Plant World

Trees and Shrubs

What are the distinguishing characteristics of pine, spruce, and fir trees?

The best way to tell the difference between the three trees is by their cones and leaves:


White Pine: Five needles in each bundle; needles soft and 3–5 inches long. Cones can be 4–8 inches long.

Scotch Pine: Two needles in each bundle. Needles are stiff, yellow green, 1.5–3 inches long. Cones are 2–5 inches long.


White Spruce: Dark green needles are rigid, but not prickly, grow from all sides of the twig and are less than an inch long. Cones are 1–2.5 inches long and hang downward.

Blue Spruce: Needles are about an inch long, silvery blue, very stiff and prickly; needles grow from all sides of the branch. Cones are 3.5 inches long.


Balsam Fir: Needles are flat, 1–1.5 inches long and arranged in pairs opposite each other. Cones are upright, cylindrical and 2–4 inches long. Fraser Fir: Looks like a balsam but needles are smaller and more rounded. Douglas Fir Single needles, 1–1.5 inches long and very soft. Cone scales have bristles that stick out.

An easy way to identify the various trees is to gently reach out and “shake hands” with a branch remembering that the pine needles come in packages, spruce are sharp and single, and firs are flat and friendly.


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