Conifers are, most simply, woody plants.
There are about 630 species of conifers.
The great majority are trees, though a few are shrubs.
Characterized by seed-bearing cones, conifers typically have narrow, needle-like leaves covered with a waxy cuticle and straight trunks with horizontal branches.
Conifers have a lifespan that ranges from a few decades to more than 5,000 years.
Most conifer are green. However, there are other colors as well. Colorado blue spruce is vividly blue, many other conifers are vibrant yellow or gold, and you can find colors ranging from silver and white through yellows and blues to purple, brown and reddish at different times of the year.
Since most conifers are evergreens, the leaves of many conifers are long, thin and have a needle-like appearance, but others, including most of the Cupressaceae and some of the Podocarpaceae, have flat, triangular scale-like leaves [Photo below] .
Most conifers bear both male and female cones on the same plant. All are wind-pollinated. Pollinated cones ripen over the course of weeks, and the seeds are then dispersed either by being dropped, eaten or carried away by forest wildlife.
Conifers almost cover the globe, from within the Arctic Circle to the limits of tree growth in the Southern Hemisphere.
They are most abundant in cool temperate and boreal regions, where they are important timber trees and ornamentals, but they are most diverse in warmer areas, including tropical mountains.
Conifers include the oldest, tallest and largest trees.
Until 2013, Methuselah [Photo below], an ancient bristlecone pine was the oldest known non-clonal organism on Earth. While Methuselah still stands as of 2019 at the ripe old age of 4,851 in the White Mountains of California, in Inyo National Forest, another bristlecone pine in the area was discovered to be over 5,000 years old.
The tallest trees in the world are redwoods, which tower above the ground in California. These trees can easily reach heights of 300 feet (91 meters). Among the redwoods, a tree named Hyperion is the tallest living tree, it measured 115.85 meters (380 feet 1 inch) as of 2019.
General Sherman is a giant sequoia tree located in the Giant Forest of Sequoia National Park in Tulare County, California. By volume, it is the largest known living single stem tree on Earth. It has an estimated bole volume of 1,487 cubic meters (52,500 cubic feet). With a height of 83.8 meters (275 ft), a diameter of 7.7 m (25 ft), and an estimated age of 2,300–2,700 years, it is also among the tallest, widest, and longest-lived of all trees on the planet.
The longest cones produced by any species of conifer are those of the sugar pine (Pinus lambertiana), native to the western USA and to Baja California in northwestern Mexico. They range in size from 25 cm to 66 cm, and are 10-13 cm in diameter.
Conifers are of immense economic value, primarily for timber and paper production.
They have played an important part in many human cultures and are grown in gardens and enjoyed in nature around the world for their quiet beauty.
In many homes a young conifer is brought in each year to serve as a Christmas tree.
Modern Christmas trees originated during the Renaissance of early modern Germany. Its 16th-century origins are sometimes associated with Protestant Christian reformer Martin Luther who is said to have first added lighted candles to an evergreen tree.
Approximately 25-30 million real Christmas trees are sold each year in the United States. Almost all of these come from Christmas tree farms.
Some conifers also provide foods such as pine nuts and Juniper berries, the latter used to flavor gin.
Many conifers have distinctly scented resin, secreted to protect the tree against insect infestation and fungal infection of wounds. Fossilized resin hardens into amber.
Conifer is a Latin word, a compound of conus (cone) and ferre (to bear), meaning “the one that bears (a) cone(s)”.