Virtual Museum of Canada
Jardin botanique de Montréal 
Centre for Forest Research

Pointedly identifiable!

Conifers have needles or scales, sometimes both. They're good clues to help you identify a tree. Some needles are round, others are flat. Try rolling one between your fingers — you’ll soon see which is which. You can also look at how many are attached together along a branch. In Quebec, this is easy: each conifer has a specific number of needles in each group. Elsewhere, you might have to take a number of samples and note the recurring numbers: 2 or 3 needles, between 3 and 6 needles, etc. If you are interested in identifying trees, you can visit our Identifying Trees section.

Needles and scales require proportionately more resources to produce than typical leaves. That's why they last longer (three years, on average) – they're a long-term investment for the tree.

Photo of a branch and needles of an Eastern hemlock (Tsuga canadensis)
Tsuga canadensis
© Jardin botanique de Montréal (Gilles Murray)
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In this game of economy and efficiency, Bristlecone pines are the champions. They don't have a choice! They grow on very poor soil nutrients, at an elevation where rainfall is low and where summer only lasts a few weeks. Their needles survive between 30 and 40 years!