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Evergreen bush identification

Updated April 17, 2017

The easiest way to identify evergreen bushes is by their foliage, which falls into one of two categories: needle-leaf or broad-leaf. Needle-leaf evergreens include popular varieties such as junipers and yews. Holly and boxwood are common broad-leaf evergreens. A close look at its leaves can help you identify an evergreen shrub with confidence.

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Junipers and Siberian Cypress

Short, sharp needles are the identifying features of junipers. If the needles hurt when you grab them, it's a juniper. The most widely planted of all evergreen shrubs, junipers range from low-creeping ground cover to specimens that tower up to 15 feet. Siberian cypress look a lot like creeping junipers. But a close examination reveals that Siberian cypress needles are flatter and softer than juniper --- and they do not hurt when you touch them.


Yews are the second most popular evergreen shrub. Their flat, 3/4- to 1-inch-long needles are dark green on top and lighter green underneath --- and they are not marked with the white stripes you may find on other evergreens. Some varieties make very good hedges or screens. The female plants produce bright red berries.

Arbor vitae

Arbor vitae often are planted close together to create an evergreen hedge or privacy screen. This evergreen shrub can grow 10 to 20 feet wide and up to 30 feet tall. Its 1/16- to 1/8-inch-long, scalelike leaves grow in flat, fan-like sprays.

Dwarf Evergreen Shrubs

Dwarf pines, firs and spruces are popular landscape plants. The dwarf Alberta spruce is a small, slow-growing, pyramid-shaped shrub that typically grows only 4 to 5 feet tall. Its dense, light green foliage is comprised of thin 1/2-inch-long needles that radiate around their stems. The mugo pine is a compact evergreen shrub with a dense, rounded growth habit. It grows 4 to 10 feet tall. This two-needled pine features dark-green, 1- to 1 1/2-inch-long stiff needles that remain on the tree for four years.

Holly, Azaleas and Wintergreen Barberry

With their spiny, glossy evergreen leaves and bright red berries, American and Chinese holly are the most familiar holly bushes. If it produces large colourful blooms on woody stems in the spring and keeps its leafy, green foliage year-round, it might be an evergreen azalea or rhododendron. The evergreen foliage of wintergreen barberry is 3 inches long, narrow and spiny. This prickly shrub makes an effective barrier and hedge plant. It produces small yellow flowers in May and dark berries in the fall.


Boxwoods make excellent hedging plants with their soft, green foliage. Of the more than 160 cultivars, the most popular are American and English. American boxwood is a wide-spreading shrub with dense evergreen foliage that typically grows 5 to 10 feet tall. The leaves are lance-like to oval in shape, 1/2 to 1 1/2 inches long, usually shiny and dark green on the top and pale green on the underside. English boxwood is a low, slow-growing shrub that may grow up to 3 feet high. The plant's rounded foliage, which may be called cloudlike, is denser than that of the American boxwood; the leaves are much more rounded and oval in shape.

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About the Author

Carolyn Enright began working as a professional writer in corporate communications in 1992. Her work includes executive speeches, annual reports, newspaper and magazine articles, newsletters and online training modules. Enright holds a Master of Science in corporate public relations from Northwestern University and a Bachelor of Arts in American studies from the University of Notre Dame.

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