Trees bearing seed cones are conifer trees, though not all conifers bear cones. Conifer trees are of tremendous ecological and commercial importance around the globe. Ornamental varieties enhance public and private landscapes. Conifers range in height from ground-hugging junipers of less than 1 foot to the giant sequoia at more than 300 feet. Among the oldest individual plant specimens on Earth, the Great Basin bristlecone pine can live some 5,000 years.
Pine, Fir, Spruce and Larch Trees (Pinaceae)
White pines are a commercially important lumber source. Piñon pines are the source of pine nuts. High-elevation pine trees, including foxtail pines and the Great Basin bristlecone pine trees, are among the longest-lived of individual trees, succeeding in high altitudes in harsh conditions. All pine trees are important as food and habitat providers to birds and other wildlife. Fir and spruce trees are pyramidal with tiered branches. Fir trees have soft needles and cones that grow upward. Spruce trees have pendant cones and stiff needles. Deciduous larch trees have horizontal branches and drooping branchlets. Soft needles grow in tufts, and roundish cones are distributed along the branchlets. Fresh spring growth of pale green needles and bright purple cones, along with brilliant fall colouring, make widely adaptable larch trees attractive landscape specimens.
Cypress and Juniper Trees (Cupressaceae)
Cypress trees bear round, ping pong ball-sized cones composed of shield-shaped scales. Tiny scaly leaves are closely packed on corded branches. Trees are tall with pyramidal or columnar growth. Foliage is either bright green, dark green or bluish-green, depending on the variety. The trees are useful as hedges, windbreaks or striking vertical specimens in low-frost regions. Juniper trees do not have cones; rather, berrylike fruits carry their seeds. Foliage is scaly or needle-like. Junipers are widely adaptable and cold hardy. Varieties include small shrubs less than 1 foot tall to trees as high as 60 feet. Foliage colours range from yellowish to olive-green and blue-, silver- or grey-green, depending on the variety.
Yew Trees (Taxaceae)
Yew trees are not cone-producing conifers. Female yews produce fleshy berrylike fruits bearing a single seed in a red, or sometimes yellow, cup-shaped structure. Yew trees are long-lived and more tolerant of moisture and shade than most other garden conifers. The dark-green trees are widely adaptable, though very low temperatures and drying winds cause foliage damage. Yews add a formal accent to the garden, taking well to pruning and shaping. Yews are ideal subjects for topiary projects.
Araucaria Conifer Trees (Araucariaceae)
Araucaria trees are evergreen trees native to Australia, South America, New Guinea, Norfolk Island and New Caledonia. An individual monkey puzzle tree produces either male or female cones. Female cones are as large as coconuts and similarly shaped. Spidery branches are swathed in stiff, pointed leaves. Wild monkey puzzle trees can reach 100 feet high. They are grown as curiosities in landscapes where adapted or potted in the greenhouse. Norfolk Island pine trees have tiered horizontal branches with feathery tips. The Cook pine is naturalised in the Hawaiian Islands and is often mistaken for the Norfolk Island pine. These are landscape plants where adapted, or are container cultivated.
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