Although the changing of seasons is an expected and yearly occasion in many areas, it can be refreshing that not all trees lose their leaves in the cold winter months. There are certain trees that keep their foliage, which will remain green, all year round.
Trees known as evergreens keep their leaves, called needles, all year. You can determine an evergreen by its continuous showing of foliage during cold months while other trees lose leaves. Pine trees, spruce trees, palm trees, holly trees, and Murray Cypress trees all keep their leaves year-round.
Continue reading to learn more about why these trees keep their leaves (needles) all year round!
What Tree Family Keeps Their Leaves All Year?
There is a name for the kind of tree that does not have color-changing leaves and does not lose those leaves for a specific portion of the yearly cycle. Evergreen, fittingly enough, is the name of this type of tree.
Evergreen trees keep their foliage year-round and provide color and texture in otherwise barren, dull landscapes during certain cold months of the year when deciduous trees’ leaves fall off.
That sounds great, trees that don’t lose their leaves, but what about the ones that do? Well, those are called deciduous trees!
What Is a Deciduous Tree?
A deciduous tree is a type of tree that loses its leaves annually to bud new flowers, fruit, and leaves in the spring as the weather warms back up again.
The life cycle of a deciduous tree is the type of cycle those in specific environments will be pretty familiar with, while those in others may not. For example, someone living in the Midwestern region of the United States would be more familiar with maples and oaks, both of which are deciduous.
That person would be used to seasons of the year being marked by the leaves turning anywhere from a light yellow to a deep auburn before they fall off completely. The warm months are near again when those same trees begin to bloom, flowering to make way for more green leaves that will flourish throughout the summer months.
So, a deciduous tree is one that is commonly seen in a colder or more temperate climate and varies in its outward appearance based on external factors like the time of year, temperature, and surroundings.
Not only would this person be familiar with the cycle of a deciduous tree, but they would likely also expect to see evergreens like pine and spruce trees adding some balance to the snowy winter-fueled mix.
First, however, let’s talk about what these evergreens are and how they work.
What Is an Evergreen Tree and Why Does It Keep Its Leaves Throughout Winter?
We know that evergreen trees do not lose their leaves during winter, but what else makes them what they are? The University of Minnesota Extension reminds us that evergreens come in many shapes and sizes, some of which are pyramid-shaped, rounded, uptight, weeping, creeping, and more.
Sunlight plays an important role in keeping the color of the foliage, which can vary even though the leaves stay on their branches. Age and growth are other aspects that may impact the vibrance, fullness, or tone of the leaves.
Let’s go back to our location-based example from the deciduous tree section above.
A person that lives on the Southern portion of the American West Coast, for example, will be much more familiar with evergreens, but not nearly in the same way that a Midwesterner (or someone in most other parts of the continental United States) would.
In areas that border the ocean like California, palm trees are standard foliage. Palm trees are evergreen because they do not lose their leaves in the winter months, but they are quite different than any of the others we are discussing in this list.
Residents of this state may be much less familiar with deciduous trees and likely won’t associate the changing of seasons with the changing of leaves. Their evergreen trees take center stage and contribute to the environmental appearance year-round, without many falling leaves to get in the way of the towering palms’ reign.
Regardless of where it is that you live, whether palms or pines offer your everlasting green, evergreen if you will, pops of color, these trees have a lot to offer.
6 Tree Species That Keep Their Leaves All Year
So, now that we know quite a bit about evergreens and just why they keep their leaves (needles.) Without any further adieu, let’s talk about the six of the different kinds of evergreen trees that you might stumble upon!
Pine trees, our first evergreen on the list, are most prevalent in the Southern and Eastern areas of the United States. One of Brandeis University’s electronic field guides tells us that this type of tree thrives in dry, sandy soil and bears cones. You know…cones on a pine. Pinecones, if you will.
Funny enough, many evergreen trees are coniferous, which simply means bearing cones. So, the fact that the term pinecone likely stands out more than when we just say ‘cone’ means that you have likely heard more about pine trees specifically than you realize.
With a lifespan of about 400 years on average, these straight-trunked pine trees sport slender needles, which tend to appear in clusters of 2-5 on any given twig.
Offering a beautiful pop of deep green, this tree is among the more wide-set evergreens that we are talking about here.
The key characteristics of spruce trees are quite interesting. More specifically, we’re talking about white spruce here. This type of tree may maintain its leaves but is also infamously shallow-rooted.
This means that, especially in soil that is thin or wet, there is a pretty decent chance of a spruce tree being uprooted as a result of the wind blowing them right over.
Spruce trees are beautiful and can do well in certain areas, and will mature up to 40 meters tall if successfully protected from the elements.
Spruce trees also produce pine cones and have similar leaves to pines, though spruce needles tend to be arranged spirally onto the twigs on which they live. These needles are sharp and stiff, with four sides.
Palm trees, oh the tropical evergreen that is associated with ocean views and sunny skies. As opposed to, you know, snow and wind and standing out in a sea of white.
Gotta love Upstate, NY!
Thanks to Arizona State University’s Cooperative Extension, we know that palms can be planted in groves, as small clusters, or as a singular point of focus in a front yard.
Doing best in areas with soil that is a bit drier, such as the desert of Arizona or the coasts of San Diego and Key West, palm trees provide shade, color, and dimension to areas that may otherwise appear flat.
Instead of using its evergreen leaves to pop out against a cold, monochromatic environment, palm trees stand out in another way.
They might not have the proximity to the white of snow, but instead, these palm trees offer a visual distraction from the tan of a desert environment that may have the same effect of appearing dull or barren.
Holly trees seem to combine the preferred soil environment of some of our previous highlights on the list. These evergreens thrive in soil that is medium-wet and well-drained.
The fruit of a holly tree begins with a flower, which determines that the tree is a female. Yes, that’s right, holly trees are split into genders based on whether or not they can ultimately produce berries.
This tree brings us right back to the discussion of how evergreens impact the environment during the winter months because this is a particularly festive tree. Holly is associated with Christmas, a holiday falling right at the start of official winter in the Northern Hemisphere. This is fitting for more reasons than one.
To begin, colors typically associated with the holiday happen to line up with the tree’s leaves of green and berries of red. Hearing’…have a holly jolly Christmas…’ will have you wondering if it is, in fact, the best time of the year.
Not only do holly trees offer a pop of green foliage, throwing the bright red berries into the mix could make any snowy field feel festive.
Onto fir trees, they may not be associated with their own holiday, but they’re pretty spectacular nonetheless.
Portland’s Reed University informs us that North America is home to just 9 out of 40 species of true fir trees that span across the whole of the Northern Hemisphere. It is pretty crazy to realize how many varieties of one genus (true firs or Abies) there can be.
Sticking to the needle-shaped leaves and cone production of the majority of the other evergreens, fir trees fit right in with their peers.
Murray Cypress and Leyland Cypress Trees
The Murray Cypress tree, an offshoot of the Leyland Cypress, is the last tree on our list. We know that cypress trees are very popular screening trees. If you’ve ever seen someone have a wall of trees in their backyard, it was likely a Murray Cypress tree or Leyland Cypress tree.
These trees are tall and grow their needles to be quite full, which provides a barrier between backyards and busy streets, businesses, or just your nosy neighbors.
What Is The Fastest Growing Evergreen?
Speaking of the Murray Cypress tree, it is one of the fastest-growing evergreen trees. It has the ability to grow up to 4 feet in a single year. At maturity, the height can reach up to 40 feet, and the base of the trunk may be as wide as 10 feet which are, well, huge.
How to Identify Different Species of Evergreen
So, here we are. We have more information about what evergreens are, how similar most of them can be, and what they are good for (other than reminding us of the value found in steadiness, of course.)
Now, you may be wondering which kind of evergreen is the one that you pass by daily but can’t quite distinguish.
Is it a pine, spruce, or maybe a fir? This seems like an appropriate final three due to their widespread nature, prominence in most areas that experience a true winter, and similarities in appearance and role in nature.
Because all coniferous evergreens produce cones and have similar bark, this one is all down to the leaves, or the needles, of the tree.
The difference between pine, spruce, and fir is that on pine trees, needles will be clustered in groups of two, three, or five, depending on which type of pine tree they are a part of. The needles of both spruce and fir are attached individually to twigs.
Another indicator is the shape of the needle itself. Fir needles are soft, flat, and cannot be rolled easily between two fingers. On the other hand, spruce needles are easy to roll between your fingers thanks to their square shape; just avoid the sharp points on the ends.
In the winter months, you’ll want to make sure the bark on your evergreen tree is staying put, as it could indicate a deeper problem for the tree. You can learn more about why bark may be falling off your tree here.
Evergreen Needles Ladies, They’ll Be Here All Year!
Luckily, if you are looking for a tree that will not lose its leaves but instead offers a pop of color in a potentially dull winter landscape, there are many different types of evergreen trees.
While each one is different, and this is not an exhaustive list of every tree that keeps its leave all year, we hope that this helps you get started in deciding which tree might be the best fit for you.
The majority of trees listed can be located in most regions, though palm trees may be a bit less versatile in that sense.
Remember that these trees keep their leaves (needles) all year:
- Fir Tree
- Spruce Tree
- Holly Tree
- Palm Tree
- Murray Cypress Tree
- Pine Tree
Each of these trees has different requirements based on where they should be planted, how they should be cared for, and what best to look for when deciding on a species of tree.
You can use this as a starting point to guide you through your Tree Journey, but we do recommend doing your research to make sure you have the best fit for you.
Don’t forget to look into plant hardiness zones, which can be found as graphs, charts, maps, and guides.
This sort of indicator will help you to figure out which hardiness zone you live in and, essentially, what the absolute minimum temperature of your area is on average Once you know this, you can correspond the hardiness zone to the type of tree you’re looking for, to make sure that the tree and the environment are compatible.
We hope that this helps you to get a better sense of the way that evergreen trees are not all the same but can be very individualistic organisms that bring different strengths and weaknesses to the table.
Hughes, N. M., & Smith, W. K. (2008, August). COS 117-10: Leaf color change in evergreens: Why do some species synthesize anthocyanins in winter leaves, while others don’t?. In The 93rd ESA Annual Meeting.
Miyazawa, Y., & Kikuzawa, K. (2005). Winter photosynthesis by saplings of evergreen broad‐leaved trees in a deciduous temperate forest. New Phytologist, 165(3), 857-866.