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How to Tell the Difference Between Spruce, Fir and Pine Trees

If you’re thinking of adding an evergreen tree on your property, you might have a few questions in mind. You already know that evergreen trees will enrich the area around your home with their natural beauty throughout the year, but you might not be sure exactly what kind of tree to get. After all, there are quite a few varieties; spruce, fir and pine being among the most well-known.

How to Tell the Difference Between Spruce, Fir and Pine Trees

But exactly what, if anything, is the difference between these varieties of trees? And which one will suit your property best? Let’s explore further.

Spruce, fir and pine trees are all part of one particular class of tree known as pinopsida. Pinopsida is the only remaining class in the conifer division of plants; most conifers are trees, although they can also be shrubs.

While the different species of conifers can vary widely in the characteristics, they all have a few things in common. In most conifers, the leaves take the form of long, thin narrow needles. As the name suggests, conifers reproduce by bearing cones, which are simply a sophisticated type of seed, which is usually spread around by birds.

The conifer family of trees includes spruces, firs, and pines, but also includes redwoods, hemlocks, cypresses, yews, and junipers. Oregon, Washington and Northern California are famous for their conifer forests, which can contain hundreds of trees per acre. Oregon alone has over 30 different species of conifer, so, needless to say, they are an extremely popular variety.

Spruce Trees

While there are many species and subspecies of conifers, we’ll address spruce trees first. Residential tree services report that the spruce is one of the most popular of all the conifers.

To recognize a spruce, you should first look at the needles. While almost all conifers have needles, not all needles are the same. Depending on the tree, they may be attached individually to the branches or come in clusters of two, three, or five. On spruce trees, the needles are always attached individually; if they are clustered, it’s not a spruce.

When examining a tree, look closely at the shape of the needles. If they are square shaped and break apart easily when you examine them, chances are, you are looking at a spruce. After examining the needles, it’s time to take a look at the cones.

The cones on different types of conifers will appear quite different from one another; on a spruce, the scales of the cone will be narrow and fe

el flexible. Compare this to the scales of a pinecone, which feel rigid like the wood of the tree itself.

The final part of the tree to examine is the bark; however, different subspecies of the same tree can sport wildly different types of bark, so this method is not necessarily the most reliable. Even so, spruce trees usually have a rough and scaly bark.

Fir Trees

Another extremely popular conifer, fir trees are generally tall and very narrow in appearance. Much like spruce trees, firs have individual needles attached directly to the branches. These needles are usually attached to the branches by something resembling a suction cup in appearance.

Unlike spruce trees, the needles on firs are generally very sharply pointed, but also softer. Spruce needles will break if you bend them, but fir needles will usually have a lot of give. On a fir tree, the branches can grow in very densely, obscuring the trunk from view. This gives the trees an attractive appearance that greatly contributes to their popularity as Christmas Trees.

On a fir tree, the bark will be smooth to the touch, in contrast to the rough spruce bark. Examining the cones of a fir tree will be hard

er than with other conifers as they grow near the top of the tree and fall apart before falling. You are unlikely to see a whole one drop to the ground. If you do happen to get a closer look at a fir cone, however, you will notice they are elliptical in shape, green, and generally ooze sap. Very different from other types of cones! There are many different varieties of fir trees; balsam fir, noble fir, douglas fir, and fraser fir are among the most popular.

Pine Trees

True pine trees will have needles in clusters of two, three, or five. The needles are soft to the touch and can be very long; the longest pine needles grow to a whopping 16 inches!

The branches of a pine tree don’t grow in as thickly as on spruce or fir trees; they can be rather sparse across the trunk of the tree. As the cones grow in on a pine tree, they start out green and flexible. However, as they mature, they will become brown, woody, and with much less give to them.

Pine trees also have a very distinctive, jagged, and flaky bark that doesn’t look like that of other trees.

Which tree should I get?

Now that you can identify the different types of conifers, you might be thinking about which type is best suited for your property. While we could fill up many more articles with the different varieties of each species of tree and their relative advantages and disadvantages for a particular area, it ultimately boils down to:

  1. Can the tree survive in your soil
  2. Do you like the tree?

If the answer to both questions is yes, then you should definitely consider getting the tree.

To answer the first question, your best bet is to contact a residential tree service. There are many variables to whether a tree can thrive in a certain environment; for example, the soil pH. Pine trees prefer an acidic soil, while spruce trees can adapt to many different soil types.

The availability of water is also crucial; some trees need lots, while others thrive better when we experience a drier season. Your local tree service is your best option for getting these questions answered. In the Portland area, try a reliable company like us at Mr. Tree and get a conifer for your yard today!