Ed Golson Outdoor Education

what are conifiers?

Not all plants are created equal. Coniferous plants like pine trees are quite different from the flowering plants. Let's start with the most obvious difference: their needles. Pine needles are actually just specialized leaves. They capture light and make sugar through photosynthesis just like other plants.  Pine needles are specially adapted to deal with very cold and dry conditions of northern forests. Deciduous trees are forced to drop their leaves every fall to prevent them from freezing and losing water all winter long. Pine needles have a thick waxy coat and a special shape that keeps them from freezing or losing all the trees water during harsh winters. This means that the coniferous plants can save energy by not having to replace all their needles at the same time every year.

Coniferous plants are different in other ways, too. Unlike most other common plants, conifers don't have any sort of flowers. Not even small, hard to see flowers like grasses. As a result, conifers don't have any fruits surrounding their seeds for protection or dispersal. Therefore, coniferous plants are sometimes called the "naked seed" plants.

There aren't a whole lot of different types of coniferous trees anymore. They used to be the dominant types of plant, but have been losing ground to more highly evolved flowering plants over the past few million years. Flowering plants have a big advantage in that they can produce seeds every year whereas, conifers can only produce seeds every other year. This allows the flowering plants to out-compete coniferous plants in most habitats . As a result, there are now a many flowering plants species and only a handful of conifer species.

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