  • Cones often begin developing with a green color, then turn reddish-brown or black.
  • Fully developed cones are stiff and woody, and certainly inflexible.
  • While developing, cones hang towards the ground.

Spruce

Closeup spruce needles look different from other conifers. | GardenersPath.com

  • Branches tend to grow in an upturned direction.
  • Cones tend to develop into a smooth and flexible shape, with thin scales.
  • Cones hang towards the ground.

Fir

Fir tree cones forming. | GardenersPath.com
Fir tree cones forming in an upward orientation.
  • Possess wide lower branches and develop into more of a downturned shape.
  • Cones can be purple, green, or blue, before changing to a golden brown.
  • Most notably, cones grow upwards like candle flames.
Comparing pine and spruce cones. | GardenersPath.com
Pine cone on the left, spruce cone on the right. Photo by Matt Suwak.

That last point is an easily identifiable feature of fir trees, one that’s excellent to keep in mind!

Although the branches of these three conifer trees do not possess instantly identifiable characteristics, their cones can aid more definitively in identification.

Just like a pine tree is unique in that its needles grow in clusters from a single origin point, a fir tree is unique in that its cones grow upward like candle flames.

The Third Step: Bark and Growth Habit

Here’s another piece to the puzzle: examining the bark and overall appearance of a healthy tree is an excellent addition to our identification key.

Pine

Pine, fir, spruce, hemlock, cedar, yew... suffering from conifer confusion? This article will help you to become an evergreen identification pro: https://gardenerspath.com/plants/landscape-trees/identifying-conifers/
White pine. Photo by Matt Suwak.
  • Bark of young trees tends to be smooth, growing flaky with age.
  • Have an open and rounded canopy developing into a loose triangular pattern.
  • Have been described as “jagged lollipops.”

Spruce

Do you know the difference between a spruced pine, and a fir tree? We can help to resolve your conifer confusion, for good! Read more now or pin it for later: https://gardenerspath.com/plants/landscape-trees/identifying-conifers/

  • Tend to develop rough and scaly bark because of woody projections that hold the needles to the tree.
  • Typically grow into a “perfect” conifer shape.
  • Ask a child to draw a Christmas tree, and they’ll give you a pretty good silhouette of a spruce!

Fir

  • Bark on young trees is usually smooth and gray, becoming furrowed with age.
  • Often develop into a tall and upright “classic” shape.
  • Shape is similar to a spruce, but with a little more room between the branches.

It’s difficult to identify these trees based on the characteristics of bark and growth habit alone, but these features can be beneficial in further identifying a tree.

Which One Do I Want in My Landscape?

A question often ignored by identification keys pertains to why a tree is, or should be, growing in a certain area.

It can also lend aid towards identifying what tree you are examining, based off of the conditions and the location where it is growing.

Pine

The needles of pine are unique in comparison to other conifers. | GardenersPath.com

  • Tend to prefer well-drained soil and to receive lots of sun.
  • Like an acidic soil.
  • Fallen needles will raise the pH of the soil around the tree.
  • Needles act as a very effective mulch.
  • Tend to thrive in barren, windswept areas.
  • Irregular growth pattern lends itself to these more remote areas of a landscape.

Spruce

When I was growing up in Northeastern Pennsylvania, a line of spruce trees designated an intentionally planted buffer against windblown snowdrifts.

Spruce windscreen | GardenersPath.com
Windscreen of spruce.
  • Prefers well-drained soil and lots of sun.
  • Can tolerate a range of soil types and climates.
  • Prefer cooler areas and more acidic soil.
  • Work exceptionally well as a windscreen.
  • Work very well as specimens in the landscape.

Fir

  • Will grow in a full sun to partial shade environment.
  • Prefer mildly acidic soil high in organic matter.
  • Develop shallow root systems.
  • Perfect plants for areas with only a thin layer of topsoil, or rocky areas.

Other Conifers

I find it wild to consider that very few of the guides I’ve examined give any attention to trees that look like they could be a pine, spruce, or fir, but are actually something else entirely.

If the tree you’re identifying doesn’t fit as a pine, spruce, or fir, it is probably one of these!

Hemlock

Hemlock with new growth at the ends of branches. | GardenersPath.com

Hemlock trees have needles uniquely attached to the stem. It is similar to the stalk-like woody projections of a spruce but much finer.

Detail of hemlock needles. | GardenersPath.com
Photo by Matt Suwak.

Also, the needles of a hemlock are flattened.

Yew

More easily identified because yew tends to form small shrubs, yews could be mistaken as fir tree because of their flat needles.

How are your evergreen identification skills? We'll teach you how to pick out a yew like this one, and differentiate it from other types of evergreens. Read more now or pin it for later: https://gardenerspath.com/plants/landscape-trees/identifying-conifers/
Photo by Matt Suwak.

Unlike the fir, the yew needle is usually sharply pointed, with no white lines beneath it.

Cypress, Arborvitae, and Juniper

Bald cypress | GardenersPath.com
Bald cypress

Cypress and arborvitae tend to develop flat, scaled needles and have rather flexible branches. Junipers have short, spiky needles.

Arborvitae | GardenersPath.com
Arborvitae

The best way to decide if it’s a juniper is to grab a handful of foliage. If it hurts, it’s a juniper!

Cedar

Needles tend to be fern-like and have a strong scent when rolled between your fingers.

Cedar | GardenersPath.com
Blue Atlas cedar.

The needles are similar to those of pine trees, except they are much shorter.

It’s also important to keep in mind with this particular type of conifer that naming conventions for plants can be confusing. I’m still in the habit of referencing plants by their common name, but the only way to be truly accurate with the variety of plants out there is to use their Latin, or botanical, name.

All true cedars are in the family Pinaceae and are of Old World origin, in the genus Cedrus.

In the New World, early settlers discovered trees with the same properties of cedar (rot resistance and a pleasant smell) and decided that, hey, these trees must be cedars, too. However, all New World trees we commonly call “cedar” are of the family Cupressaceae, often referred to as cypress.

We’re familiar with trees like Alaskan cedar and western red cedar, but they are cedars in name only. It’s a convention we see all over the place; tulip poplars aren’t poplar trees and Douglas fir are not true firs.

True cedars have short, stiff needles, while the New World plants display characteristics more like juniper and arborvitae.

Wrapping Up

There we have it! Identifying pine, spruce, and fir trees can be a tricky business, but with a handy identification key like this at your disposal, it shouldn’t be too much of a challenge.

Close up image of the needles of an evergreen tree.

Bookmark this page and visit it whenever you have a tree to identify.

And take this open invitation to send us pictures of any conifers you have difficulty identifying, in the comments section below.

Simply click on the camera icon below the comment box and you can upload up to three photos at a time (up to 6 megabytes each).

In addition to your photo, please let us know what region you are in, whether the tree is in the wild or in your own backyard, and please give us as much detail about the tree as possible, such as how long the needles are.

I’ll get back to you as soon as possible with an answer!

Photos by Matt Suwak, © Ask the Experts, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. See our TOS for more details. Uncredited photos: Shutterstock.

About Matt Suwak

Matt Suwak was reared by the bear and the bobcat and the coyote of rural Pennsylvania. This upbringing keeps him permanently affixed to the outdoors where most of his personal time is invested in gardening, bird watching, and hiking. He presently resides in Philadelphia and works under the sun as a landscaper and gardener, and by moonlight as a writer. An incessant questioning of “Why?” affords him countless opportunities to ponder the (in)significance of the great and the small. He considers folksy adages priceless treasures and is fueled almost entirely by beer and hot sauce.

274 thoughts on “Conifer Confusion: An Identification Guide for Pine, Spruce, and Fir Trees”

  1. Hi, very good article. However, it doesn’t explain a species of conifer I have seen in two places, about 7 miles apart, near Atlanta. I can’t match these features to any tree, can you help? The trees grow in clusters with small trees nearby, and are maybe 40 feet tall. Top limbs angle upwards and bottom limbs sag to ground. Tree has thin, peeling bark. Needles grow to about 2 inches, are flat and pointed on the end, and remain flat attached to the branch. They are glossy green on top and below have a green middle stripe with wide white strips on either side. New growth branches are green where needles are attached, and woody on older growth. Cones are oval with largest maybe 1 1/2 inches. Bracts are thin coming to a sharp point at end, with nothing else. If you can help, feel proud- no one else can!

    Reply
    • Hi David – Do you think that tree could be a hemlock (Tsuga canadensis)?
       
      “The individual leaves … of the hemlock … are flat and are marked by two white lines on the under side.”
       
       
      Form and size: A large tree with a broad-based pyramidal head, and a trunk conspicuously tapering toward the apex. The branches extend almost to the ground.”
       
       
      Other characters: The fruit is a small cone about ¾ of an inch long, which generally hangs on the tree all winter.”
       
       
      Source: Studies of Trees by John Jacob Levison, 1914, https://www.gutenberg.org/files/16116/16116-h/16116-h.htm#ch_i-ii
       
       

      Reply
  2. Great but I still can’t figure out my one
    I have pictures of a juniper I’d like identified if possible.. ? Nobody else I’ve asked has been able to identify it.

    Reply
  3. In New Hampshire we have a lot of evergreen/pine trees that grow about 10 to 12 feet tall, then they shoot out 2, 3 or 4 major trunks out of the main trunk. Is this a kind of
    white pine or does it have another name?

    Reply
  4. I have read an article on making spruce tea. It mentions that a Yew tree closely resembles a spruce. Can you give me any tips or characteristics that can help me identify the difference? I have looked at other articles on this, but this read is the closest to helping me I have found. The article on spruce tea says the Yew needles are toxic to humans, where spruce is high in vitamin C. However, spruce needles have turpentine and should not be consumed too often for this reason. Might you have any information that would validate this at all? Thank you for this read, it was very informative and very educational. I enjoyed it a lot.

    Reply
    • Hi Michael! Thanks for reading and for your questions.

      It looks like turpentine is harvested from some conifers. Harvesters will collect something called “oleoresin” from the trees and then distill its. The resulting product is turpentine, something like an essential oil from pine trees. Turpentine is a toxic substance, but these oleoresins find their way into our food products as additives and are generally considered safe to consume. That said, it’s probably still a safe bet to take modest amounts of spruce tea instead of drinking it by the gallon! Yew contains taxane alkaloids, something that is used for anticancer drugs. However, it’s also quite deadly and fatalities have occurred when people have consumed any part of the yew. All parts of that plant are toxic and are best avoided except as an ornamental in your yard!

      The best clue to identify a tree as a spruce or a yew is the needle. Yew needles are flat and similar in appearance to many fir tree needles. These needles are often pointy and can be tough, but they are nowhere near as rigid as a spruce needle. Spruce needles are much stiffer than a yew and can easily be rolled between your fingers. Depending where you live, you’re far more likely to encounter spruce than a yew! Most yew are ornamental while spruce populate forests and woodlands.

      If you have a particular tree in question, please feel free to share pictures with us and we will help to figure out just what it is!

      If you’re interested in reading more about oleoresin I found a great academic paper on the subject titled, “Pine Oleoresin: Tapping Green Chemicals, Biofuels, Food Protection, and Carbon Sequestration from Multipurpose Trees”.

      Thanks again for reading!

      Reply
  5. Trying to ID an old pine with long needles (2 per bunch, 6-8”), red bark and large wide gorgeous cones. I have photos but can’t attach them. I’m in Washington State on Olympic Peninsula. Thanks!

    Reply
  6. I have two trees crowding our sidewalk. They were seven to eight feet tall, twenty-four years old and began to get a dry spot in one, so I used a tree trimmer to cut two feet off the top and trim branches with hand trimmers to strip all but left stubs leaving a skeleton which is eight to ten inches around at ground level and thick with smaller roots. Do you know if it is characteristic for it to be a thick and deep trunk? I will attempt to use a come-along attached to a hook on CRV car frame and hack away until I can get my chainsaw so I can cut below surface…? Any advice to offer?
    -Tom

    Reply
    • Hey Tom! It can be a serious challenge to remove stumps from trees; that’s why we see so many stumps left in the ground when homeowners chop something down and have no idea how to remove what’s left. Depending on the type of tree it was and the room you have to work, you have a few options.

      I’ve used a mattock with a chopping/ax blade to remove roots from trees and then remove the stump itself. It’s very labor intensive and requires diligent attention to safety! Dig around the base of the stump as much as you can to get a clean shot at the roots before you start chopping. I use this method often when removing stumps from the ground.

      You could also flush cut the stump and leave it at ground level, maybe make a small garden bed and cover it with mulch to disguise its presence. The stump will eventually rot down to nothing and take care of itself. I’ve never used a chainsaw to remove roots because of the safety issues involved. I wouldn’t recommend that at all!

      I have also never been a fan of using a chain to remove stumps with a vehicle. A million things could go wrong and all of them are dangerous and/or costly. If you decide to go this route I’d still recommend breaking through the roots with a mattock weakening the stump’s hold on the ground, and making it much easier to pull it out with a chain and vehicle.

      Your most costly option is also the safest and best one; call a local stump removal or stump grinding company to take care of the problem for you. They’ve got the tools and training to remove the stump from the ground. As a bonus it’s a neat project to watch!

      Best of luck with the project and remember, safety first!

      Reply
      • You could always use mycoremediation and let the fungus devour it for you. A little slower but it’s fun to work with mushrooms. And way less labor intensive. you drill holes in the stump and plug them with the mycellium of your choosing. The mycellium will take over and break down the stump, and you might even get some nice mushrooms this way. I am a fan of working with Nature.

        Reply
        • I’m on your side there David, if a little bit of patience and a whole lot of mycellium can do the work for me, I’m going to let them. Thanks for reading and for this suggestion. The soft approach is almost always my preferred one!

          Reply
  7. Dear Mark, could you identify the variety of Fir tree shown in the first picture of the article – the one you and your dad dug up and transplanted to your yard? Thank you.

    Reply
    • Hey Lindsay! The first picture in the article is actually a Scots Pine (Pinus sylvestris), a popular tree for the home that can be grown in USDA Zones 3 to 7. The specific tree in the photo of the article was found growing along the side of a forest road in Hickory Run State Park in Pennsylvania. Thanks for reading! Feel free to comment here or to email any other questions directly!

      Reply
  8. I got a post-Christmas “rescue” evergreen, something with short, dense needles (and a red bow) from a supermarket. It was very dry and looked like it had been spray painted. No label or insert. Now it seems a little fuller. I’ve watered it and kept it in my kitchen window, but I think it needs to be transplanted outside. It’s only about 9 inches tall, but hey, it’s March and the ground is not frozen (some early bulb flowers are already sending up inquiring shoots). Thanks for your directions on categories.

    Reply
    • It’s always a gamble if those little trees from supermarkets and the like will survive. Many of them are “forced” in greenhouses under ideal growing conditions on the assumption the plant will be disposed of after the holidays. You’re on the right track by giving it a good environment and some love and care. Chances are if you got it from a store, it’s a Norfolk pine; the needles are short and dense but not terribly sharp or pointy. It’s a common Christmas-time indoor tree, and I’ve seen many that are painted or sprayed with glitter.

      It could potentially be a spruce, as well, but those are by the far most common ones you’re going to find. If it’s dropping needles left and right, it’s probably a spruce. Feel free to take a photo and share it with us for a more solid ID.

      Either way, if you’re considering planting it outdoors I’d let the tree acclimate to the outdoor temperature before permanently changing its home. Bring the tree outside for a few hours on a warm, sunny day, then bring it back in before temperatures dip at night. Continue that process for a few days, each time increasing the amount if time it’s spent outdoors until you leave the tree out overnight. At that point you can likely plant it without worry of it dying from exposure.

      All my best in your rescue effort, and again, please reach out with any other questions you may have. As a final note, I love your “inquiring shoots” remark, great wording there!

      Reply
  9. Hi Matt,

    I would just like to thank you for a very useful guide. I’ve searched many sites but found yours by far the easiest to follow.

    I have just started to try and identify the many conifers that are planted at a local scout camp that used to be a hall and gardens. Just to give you some idea of the trees planted here, some of the easier ones are Monkey Puzzle, Cedar of Lebanon, and Noble Fir. But as I have said, there are many, so this may take some time. If I do get stuck, I will send you some pictures along with a description, so once again, thank you.

    Reply
    • Thanks for that, Ray, I’m very grateful for my readers.

      You have a nice variety of trees at that location, especially the Monkey Puzzle! Those are some seriously unique and stunning trees. My favorite part about confider identification is how many curve balls these trees will throw at you. You could be puzzling over one specific tree, so confused by what it should be and wondering why it doesn’t match up with anything in your guide book… and then you find out it’s actually a species from Asia somebody planted as a specimen tree. And when you figure that out, it’s a good feeling.

      Thanks for taking the time to read and to comment, I appreciate that, and please do feel free to reach out with any questions you come up with along the way.

      Reply
  10. From Australia: Just moved into a 4-year-old house, great neighbourhood, a lot of magnolias (it’s called Magnolia Estate).

    Think I have a pine? Tree is about 4 meters high, top of tree points skyward, lower droop. Needles are singular and round, about 1 mm dis.

    Previous owner was Russian. Can you assist in identifying?

    Reply
    • Thanks for reaching out, Rod! Can you send us an email or visit our FB page and post some photos? What area of Australia are you located in? With a little more detail, we should be able to help you to get the bottom of this!

      Editors note: please no longer email or use the FB page for identification requests. Photos now can be attached directly to these comments by select the camera icon below the message box.

      Reply
    • Hi Tiffanie was there supposed to be a photo attached? There’s an icon below the message box that looks like a camera. Click on that an you can load up to three at a time.

      Reply
    • Hi Tiffanie, thanks for the ID question. Can I ask what the geographic location of the tree is? That aids tremendously in identifying trees.

      I can tell you it’s definitely a spruce, and from the image of the tree as a whole I’d wager a white spruce. Give us a shout about where this tree is located and we can more positively identify what you’ve got!

      Reply
  11. I’m no longer with the tree that I’m hoping to identify but have a few pictures. Am I right to guess this is some variety of fir tree, since the young cones are growing upwards like candle flames?

    Reply
    • Hi Dara, good call on the cones! You’re correct in guessing it’s a fir because of the cones, but like everything else in life exceptions abound. This looks like a red spruce (Picea rubens) based on the needles and the shape of the cone, even though it’s pointing upright. Really nice tree, and great ID question!

      Reply
  12. Hey there, very helpful except I am dealing with seedlings. Some relatives visited us in the San Francisco Bay Area and left pine cones on our patio. They opened and seeds popped out and we tossed them in a large 18″ wide circular pot with who knows what kind of soil. A couple years later we have 50 plus seedlings that need to be thinned and repotted but we don’t really know what soil, etc. because we can’t find seedlings that look similiar online. They are soft and very blue and about 12″ to 18″ tall now. Single stalk. Any idea what we’re dealing with? Our relatives would not have gone too far, maybe the coast or up towards Lake Tahoe. Hope you can solve this mystery!

    Reply
      • Hi Kathy, beautiful seedlings! Seedlings are much more difficult to identify than mature or even young trees, but it’s safe to say you’ve got some sort of pine on your hands. Looks like the Tahoe area has plenty of Jeffrey pine and ponderosa pine, but until they’re larger it’ll be more difficult to put a positive finger on it. If you remember the pine cones, that could help in identifying them; if the cones had pointed, prickly, almost sharp scales, it’s likely a ponderosa.

        Regardless of what it is exactly, you can use the same basic growing medium for any pine. Aim for a soil-free growing medium, usually consisting of some combination of perlite, bark shavings, peat moss, and other organic material. The goal of a good potting mix is to avoid soil compaction, and pines will be all the happier for this growing medium. Keep in mind, however, that you’ll need to fertilize the plants on a regular basis to provide the nutrients they are missing from real soil. A 10-8-6 (or similar) fertilizer will do the trick, applied per the directions on the fertilizer it is.

        Good luck planting, make sure to share photos of the re-potted product!

        Reply
        • Thank you for the great information, I will get them moved this week. This is a picture of the pine cones, they are about 6 inches. My pot was in the open with partial shade during the day, so I assume my new pots should be the same. It is my hope that if the seedlings are the right kind, I can take them up to Paradise, CA to help replace the lost trees from the fire.

          Reply
          • Smart idea to duplicate the lighting the seedlings are coming from. Young plants are very sensitive after transplanting, so that extra care will go a long way in their health and happiness. Those cones look more like a Jeffrey pine than a Ponderosa!

  13. Matt your article was very informative. My question is we just had a 40 yr old maple tree taken down as its roots were damaging our house. They planted it in the middle of our front yard. My question is, is there an evergreen tree or shrub we could plant in its place that will provide some privacy but not turn into a giant? My husband doesn’t want a tree, but wants an easy landscape to work with. I can’t get used to no tree looking out our bedroom window. Could there be an evergreen shrub we could plant instead?

    Reply
    • Hi Marsha, thanks for the question. The answer to that has a few variables in place, largely where you’re living! That makes or breaks the decision. The height you’re looking for as well is an important consideration to make. I’ll answer this now assuming you’re looking for a plant that will reach about ten feet in height.

      Many azaleas will reach the height you’re looking for and have the added bonus of beautiful spring blooms. These will be more modest in size (maybe reaching about six or seven feet) and are pretty easy to care for.

      Cherry laurels are a good evergreen plant that doesn’t require much care. They tend to prefer slightly warmer climates (somewhere close to zone 7-9), and they dislike too much wind on account of their sensitivity to wind burn.

      Holly trees can leave some prickly leaves behind, but they’re pretty sturdy and reliable as landscape trees, and they provide ample privacy. I’d recommend the Inkberry holly for a tree that’s a manageable size and doesn’t require much care.

      Yew shrubs are nice but can take a while to grow to the right size, so it’s only a good option if you’re patient!

      These are some general recommendations, if you give me a bit of information on your general geographic region (such as “western Pennsylvania”) we can narrow it down further!

      Reply
  14. Hi Matt
    I’ve been struggling to identify this pine with clusters of 5 needles. Perhaps you can help me. This is in BC, Canada

    Reply
  15. So I bought a house with this tree in the front. It was small-ish then (maybe 6′ tall, putting up Christmas lights was fairly easy) but in just 2 years it takes two strings of lights and I have to throw them to reach the top. can you tell what it is and do you know how it could be trimmed without hurting it? It’s fixing to invade my parking space, help!

    Reply
    • You’ve got to love those trees for their voluntary Christmas tree duty!

      You’ve got a pine there, I’m thinking a scotch pine or something similar. Unfortunately they do not take well to pruning at all, and although they’d adapt they will look misshapen and just plain funny looking as time goes on.

      The best options for dealing with it are removal (ahhh!), or finding a way to cope with your shrinking parking area. As for the lighting, that’s an easy fix- we use something akin to a boat hook or an extendable shepherd’s hook to set lights up in trees beyond the point we can reach. Draping the lights and “swooping” them into place is fast and easy!

      I hope you don’t need to remove that tree, but it’s going to get a bit large for that space. A landscaping crew can probably transplant it without too much stress to the tree for a comparable price to having it removed.

      Reply
  16. We are trying to figure out what kind of evergreen. It has been here at least five years and is about 7 feet tall. It’s only gotten slightly bigger in the last five years

    Reply
    • Hey there Paul, it looks like you’ve got yourself a true cedar there, probably a weeping cedar of Lebanon. They’re not particularly fast growing, but they make up for that with their striking interest. Yours looks healthy, so whatever you’re doing, keep doing it!

      Reply
  17. This was awesome! Now being %100 sure I have a spruce in my front yard, I can figure out what type of one. Happy

    Reply
  18. Hi Matt:
    Are the attached photos good enough for you to tell me what I have growing in my front yard? This seedling appeared about 6 – 8 months and is now (May) around 20 inches tall. I hoped it was a cedar so I could try bonsai with it (?); I noticed however it has thorns in the lower half of its “trunk.” I sincerely appreciate your rapid reply to my query so I can transplant it right away if it’s worth saving …..
    Kath
    Santa Maria, California

    Reply
    • Hello Kathy, that might be a cedar, could also be a juniper; luckily both are ideal candidates for bonsai. I have a juniper bonsai I’ve kept for years.

      Transplanting shouldn’t be an issue so long as you don’t damage the tree’s ball. Use a sharp shovel or spade and dig a hole about eight inches in diameter and lift the ball out, then plop it in a pot. Eventually you’ll want to swap this soil with a potting mix, but for now its best to ensure the tree survives the initial transplant process as close to fully intact as possible.

      Snap a picture closer up of the needles and the stems for a better ID! Thumbs up to the bonsai intentions, it’s one of my more recent gardening endeavors but already climbing high to my favorite.

      Reply
  19. Matt,
    There are two photos of the same spruce tree. Can you tell me which spruce this is?

    The third photo with a white building in the background is one I’d like to plant at my home. Can you identify it for me?

    Thank you.

    Mindy

    Reply
    • Hello Mindy, that looks like a white spruce in the photo here. I only see one photo attached, however! They’re great trees, excellent as a wind block and serve as a nice foundation plant for the yard and garden. Spruce do tend to drop lots of short, stiff needles; not really a problem in the yard but annoying when it’s in the house. I’m thinking back to last Christmas when my wife and I got a small spruce tree for the holiday. I’m still finding needles in the carpet!

      Try posting another photo of the one with the white building in the background if you can!

      Reply
    • It’s certainly a pine. If the needles are soft it’s probably a white, but if they’re more stiff it’s probably a scotch pine. Let me know where you’re located geographically (“southeast PA” or “central Oregon” are good enough!). If you can also count the number of needles per cluster it helps to narrow this down!

      Reply
  20. This was great description. Could you help me identify this plant please . It is getting brown from the back and I don’t how to treat it

    Reply
    • I’d be happy to help identify it. Are you able to attach a picture in a reply to this post? Click the little camera icon below the text entry field to find and attach a photo of the plant.

      In general you’ll find many conifers get brown like that; can I guess that its back is near a house, fence, or other tree? The trees need good air circulation, and if they don’t get it they’ll often turn brown and shed needles.

      Attach a photo if you can so we can get to the bottom of it!

      Reply
  21. Hi I am trying to identify the tree in our garden, can anyone help me please? The photo is on its side, the cones go upward not hang down

    Reply
    • Certainly looks like a fir to me, maybe a balsam? Where about do you live? That could be very general, like “Southeast Pennsylvania” or “Northwest Colorado”.

      Reply
  22. Hello. Great site, and writing style. Trying to confirm which style of evergreen this is. Nice soft needles. Thank you

    Reply
    • Hey Andrew, are you able to attach a photo? If it has soft needles and the needles are long, it’s probably a pine, but without a photo it’s difficult to give any answer that’s worth its weight. Also, please let me know whereabout you live (“Southeast Pennsylvania” or “Northern Virginia” work well enough)!

      Reply
    • I’d love to identify them but I don’t see a photograph attached here. Let’s see if we can get one uploaded and we can ID that tree!

      Reply
  23. This popped up in a flower bed that is in back of yard, bordering wooded area in MI. It’s been there about 2 years. It’s about 3 ft. Quite pretty and airy-looking. Needs to be moved so it doesn’t damage fence. Can you identify it?When to move? Sun or shade? Will roots cause trouble with sewer lines? No other similar trees within view. Thanks.

    Reply
    • I unfortunately see no photo attached, but it’s safe to say you can transplant the tree in the fall to avoid the heat stress of a summer transplant. Dig the ball so it’s a good 8 inches in diameter and about a foot deep, trying to keep the soil intact as much as you can. Move it to the desired location and plant away!

      Chances are that with a pine the roots won’t cause any damage, and will likely tolerate a good amount of sun.

      Reply
  24. Hi, Matt. Thank you for a great article. Very helpful!

    My daughter was at a parade recently and one of the participants was handing out tree saplings instead of candy! My daughter took one and we planted it and now I am trying to figure out its type. It’s about 8” high. Are you able to determine what it is based on these pictures? It seems to have little reddish-brown cones right at the very top of both branches. I didn’t see white lines on the undersides of the needles. Thank you for your help!

    Shannon

    Reply
    • Now that’s a nice gift to receive during a parade. Where did the parade take place? That could help in figuring this out. At first inspection it looks like a pine of some sort!

      Reply
  25. Hi Matt, thanks for this incredibly informative article ! That said, on a recent trip to Southern California, I came across a tree that I haven’t seen anywhere before. They looked extraordinarily beautiful with long branches that bore leaves only at their tips ( see attached picture of the one of these). Would you happen to know what kinda tree this might be ? The tree is in the foreground of the picture. Thanks in advance.

    -Seth

    Reply
    • Wow, what a tree! This has really got me stumped, but I have a few experts I’m going to ask and some resources to check. My first thought was Norfolk island pine, but I’m not entirely convinced. I’ll update with another message ASAP!

      Reply
    • Certainly looks to be a fir tree. Where was the photo taken? From the palm in the background of one photo I’d say it’s somewhere south, or maybe in a botanical garden?

      Reply
    • Hi there, it looks like a type of spruce from this photo but it’s hard to say for certain without close-up photos of the needles and the bark. Where are you located geographically?

      Reply
  26. Wondering about this pine branch found on the road. Cone is tiny, needles are many from a nodule. They’re so soft. I thought I added 2 photos. Thanks Sue

    Reply
    • Hey there Sue, I unfortunately don’t see any photos attached. Where are you located geographically? That can help narrow things down a bit. Alternatively you can directly email me the photos!

      Reply
    • That is correct, and there are a few other plants this guide hasn’t taken into account… yet! We’re working on an update to include some of the conifers that don’t fit neatly into this guide, examples like the single-leaf pinyon and cunninghamia. Thanks for pointing this one out, I’ll be sure it gets added to the list.

      Reply
  27. Thanks for this… I’d love this in a printable format. Also, do you have a published ID guide for firs, spruce, pines that you would recommend?

    Reply
  28. Hello, we just bought a house with a yard full of beautiful trees…but we have never had any trees in previous homes so not sure what these 3 are. Any help is greatly appreciated!

    Reply
    • Oops the pictures didnt show. Lol try again. If it doesnt show this time, he looks like fir but could be a yew. Long flat skinny pointy needles. Good smell though. Young. All the needles are in a row and not all over the place. No color under the needle but definitely a line….

      Reply
  29. Hello, I’m looking at a property with these. I love them and if I buy a different house, I would like to plant the type of pine trees that will blanket the ground with beautiful red needles and still be able to walk under them like a forest some day when they are taller.
    Can you please identify these and suggest what type to plant in Northeast OH?
    Thanks!

    Reply
  30. The above information is really helpful but there is one more point i would like to add that Coniferous trees can produce two types of leaves with a variety of slight alterations that further define the tree type.

    If a tree has needle-like leaves, it can then be further defined by how those needles are grouped, how they are shaped, the types of stems these leaves are attached to and if the leaves invert or not.

    Reply
    • There are a few types of pine that are often referred to by this common name, Rita. Pinus elliottii, aka slash pine or swamp pine, may be what you’re looking for. P. elliottii var. elliottii ranges down to Central Florida, and P. elliottii var. densa is found in Southern Florida and the Florida Keys.

      Further north, in the panhandle and north/central Florida, the longleaf pine (P. palustris) is more common.

      Reply
  31. Hello everyone, I inherited this plant (see photo) from someone who moved to Florida. I live in Wisconsin. She didn’t look after it very well, and I’m trying to bring it back. They said it was a Redwood, but I’m doubtful. Forgive my ignorance, but could someone please identify it for me?

    Sincerely,
    Andrew

    Reply
    • Thanks for your message, Andrew!

      It’s a little bit difficult to tell from this photo alone, but this looks like it may be a Norfolk Island pine. In Wisconsin, this plant should do well if grown indoors year-round.

      Indoors, be sure to give it plenty of light but try to keep it away from radiators or heat registers. These plants will move to reach for the sun, and turning the pot every couple of weeks will help it to remain vertical.

      Remove dead or dying branches with clean pruners.

      Ensure that the container that it is in has good drainage, and keep the soil moist but not soggy. Watering at the base of plants is recommended when the soil feels dry about one inch down. Giving it a little bit of water once weekly or every 10 days should suffice.

      Plan to amend the soil with a balanced slow release granular fertilizer in the spring.

      Please let us know if you have any more questions! Good luck with your new plant. 🙂

      Reply
  32. I had as much fun reading the comments as I did the article! Hubby and I live near Summerville, SC, across the county line from Lincolnville. I really enjoyed your descriptions and how to tell one common conifer from another.

    After about an hour of enjoyable reading, I was wondering “Now, why did I come into this room?”
    The REAL reason that I came to this site was because of a Wizard of Id comic, 19 Dec, 2019. The tree in the comic was lit afire and it was consumed in green flames (a case of “not quite aware of the concept”). Here’s a link to the comic in question.

    https://www.gocomics.com/wizardofid/2019/12/19?ct=v&cti=528172

    I was curious about which conifer would be the quickest to catch fire under the same conditions. Do any of them have actual fire accelerant in their veins? Inquiring minds want to know . . . um, I’m asking for a friend?
    ;^B

    Reply
    • Dear Teresa’s Friend,

      I was not able to determine whether, say, a white pine would ignite more readily than a Douglas fir, for example. But the quickest conifer to catch fire would without a doubt be a dry one – particularly relevant at this time of year when so many people are bringing cut trees indoors to display beside the roaring fire or a space heater, bedecked with sometimes faulty electrical lights. Trees dry out over time, and they are filled with juicy sap, which can also dry out.

      Dried pine sap (and resin from other types of conifers) is highly flammable, but when fresh (i.e. traveling through the veins of the tree), it contains too much water to ignite readily. Terpenes in conifers are also highly flammable. And burning pine or other types of wood in this category can cause a buildup of highly flammable creosote in your fireplace, so burning cut trees after the holiday is not advised. Some types of dying conifers in nature actually expel terpenes in response to beetle attack, acting as an accelerant for forest fires.

      According to a National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) report issued in 2015, “U.S. fire departments responded to more than 200 home structure fires annually between 2009 and 2013 in which Christmas trees were the first item to catch on fire,” with the majority of these being due to electrical failure or malfunction. And according to education director Ariel Zych at Science Friday, Christmas trees contain both flammable and organic compounds (as mentioned above), and when placed near a heat source, the potential for combustion is there. Water can create a physical barrier, and it also absorbs heat, impeding combustion.

      Kept fresh and watered, and away from open heat sources or damaged/faulty strings of lights, it’s very unlikely that a conifer will catch fire – so remember to water your Christmas trees well, readers!

      Thanks for your question, Teresa- I haven’t thought about the Wizard of Id in quite some time! Tell the emergency responders at Summerville Fire & Rescue that we say hello, and wish them a happy and restful holiday from Gardener’s Path. 😉

      Reply
  33. This was a great article. I think none are Pine trees. I have 3 different kinds on my property but not sure what they are. Any help would be appreciated. Thanks so much.

    Reply
  34. Hi Matt. I have been trying to find out what kind of tree this is for a while. The photos may not be good enough for an identification. It is growing in a cemetery full of cedars in middle Georgia. It is a very light green with fan like branches and a rounded appearance.. Thank you for your help. (I have been trying to post this all day and the captcha would not let me..now I see it posted without the photos. I will try to send them again…sorry)

    Reply
    • Can you try uploading your photo again? We did not receive it- maybe it didn’t fit the upload size requirements?

      Reply
  35. Thanks Matt( my middle sons name☺️) for posting this! I live on Cape Cod and our property and the land behind us was designed by Fredrick Olmstead. Our property is on the edge of this intimate arboretum. Several arborists were unable to identify what we now know is a Balding Cyprus! It has managed to survive and is at least 70 ft tall. Each spring I’ve assumed it’s dead and gone when late June it starts to turn a vivid limey green, at first only the lower half. Upon close inspection I found a huge vine which was strangling the tree! It will be interesting to see if it heals from the vine abuse. My all time favorite evergreen is the Japanese Thundercloud.my last property we planted one and I intend to again. Plants are nature’s healers and due so in harmony. When properly understood the only side effect is good health!! Best Regards, Karen

    Reply
    • Thanks for reaching out Karen. My wife and I visit Cape Cod every Fourth of July, mostly spending time near Chatham with some friends but finding every excuse we can to drive up towards Wellfleet.

      Bald Cyprus are among my favorite evergreens, I love their bark, their knobbly knees, and their foliage.

      Vines can do a lot of damage, but removing it from the tree is the best solution to hopefully fixing the problem! I’m glad you and I are on the same page about plants. Thanks again for reading, and all my best!

      Reply
  36. Hi Matt. I’ve just enjoyed reading your identification article and wondered if you could identify this tree which is in our local park here in Cardiff, Wales, UK. The tree is about 6m tall with a spread of about 4m After reading your article we have it tagged as a white pine and wonder could it be a Bhutan pine? Many thanks.

    Reply
    • That looks like Cunninghamia lanceolata to me, from these pictures. Really lovely tree and pretty unique in the landscape.

      Reply
  37. Hi Matt,
    Got a 100 ft tall Spruce in backyard , I believe it is a spruce, has drooping curved branches and bunches of hanging green needles.
    It measures 40” diameter around 8 ft up from the ground.
    Does anyone cut them down for the wood…….I hear it’s good for furniture and musical instruments. .?

    Reply
    • I have a friend who cuts slabs from trees and he rarely acquires spruce. He says that compared to other options, it’s weak and splinters easily, and it doesn’t take a stain very well. His area of interest is largely in construction and heavy duty uses for wood.

      However, some carpenters use it for framing, and it does that job very well. It’s also used like you said for musical instruments like guitar, and it can be worked for large and abstract woodworking projects that don’t require much detail.

      Overall it isn’t as useful as, say, oak or pine, but the right buyer could be very interested in it. It’s likely that if your tree has drooping and curved branches, you’ve got a Norway spruce on your hands.

      Reply
    • Certainly looks to be a fir to me, I’m thinking a Douglas or maybe a grand fir? Where was the photo taken geographically?

      Reply
  38. Hello Matt, here’s a beautiful tree in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. I’d like to get one for my yard. There’s something very…Zen?? about it.
    What is it? Thanks! Doug

    Reply
    • Hmm, that area is a bit out of what I can confidently identify, but I’d wager you’ve got some sort of red pine here. “Zen” is definitely the right word for it! That bark is something else, really nice tree.

      Reply
  39. Hi Matt,

    Could you please take a look at the photos included. I am wanting to make spruce tip jelly & tea. I was born & raised in SE Alaska, but had never done anything with spruce tips. Any help would be greatly appreciated!

    Thank you
    Lisa

    PS. I’m currently 50 miles NE of Spokane Wa. Newport Wa. This is where the pictures are from.

    Reply
    • That looks much more like a fir to me than a spruce judging from what appear to be flat needles. Spruce needles tend to be short and stiff, whereas pine needles tend to be quite a bit longer. Fir needles are flat and won’t roll at all between your fingers.

      However the tall tree in the background behind the young one in the first photograph is a spruce, I believe!

      Be very cautious when attempting to ingest anything wild! Good call asking someone else for identification before trying to make it yourself.

      Reply
    • Neat! It looks like your dwarf Alberta spruce is in the process of reversion!

      So a TON of the ornamental trees we use in the landscape don’t occur in the wild. They’re the descendants of individual trees that displayed genetic quirks; in the case of the dwarf Alberta spruce, it’s a case of extremely slow growth and tiny, compact habit. However, that genetic history is still in every tree we have in the garden, and sometimes those trees will revert to their original genetic makeup.

      In the case of your dwarf Alberta spruce, it’s got a bud that said “I ain’t got time for this slow growth stuff” and decided to grow gung ho. If you were to allow it to keep growing, it would become two trees in one. The first would be the compact base, and the other a towering “wild” spruce.

      What to do? Easy. Get out a sharp pair of clean pruners, follow that reverted bit of growth as far back as it goes, and then snip it off the shrub. Problem solved!

      You don’t need to remove it if you like the idea of Frankentree, but it’s certainly not going to harm the shrub if you remove it either. Best of luck with it!

      Reply
    • Looks to be a spruce for sure, and I’d wager it’s probably a Norway spruce. You can usually tell it’s Norway from how all of the limbs tend to droop and the branches sort of hang straight down like they’ve been left on a clothes line. Nice tree to have!

      Reply
  40. Please help me identify a conifer in our back yard that has 1.5″ needles in groups of five and upward growing cones.

    Reply
    • Hey John, where about do you live geographically? That can help narrow specific species down. It’s certainly a pine and I’m leaning towards scots/scotch pine, but if you get back to me with a roundabout location we can narrow it down even more.

      Thank you for the excellent pictures you’ve taken here, and the description too!

      Reply
  41. I am puzzled about a tree in my friends new property. the trunk looks like a cedar but the leaf looks like a fir. The tree itself is tall 40ft maybe. The branches turn upward u shaped from trunk, not strait out or angular growth. Thoughts anyone?

    Reply
      • It sounds like a Cunninghamia lanceolata to me from the description. They have a funky look but it’s a pretty unique one. I’d also like to see a photo to make sure this is what we’ve got here.

        Reply
  42. Hi Matt, I found this little tree behind my fence among weeds and poison ivy. I just can’t identify it. What do you think? I live in Williamsburg, VA

    Reply
    • Hey Jon, thanks for the clear pics and the followup about the needles. I’d say it’s probably a cedar sapling, they pop up like crazy from the parent trees spreading seeds everywhere. You’d be able to let it keep growing if you’re interested and it won’t cause you any trouble!

      Reply
    • Where about do you live? Hard to tell for sure, but with those hanging branches I’d wager a guess it’s probably a Norway spruce.

      Reply
  43. Fascinating summary! Just wondered what kind of tree this is with the peak leaning so much and cones only on the top?
    Thanks so much!

    Reply
    • Looking like a spruce to me, but hard to tell for sure without a close up shot! My guess is the tree suffered some damage during a storm or something and lost its leader, but it’ll likely produce a new one in a few years. It’ll just look a little funky for the rest of its life, but hey, nothing wrong with that!
       
      The cones often develop near the top of a conifer tree so that the seeds can be more easily distributed by the wind. That’s a generalization, and conifers are pretty weird with their changes year to year. Part of what I like about them!

      Reply
  44. Have any idea if this is a type of fir tree, or something else? In San Anselmo, Ca. Very tall. Sorry don’t have better photos.

    Reply
  45. I’m guessing a white pine, but I’m in south east Europe and I stumbled upon only two of these in a forest of beech/oak/hornbeam, so not sure what is it

    Reply
  46. Hello Matt, I share your love of timber and thanks to you and others I have identified a Sequoia growing on my nephew’s farm here in NSW Aust. I attach a shot of what appears to be Cedar (Cedrus) foliage and would love to have your confirmation and suggestions on a species.

    Reply
    • Hi Anthony, that actually appears to be a larch (Larix spp). The European and Western larches, along with their hybrids, are some of the more common in Australia, as they can handle warmer temps than many other larches.

      Reply
  47. I have these coming up in my flowerbeds everywhere. I have a white pine and two kinds of spruce trees in my yard. But it doesn’t look like either one to me. Definitely not a pine. Please help. Thank you!

    Reply
    • They definitely look like spruce saplings, but beyond that it’s difficult to tell at this young age. Do you know what types of spruces you have in your yard? Or could you send me a few photos?

      Reply
  48. HI THERE! YOUR ARTICLE IS VERY HELPFUL. I AM WONDERING IF YOU CAN HELP ME IDENTIFY THIS TREE? ATTACHED ARE SOME PHOTOS. THANKS VERY MUCH!!!

    Reply
    • I’d be happy to help you identify them, but I need just a bit more info. First, what area are you growing in? How long are the needles on your tree, and how many needles are there per cluster? Can you show me a photo of any cones?

      Reply
  49. Here are two three-needle pines growing in South-west England, near the sea. Must have been planted. I can’t identify them from the books, can you?

    Reply
    • Hi Neil, it looks like you have yourself some Monterey pines (Pinus radiata). The needles grow in clusters of three and are between 7.6-15.4 cm (3-6 inches) long. The cones are egg shaped and remain closed, as yours in the photo are, until they encounter fire or hot weather, and are around the same size as the needles. The bark is gray on mature trees, and as they age, they typically take on that flat-topped, umbrella-like canopy. Hope this helps!

      Reply
  50. Hello,
    This is growing in my flowers and I did not plant it. We have conifers in our yard but not nearby. This is only about 12 inches high. I appreciate your help identifying it!

    Reply
    • Hi there,
      It’s hard to tell for sure without knowing what part of the country you’re in, but to me it looks like an eastern red cedar (Juniperus virginiana). Young seedlings frequently pop up in the eastern part of North America, where they are a native species.

      Reply
  51. A challenge: can you identify this very unusual conifer in our yard? It’s probably 50-90 years old, has VERY sharp needles (need a glove to touch) and round “cones.” Has shoots growing near base. Tree is about 100 feet tall. One arborist said a Chinese Monkey Tree but needles different so that’s wrong.

    Reply
    • Hi David,

      Thanks for your question! Looks like you have a beautiful tree there.

      I agree that this is not a monkey puzzle tree (if that’s what the arborist meant).

      It is definitely a challenge identifying trees from photos, but I do have a reasonably good guess after consulting with a couple of my tree guides.

      The best match I’ve found seems to be Cunninghamia lanceolata, also known as Chinese fir or China fir. The common name is misleading, it’s actually a type of cypress, not a fir. See photos here: https://projects.ncsu.edu/cals/plantbiology/ncsc/tnc/cunninghamia.htm

      Or it may be Cunninghamia konishii. Scientists don’t agree if these are actually two different species.

      What do you think?

      If you don’t think this is your tree, let us know what state (or part of the world) you’re in and I can refine my search. Also, if you can take a measurement and let me know how long one needle is, that would also help.

      Reply
    • The seed I collected that germinated and grew into the sapling shown above, was collected from the ground, just a few feet lower in elevation than the visitor center at Paradise, Mt. Rainier National Park, in WA state. So, close to 6,000 feet or so, maybe a bit less.

      Reply
      • It’s certainly a fir of some kind, but hard to say exactly what kind when it’s such a young sapling. My mind jumped to noble fir immediately and it is found in the range you describe. Branches from noble fir are used in Christmas decorating and the top two bundles look immediately like this. But again, hard to identify postively until it starts to grow up some more.

        Reply
  52. Hi Matt,
    I live in Central New York and have a type of tree on my property that I would like to identify. At least 10 of them which several have died. I’m not sure if they are some type of pine. The needles are short and thin and in groups. The branches are sparse to the tree and have many small cones. I have pictures I am going to try and send. I’ve tried researching some but am still not sure. I would appreciate any help you can offer in identifying them. Thank you very much.

    Reply
    • That one looks a bit funky to me, maybe it’s just my eyes this morning. Are you able to snag an up-close picture of the needles themselves? In some pictures it looks fir-y, in others kinda larch-y, but neither of those seem very likely! Nice looking collection of trees, all the same, but a nice and clear photo of the needles would go a long way. Do these trees drop all of their needles over the winter?

      Reply
      • Hi Matt. It’s not your eyes. I should have provided a better close up and mentioned in one picture, there’s a high broken branch hanging that I have not been able to break free. It’s a windy hill next to an open field. The needles turn yellow in the winter but I don’t recall if they all fall off. I don’t think so. As a preempt to every mow I’m picking up branches and cones.
        I will take a better close up of needles and send a pic to you asap. Thank you for your help. Maggie

        Reply
          • Beautiful! Looks like an American larch to me, aka a tamarack. Their needles turn that yellow in the winter (I think it’s a nice color, but that’s just me). It’s a shame that some are dying, they’re particular about where the seeds will germinate and can have a hard time getting going. They can get huge if they’re in ideal conditions. Very nice trees to have, even if they’re dropping branches left and right. They could possibly be afflicted with a fungus or something causing them to lose more branches than they should and to shorten their lifespans, but it’s likely just a natural flow of events for them.

            The wood is fairly valuable if you decide to get rid of some or all, so contact some local mills or craftsmen who are into woodworking if you go that route.

            But I hope you opt to keep them up and standing, and to keep on keepin’ on with their tamarack thing. 🙂

          • Matt, thank you very much for your information. I’ve lived here for several years and wondered what kind of tree they were. People have also asked what they were and I didn’t have the answer. There were two, close to the road, that died. I will check about the fungus as I do see what looks like it could be mold on some branches. I like the way they look too, through the seasons. They are quite large and do have a presence where they are. Thank you again for your help. I very much appreciate it. Maggie

      • Its fungus growing from your female red cedar. The brown liver looking balls turn into orange tentacles after heavy rain. I’m north Texas and have loads. After tentacles appear, birds eat and transfer infecting other cedars and killing apple trees as well

        Reply
    • Definitely a type of juniper, not a Thuja. Grab a handful of that and if it starts to itch, you’ve got a juniper on your hands! Literally…

      Reply
    • Looks like a pine for sure, but hard to be positive on exact ID without knowing where the photo was taken geographically. Beautiful view in the background!

      Reply
  53. I have a huge pine in my garden with long needles which are turning a golden colour and falling to ground in abundance. Is this normal thank you

    Reply
    • Yep, pine trees hold onto their needles a period of years, then drop them when they aren’t needed anymore. On top of that we’re at the end of summer and beginning of autumn, so this time of year is pretty dry. They’ll drop unnecessary needles to conserve energy, usually at about the same time as their needles reach a predetermined end of life. Nothing to worry about, just your pine being a pine!

      Reply
    • Hey Rob! Glad this was helpful, but unfortunately I don’t see any photos attached here. When you upload the photos make sure they’re fully loaded before clicking Post Comment…. I’ve lost a few myself this way!

      Reply
  54. Hello, How about this one. I hope you can zoom in. I should have taken a picture of the whole thing. It’s weeping. Thanks for any insight. Super cool tree. This is in Denver, Colorado

    Reply
  55. I will never look at a pine tree the same. They are so beautiful. Thank you Matt! Now I know what I was looking for. White pines – 5 needles.

    Reply
    • Hi Paul,
      My best guess is that the tree is some type of spruce, but I could use a little more information to know for sure.

      Here are some other things that would help with identification:

      • Where is the tree located (state or region)?
      • Is it in the wild or part of someone’s landscaping?
      • How long is each needle?
      • Are the needles sharp? If so, very sharp or just slightly?
      • How big are the cones?
      • Do the needles go all the way around the stem or do they lay flat on either side of the stem?

      Also if you could post additional photos showing the tree in its entirety, and a picture of a cone, those would also help.
      Thanks!

      Reply
  56. Grown at around 4000 ft hardiness zone 8a in sierra nevada foothills.short mabe inch long needles.they are flatish .when trying to roll between fingers.shade of white.is this a white fir?

    Reply
    • Hi Gabriel,
      That’s a beautiful tree!
      I think you’re right. Based on your description and photos I think this is Sierra White Fir. Some consider it a separate species (Abies lowiana) and some consider it a subspecies (Abies concolor var lowiana) of Colorado White Fir. One way you can differentiate Sierra White from Colorado White is that the tips of the needles of Sierra White are notched at the end – the tips of Colorado White are rounded.

      Reply
  57. Hi. The 2- needle pine tree shown is 18′-19′ tall, conical shape, has 4 main canes, 8′-9′ dia. at 5′ off ground; grows in my alkaline suburban backyard soil at 5100′ elev. in New Mexico.; is about 15 years old ( former planted it). Area is arid with 6″-9″ annual rainfall. I deep water about 8-10 times annually. From other sites seems it might be a red pine/ lodgepole pine. What do you think? HOA says 15′ max height to protect views from above. Can this be pruned down to keep it near the 15′ height? If so, when, how , etc. Thanks so much for this site and your opinions.

    Reply
    • Hi David,

      My first guess is that this is a two-needle pinon pine, though I may be wrong. There are lots of pine species, so to be sure, it would be helpful to know the length of the needles. Red pine and lodgepole usually have straight trunks, and I think I’m seeing some twistiness in the trunk of this tree.

      If it does turn out to be a pinon pine, they usually remain fairly small – 10-20 feet. And since you’re in an arid region, I’m guessing this tree isn’t growing terribly quickly.

      After you have correctly ID’d the tree, I recommend referring to advice from your New Mexico extension office regarding pruning these trees.

      Hope this helps!

      Reply
  58. Hi,
    Thank you for such a simple to follow guide, this helped me make sense of the mysteries surrounding these tree types. I will refer to this over and over from now on!
    I wondered if you could help identify a tree in my garden in England in a house we bought a few back?
    After reading your guide I am pretty sure it is a fir but any help on the species would be greatly appreciated. 3 photos attached
    thanks and regards
    John Carney

    Reply
    • Hi John,

      My best guess based on your photos is that this is a Douglas fir, which is actually not a fir after all – although fir was a good place to start! If it is a Douglas fir, the cones will hang down from the tree. There is also a way to ID these trees based on their cones – when the cone is pointing down you’ll see small brown bracts in the cone that look rather like the hind legs and tail of a mouse hanging down between the scales. I believe there are folk stories about this.

      If I’m wrong and the cones on your tree don’t look like this, let us know exactly how long the needles are, and if they are flat feeling or square feeling when you roll them between your fingers.

      Reply
      • Many thanks for you very detailed reply. I will check the cones next time they appear and all will be revealed!
        Thanks again
        John

        Reply
  59. I just moved to Teaneck, NJ, and have three evergreens on our property. Somehow I can’t fit any of them to the characteristics given. This is the first – with holes where branches have broken off, mostly (from what I’ve seen) by wind. Is there something I can do to make the tree stronger, or does it look OK?

    Reply
  60. This is a great article. I will take my notes with me the next time I go out into the woods or a walk through a park. I was always wondering how to tell the difference and now it will be fun to see if I can find the different conifers using my notes. I will also use them when I go looking for specimen trees for my yard.
    Thanks, Alice

    Reply
    • Hi Julia,
      That looks like Hemlock to me. In your region, most likely Western Hemlock (Tsuga heterophylla).
      Hope this helps!

      Reply
    • Hi Jayne,
      That certainly looks like it’s a member of the Cypress family but it’s difficult to get more precise than that without a little more information.
      Please let us know where you’re located – if in the US, a state would be helpful. Also if you have any photos of the cones on the tree that would also help. A photo of the other tree that’s healthy would also be helpful.
      Also, it’s hard to know what’s wrong with it without knowing what or where it is, perhaps more information will help.
      Thanks!

      Reply
  61. I got one for you.
    The previous owner called it a water tree.
    It looks like a pine. BUT… It loses all of its needles in the winter. It gets white berries that look like “mulberries” and the needles grow through them, so they look more like growths than actual berries. But I am sure that they are berries. They are located towards the end of most branches.
    I can’t seem to find any information on them, we have two on our land, they look decorative. We are located in central Indiana.

    Reply
    • Hi Ben,
      Based on your description, it sounds like you’re talking about a bald cypress, which is a deciduous conifer.

      Have a look at the photo of the cones in this article from the University of Florida Extension. Do those look like what you’re seeing on your tree?

      (Some coniferous cones actually look a lot like berries. The first time I noticed that I was quite surprised.)

      And here’s a resource from Purdue University Extension on your native bald cypress trees.

      I have always associated bald cypress with the Southeastern part of the country (where I’m from), and was surprised to know they are native to Indiana as well!

      Let us know if this seems to be a match – if so, it would explain the name “water tree” as these tend to grow in saturated soils.

      Reply
  62. Hello Matt, really clear and informative article. I bought a small pine from a nursery recently but i have no idea what particural species. The owner told me it was some kind of a dwarf pine. I m living in northern Greece, hot summers but sometimes winters with freezing temperatures below zero too.. Got an idea?
    For some reason i can;t upload photos, is there an email that i can send them to you directly?

    Reply
  63. Hello! I live in Portland, Oregon, and I am trying to identify these two trees in my front yard. They are both shrub-like, the first with short needles about half and inch long, the second with longer needles about two inches long. The second also has lots of little cones that are less than an inch long. Thanks for helping!

    Reply
    • Hi Amy,
      I’m sorry for the delay in answering your question, I hope this will still be helpful.

      So I think that both of the conifers you’re trying to identify are probably ones that are more common as landscaping plants rather than trees that would grow natively.

      I think the second one may be a Mugo pine. You can compare against other photos and read a bit more about it in our article on evergreen landscaping shrubs, and see if you think that’s a match.

      As for the first one, I’m not sure if I’m correctly interpreting what I’m seeing in the photo correctly, so I have a few questions. Are the needles in bundles or are they single? Are they flat if you rub one between your fingers? If you pick one of the needles off does it leave a smooth scar or a stubby peg? Is there a white band on the top or underside of the needle?
      Thanks!

      Reply
  64. Could you tell me what tree this is? The closest I can guess is Lawson’s or Rocky Mountain? It doesn’t cone. If I remember right, it has had blue berries. In Kansas.

    Reply
    • Hi Alisa,
      I think both of those are excellent guesses, though I think it’s probably a cultivated variety rather than a true species.

      What do the berries look like? Are they smooth or more cone like? Juniper berries are smooth and the “berries” (actually seed cones) on Port Orford cedar (aka, Lawson’s) actually look more like cones on closer inspection.

      If it’s the juniper, it might be ‘Blue Point’ or ‘Wichita Blue.’ If it’s the Port Orford cedar it could be ‘Blue Surprise.’

      Hope this helps!

      Reply
      • I asked my family this evening and they don’t remember seeing berries at all! The leaves are set up in sort of a triangular fashion on each branch.

        Reply
  65. Hi, Help would be much appreciated in finding the name of this tree. It is struggling at the moment.. photo taken last summer. I bought it 18mths ago at Christmas and the branches were blue then they died off and new green appeared in the spring .. I am not sure whether I should be using Acid soil.. It use to be in a plastic pot so not sure whether I should buy a larger planter and replant to help it grow.. Any help much appreciated . Thank you .

    Reply
    • Hi Sue,
      Thanks for your comment and photos – I’m so sorry we were delayed in getting back to you.

      My best guess is that this is a dwarf blue spruce. Are the ends of the needles soft to the touch or sharp? If they’re sharp, it’s probably a dwarf blue spruce. If they’re soft, it might be a dwarf blue rocky mountain fir. Based only on its appearance, I’m leaning towards spruce, though it’s hard to be sure without more info.

      You didn’t mention your location, which could make a difference on how this grows for you. Dwarf blue spruce grows well in USDA Hardiness Zones 2-8; dwarf blue rocky mountain fir grows best in zones 3-7. If you’re in a warmer zone, it may be too hot for this conifer.

      Whether its a spruce or a fir, it needs very well-draining soil – I think this may be the issue for you if I’m not mistaken. The soil in the photos looks quite rich and moist.

      If the only way you have to offer it well-draining soil is to plant it into a container, then I think that would be a good solution.

      Good luck and let us know if you have any other questions!

      Reply
  66. Need to top this tree as is leaning heavily on the neighbour’s wood fence. Thinking to bring it down to 5ft in height. What tree is it? Hummingbirds nest within ,very; dense short branch clusters, Enjoyable tree in my garden, but blocking the bee path from one Almond to the other for pollination. Thanks in advance of your advice.

    Reply
    • Hi Catherine,
      Based on your photos, I believe your tree may be a Dwarf Alberta Spruce. If my ID is correct, these only grow to be 10-12 feet tall.

      I’m not sure you’ll be happy with the results if you prune this tree down to five feet – it will never regain it’s nice pyramidal shape, and pruning it severely will make it vulnerable to disease.

      If you do decide to prune, my best advice would be to consult with an experienced arborist first, and have them do the work.

      Hope this helps!

      Reply
    • Hi Don,
      My best guess would be Douglas fir, but to know for sure you could give me a few more details – how long are the needles? Are the undersides of the needles white? If you pick off a needle does it leave the stem smooth or rough?
      Thanks!

      Reply
  67. This tree is in my yard in Palo Alto, CA. Pretty sure it is a pine but don’t know exactly what type. One photo shows the remains of a pine cone. Can you identify it?

    Reply
    • Hi Dan,
      I’d love to help you ID your tree. Could you provide a bit more information? How long are the needles? How many needles are in each bundle? And the photo that shows the pine cone, just to make sure, is that the direction the pine cone is growing, up, not down?
      Thanks!

      Reply
    • Hi Vicki,
      My best guess based on your photos and info is that this is a Douglas fir. If you have photos of any cones, that would help verify!

      Reply
    • Hi Rachel,
      It might be a Douglas fir! Can you share a photo of the cones on a branch? That should help me know for sure.

      Reply
  68. I have a small plant of pine or fit variety. The needles are 20mm and appear flattish, I have attached photos

    Reply
    • Hi Tony,
      This may be a Douglas fir, though it can be a little tricky to know for sure with saplings.
      Hope this helps!

      Reply
    • Hi Laurie,
      Could you provide a bit more information? This will help me narrow in on an ID for your tree. Are the needles attached to the branches in bundles or singly? If they’re in bundles, how many needles are in a bundle? How long is a needle? Are the needles stiff and sharp on the ends? Do they feel like they are four sided if you try to twirl one between your fingers or do they feel flat?

      Reply
  69. Conifer that never has cones. Pahrump Nevada. I have 10 Mondale various age and two conifers that do not ever grow pine cones

    Reply
    • Hi Jack,

      Conifers can fail to produce cones if they are experiencing stress. As for identifying your tree, it would be helpful to have a few close up photos of the needles or you could answer a few questions. If I were to make a wild guess based just on this one photo and the tree is native to your part of Nevada, it could be a single leaf pinyon pine.Here are some questions that would help verify this ID: how long are the needles? Are they attached to the stems singly or in bundles? Are the needles somewhat curved?

      Reply
  70. Hello! We have a volunteer seedling in our flowerbed. Judging by your guide criteria I think it is a fir. Can you ID it? Fresno, California.

    Reply
    • Hi John,
      I’d be happy to help you try to identify your little sapling. It can be really tough to make judgement calls based solely on a photo, so here are some questions for you: How long are the needles? If you roll a needle in between your fingers does it feel flat, or does it feel like it’s four sided? Are the needles stiff or flexible? At the ends of the needles sharp to the touch? If you can supply that information we can get closer to an accurate ID.

      Reply
  71. Can anyone help me identify this tree? I’d love to make cough syrup with the tips if it’s a spruce. The needles roll easily between my fingers but almost feel four sided.

    Reply
    • Hi Sara,
      My best guess based on your photo and info is that this is indeed a spruce. Some species of spruce have square needles.
      Hope this helps!

      Reply
  72. I live in north central Oregon by the Columbia River. My pine tree has purple cones. I’m not sure what I bought!!

    Reply
  73. I collected spruce tips yesterday. I’m going to attempt spruce tip syrup with the pound I collected. The branch in the photo came from the same tree. It is a native species in Valdez Ak. I’m guessing this is a white spruce. Can you confirm if my guess is accurate?
    Thanks! Steve-

    Reply
    • Hi Steve,
      Thanks for mentioning you are located in Alaska. Because of the white bands on the undersides of the needles, my best guess is that you took your harvest from a Sitka spruce.
      Hope this helps!

      Reply
  74. I would like help identifying this tree. It’s in a park in Southern California. It has two needles per stem and the needles are 4-1/2” long.

    Reply
    • Hi Debbie,
      I believe this tree is an Italian stone pine, which is native to the Mediterranean region but is commonly cultivated in California. It’s certainly a beautiful tree!
      Hope this helps!

      Reply
    • Hi Howard,

      I’d love to help you ID your tree. My best guess without knowing your location is that this tree is a bald cypress.

      If you’d like to be sure, you could let me know your location (country, or state if in the US). If you are indeed in the US, take a measurement of one of the longer needles – if it’s about 3/4 of an inch long, it should be a bald cypress. These are deciduous conifers – they drop their needles in the fall/winter, which is another way to verify the ID.

      Hope this helps!

      Reply
      • Thank you so much. A friend has verified that he remembers that as the name. He has the one in the picture and I want to get one.

        Thanks again!!!

        Reply
  75. Beautiful photos and a lot of great advice on ID. I know now that the pine tree the landlord planted in front of my building is a spruce! Going to try making pine needle tea with it this winter!
    I know to take only as many needles as I need, not to take too many at a time, and rotate which trees I harvest from.

    Reply
  76. Just moved into a home – central Illinois. I’m feeling a little overwhelmed by these Huge trees in the backyard. I’d love to know exactly what they are and what to do about all the old twigs in the middle. Welcome any advice. Thank you!

    Reply

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