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Article #30, December 1999
By Bill Cook

     Around the holidays and with the falling of the first snows, many folks think about evergreens.  In the otherwise white and brown landscape, these are the trees that offer a reminder of the green season.  Evergreens are also called conifers, softwoods, and pine trees.  The only entirely accurate term is conifers. However, “pine trees” is probably the least accurate.

     Most of the conifers in the Upper Peninsula are not pines.  There are eleven species of conifers that occur regularly in our forests.  There are an additional eight or nine that might be found around farms and towns.  Of these 20 species, only five are pines and only three pines are native to the U.P. 

     Pines, by definition, have needles bundled at the bases by small, papery wrappings called “fascicles.”  They also have distinctive cones.  Our native pines are white pine, red pine (or Norway pine), and jack pine.  Common introduced species are Scotch pine and black pine. 

     Our conifer species fall into three plant families, with most of them in the “Pinaceae.”  The true pines all belong to the genus “Pinus.” 

     Of the conifers, the most common is balsam fir, followed by cedar, black spruce, and white spruce.  None of these are pines.  Jack pine is the fifth most common conifer in the U.P., followed by hemlock, tamarack, red pine, white pine, Scotch pine, and Norway spruce.  So, most of what people call “pines,” really are not pine trees.  They are probably fir or spruce. 

     Maybe it doesn’t usually matter much what you call trees.  But if you ever need to talk to a forester, logger, or a wildlife biologist, then the picture of the forest changes quite a bit if the wrong species are mentioned.  That’s part of the reason these folks like to see a property before recommending any sort of specific action. 

     It’s pretty easy to learn the conifer species in the U.P.  There aren’t too many of them and their characteristics don’t change as much between the seasons and with age.  With a little practice, most of them can be identified at a distance.

     Pines only make up about 10 percent of the wood volume in the U.P.  All conifers make up about 37 percent.  The eastern U.P. has a greater share of both conifer and pine volume.  Between 1980 and 1993, pine volume increased faster than the conifer total or the forest as a whole. 

     There are many reasons to learn the differences between tree species.  They don’t all have the same ecological and growth requirements. So, they are managed differently.  Different products are made from different species.  The value of conifers to wildlife is very important, and varies with tree species and animal species.  There are many other differences, as well.

     One of the first steps in learning more about the forest is to learn to identify the tree species.  So the next time you comment on the “pine” trees along the way, think again.  Maybe they really aren’t pines!

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Bill Cook is an MSU Extension forester providing educational programming for the entire Upper Peninsula. His office is located at the MSU Upper Peninsula Tree Improvement Center near Escanaba. The Center is the headquarters for three MSU Forestry properties in the U.P., with a combined area of about 8,000 acres. He can be reached at cookwi@msu.edu or 906-786-1575.

Prepared by Bill Cook, Forester/Biologist, Michigan State University Extension, 6005 J Road, Escanaba, MI  49829
906-786-1575 (voice),  906-786-9370 (fax),  e-mail:  cookwi@msu.edu

Use / reprinting of these articles is encouraged. Please notify Bill Cook.
By-line should read "Bill Cook, MSU Extension" Please use the article trailer whenever possible.

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