Nature Connection #5 – Evergreen Investigations

So, just a quick look around our neighborhood and we notice that even in the dead of winter there are trees and bushes that are green. “Evergreen” is the label we attach to them. But are they all the same?

In the northern part of the U.S., evergreens include species of pine and fir as well as spruce and hemlock. They look  – and smell – like Christmas trees!

Pine trees are found in the southern U.S. as well, but we also have some other types of trees that stay green all year. There are American Hollies (many, many types), and the Magnolia. There are also Live Oak trees, yews and cedars. The leaves of these types of evergreens often have a waxy coating, to help them keep their moisture in the dry winter air.

These evergreens maintain their green leaves all year long. Older leaves fall off and are replaced so that there are always green leaves. The tree is never bare.

Evergreens like pines also have cones; yews and cedars have berries. Depending on the type of tree, the cones will be different sizes. Some are small, others can be as long as twelve inches! Some cones stay on the trees for several years, others fall to the ground within a year of their formation. Evergreens with berries provide food for wildlife. Flocks of birds depend on them during the winter.

For today’s Connection, let’s take a hike! You don’t have to go far, just around your yard, the neighborhood or a nearby park.
For the field trip, you will need:
six to twelve manilla envelopes (at least 5×8 or larger)

Later, after you have collected your speciments, you’ll need:
six to twelve sheets of white or colored paper
glue or scotch tape
a marker or pen
a field guide to trees

1. In your yard, park or neighborhood during the winter months, look for any trees that still have green leaves.
2. Collect a leaf or bundle of needes from each tree that is still green. (Needles will come in clusters of two, three or five). If that tree also has cones or berries, collect a specimen.
3. When you have collected needles or leaves, cones or berries from a tree, place them in the same envelope. So you can find the tree again, write on the envelope where you collected it. Note the tree’s approximate height as well as a nearby landmark.
4. Once you have collected specimens from six to twelve trees, find a comfortable spot to spread them out and study them.
5. Place each pair of specimens on a sheet of paper, gluing or taping them down.
6. Use the field guide to determine what species of tree it is. Compare your leaf or needle specimen to those in the guide. Also, look at the information provided about berries and seed cones.
7. Once you’ve decided which tree it is, write the name of the tree on the paper, as well as the location where you collected the specimen.
8. To keep your specimens for future reference, return each page to its original envelope, after you have added the name of the tree to the outside of the envelope.

Later, when the other trees once again have leaves, you can do this same type of investigation with those trees!

Meanwhile, enjoy the wintery, spicy smell of evergreens, and the beauty of their cones and berries!

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