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7 Chapter 2 Identifying the Conifers How Plants (Including Trees) Are Classified The trees considered in this book are the evergreen cone-bearing trees of once-glaciated North America, plus the larches (which aren’t evergreen) and the junipers and yews (whose cones resemble berries). The shrub junipers and yews (for not all junipers and yews are trees) are mentioned in passing. What unites these plants in the botanical sense is explained in chapters 3 and 4. That they form a cohesive group, resembling one another much more closely than any of them resembles a broadleaf tree, nobody would deny. The resemblances among some of them are very close, making it necessary to examine them carefully if they are to be correctly identified. First we consider the various groups of conifers and how they can be told apart, but to begin, a few paragraphs on the naming of plants will be helpful. The English names of the various groups of conifers are familiar to most people: the pines, the spruces, the firs, and so on. Each group is technically known as a “genus” (plural, “genera”), and belonging to each genus are one or more “species,” the members of the genus. (The fact that the word “species” is the same in the plural as in the singular causes frequent misunderstandings : in writing, relief is obtained by using the abbreviation “sp.” for the singular and “spp.” for the plural.) The scientific Latin name for every species of living organism is made up of two words. The first (always beginning with a capital letter) is the 8 the world of northern evergreens name of the genus. For example, all pines have the generic name Pinus; the specific names of two of the pines, lodgepole pine and red pine, are Pinus contorta and Pinus resinosa, respectively. When several species in the same genus are mentioned, the name of the genus is written in full only the first time; after that its initial suffices. Thus we would write “Pinus contorta and P. resinosa.” In formal scientific writing, the name (usually abbreviated) of the botanist who first discovered the species is added at the end of the two-part Latin name. Thus the full name of lodgepole pine is Pinus contorta Dougl. Here “Dougl.” is short for “David Douglas,” the Scottish explorer and plant hunter who collected in British Columbia and the western United States in the 1820s and 1830s. Plant names are always printed with the Latin part in italics, and the discoverer’s name, when it is given, in roman type. Sometimes two trees in different genera have the same specific name; for instance, the western larch is Larix occidentalis and the eastern white-cedar is Thuja occidentalis. Possession of the same species name does not mean that the two species are related any more than possession of the same first name means that two people are related. The species name merely singles out a particular member of a genus. Now we can proceed with the genera and species of conifers that grow in our area. The Ten Genera Consider the ten genera of conifers in our area. They are the pines (Pinus), the larches (Larix), the spruces (Picea), the firs (Abies), the hemlocks (Tsuga), the Douglas-firs (Pseudotsuga), the thujas or “cedars” (Thuja), Nootka-cypress (Callitropsis, until recently Chamaecyparis), the junipers (Juniperus), and the yews (Taxus). The reason for writing “cedars” with quotation marks will become clear later. In practice, it is better to drop the word and use “thuja” (pronounced “thuya”) as though it were English. For the moment, we consider only the characteristics of each genus that single it out from all the other genera, in a word, the diagnostic characters. These are the bare minimum of characters you must know in order to recognize a coniferous genus with certainty. There’s very little to memorize. The Pines. In the pines, and only in the pines, the leaves are true “needles,” and in our area, they grow in bundles (fascicles) of at least two and at most five needles (figure 2.1). identifying the conifers 9 The Larches. The next instantly recognizable genus is Larix, the larches (the most common species is also called “tamarack”). They are the only deciduous conifers in our area. In summer the leaves, which grow in tufts of up to 50 from dwarf, stubby twigs, are soft to the touch and apple-green. In the fall, they turn deep yellow or golden, and they are shed...


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