Needles to Say

Coniferous trees are characterized by having scales or needle-like leaves that (with the exception of the Eastern Larch) remain on the branches during the winter. This module is all about coniferous trees.  The children will be introduced to various needle bearing trees native to P.E.I. They will play games that help them name the various trees. As well they will learn how these trees differ from deciduous trees.

Lesson 1 - Intro to Coniferous Trees  

There are 10 coniferous trees that grow are native, or grow naturally, in P.E.I. Coniferous trees are trees with needles or scale-like leaves. Conifer means "to bear cones," therefore all coniferous tree have cones. Cones contain the reproductive organs of these trees. A cone containing pollen is called the microstrobilus or the male cone. While the female cone, or megastrobilus, contains ovules which after fertilized by pollen become seeds. 

Most coniferous trees are evergreen, which means they retain their needles all year long. Out of the 10 coniferous trees in P.E.I., 9 of them are evergreen and will not lose their needles. The Eastern Larch is a coniferous tree but is not evergreen, it loses its needles in the fall making it a deciduous coniferous tree.

Evergreen trees that bear cones and have needles or scale-like leaves are also referred to as softwood trees. Therefore all coniferous trees in P.E.I., minus the Larch, are softwood trees.  

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Lesson 2 - The Pines

There are 3 native pine tree in P.E.I. forests. Pine trees are characterized by having long needles that are in bunches. The three P.E.I. pines are monoecious therefore both male and female cones are found on the trees.

White Pine

White Pine are the tallest native conifer in North America for that matter, growing up to 30m high and 60-100cm around. They have long, soft, flexible needles that appear bluish-green. The needles are in bundles of five and have lines of white dots on them. White Pine cones hang and are often covered in sap. These trees grow best in full sunlight, and moist, sandy soil. White Pine are used for lumber, cabinet work and decorative purposes. Song birds eat white pines seeds, while squirrels, chipmunks and mice will snack on the needles. These trees are the preferred nesting sites for bald eagles.The White Pine Weevil is a beetle that cause extensive damage to White Pine as well as other conifers. A healthly White Pine can live up to 200 years.

White Pine needles, bunches of 5

Red Pine 

Red Pine have a distinct reddish bark, hence the name, that is furrowed into flat, scaly plates. This pine can grow up to 25m high and 30-60cm round. They grow best on sandy plain or in areas with low soil fertility. The needles of the Red Pine grow 10cm to 17cm long and in bundles of two. They are shiny, pointed and will break when they are bent. Red Pine are often used for poles and pilings. They are provide good cover and nesting sites for animals. Mice and squirrels will eat red pine seeds. 

Jack Pine

Although Jack Pine are the most widely distributed pine trees in Canada, they are only found in small scattered patches in P.E.I. and are often stunted in growth. They can reach height 20m, but 12m high is common for Jack Pine in P.E.I.These trees are well resistance to pests and can live 80 to 150 years. They grow in shallow soils, course sand and even permafrost. Jack pine cones can stay closed and on the tree for 10 to 20 years. Squirrels, chipmunks and mice will eat the seeds. Jack pine provide cover, food and a nesting area for birds. 

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Lesson 3 - The Spruces

There are three spruce trees native to P.E.I. Each tree has whorled branches and a conical form. The four-sided needles of a spruce tree are attached singly in a spiral way. Spruce trees have rough twigs.

Black Spruce

Black spruce branches usually touch the ground. Their main branches are short when compared to the branches of white and red spruce. Black spruce needles are straight, blunt-pointed and dull. They appear bluish green. The upper needles point forward, while the side needles point out at right angles. The needles will grow 8 - 15mm long and have white dots on the underside. Black spruce will grow up to 15m high and 15-30cm round. They can live for 50 - 200 years in moderate shade. Black spruce can hybridize with red spruce making the two hard to distinguish. These trees are preferred for paper making. Their seeds are eaten by squirrels, chipmunks, voles, shrews, mice, chickadees, crossbills and other animals.

Red Spruce

Red spruce have reddish-brown bark that shed from the tree when they are young. The bark separates into reddish-black scales with age. Red spruce trees have a large, broad crown with branches growing at right-angles. The bark and twigs are lighter than that of black spruce. They have small dull gray cones. The needles of a red spruce are shiny yellowish-green, curved and pressed close to the twig. The are 1.5- 2cm long with faint white dots on all sides. Red spruce trees can grown up to 25m high and 30-60cm in diametre. They may live 100-200 years and have a high tolerance for shade. Crossbills, Pine Siskins and other songbirds eat red spruce cones and will nest in these trees.

White Spruce

White spruce trees are also referred to as Cat Spruce or Skunk Spruce due to the distinct smell their needles give off when crushed. They are wide spread in Canada, growing everywhere but Vancouver Island. Their 2cm long needles are straight, stiff with pointed tips and are bright green in colour. White spruce will grow to 25m in height and 60cm in diametre. They live 60 - 200 years in moderate shade. They provide a good nesting site and food for birds, as well as small mammals. White spruce wood is often used for pulp, lumber and sounding boards in instruments.

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Lesson 4 - Flat Needled Conifers

Eastern Hemlock

Eastern hemlock are the only native hemlock trees in Eastern Canada. These tree have a graceful, dense crown with droopy branches. Their wood is weak, brittle, splits easily, full of knots and sparks when burning. The flat needles of the eastern hemlock are dark green with a white underside. They grow 10-20mm long and have blunt, rounded or notched tips. The average lifespan of the hemlock is over 300 years; some individuals have reached 1000 years of age. The average height is 20m with a 60-120m diametre. They grow well in highly shaded areas. Hemlock seeds are eaten by birds and raccoon will nest in the larger trees.


Balsam Fir

Balsam fir is most commonly used for Christmas trees due to their bell-shape, dark green colour, nice fragrance and needles that remain on the tree for awhile, after being cut. This is the only native fir in Eastern Canada. As the tree ages brown scales appear in the firs grayish, smooth bark. Balsam fir wood is light, soft and weak. It is often used for wood pulp and lumber. Fir trees adapt well to different soils and climates, although they prefer wetter areas. The dark green needles of balsam fir trees are flat, soft and shiny. The cones stand upright. The trees will reach heights of 20m and 30-60cm round. These trees have a shorter lifespan of 40-80 years and are vulnerable to many different diseases. Squirrels will snack on the flower buds of balsam fir. Needles, tips and buds are also used as food.

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Lesson 5 - The Odd-balls

Eastern Larch

Eastern larch, also known as Tamarack, is the only native larch in eastern North America. This tree is the only needled tree that loses it needles in the fall. Therefore, Eastern larch are deciduous, coniferous trees. They grow in poorly drained sites reaching heights of 20m and 30-60cm round. Larch grow best in sunlight. They have four-sided bluish, green needles that turn gold in the fall. Eastern larch trees may live for 60-120 years. They provide food for small mammals and birds. Eastern larch wood is durable; it is used for posts, poles and boat building.

Eastern White Cedar

Cedar trees can easily be distinguished from any other conifer in P.E.I.. They have dark yellow-green scale like needles and a distinct smell. The 4 - 6mm long needles overlap in pairs and are pressed closely to the twig. Cedars grow up to 18m and 30-45cm round and can live 100-200 years in moderate shade. They provide food for birds, such as pine siskins, grosbeaks and crossbills. Aboriginal people taught European explorer, Jacques Cartier,  to use boiled cedar needles, which are full of vitamin C,  to treat scurvy. 

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