Evergreens in Winter

White pine covered with snow 
By Rebecca Roy, Conservation Education Coordinator 

We received a foot of beautiful snow this week, reminding us why we love winter in Vermont.  The snow coated the rolling hills and valleys, clinging to evergreen branches with festive white icing. This made these special trees stand out.

I saw some beautiful evergreen trees at Allis State Park when I dug out my cross-country skis and glided my way up to the stone picnic shelter for some hot chocolate and cookies. Like other woods in central Vermont, Allis has deciduous and evergreen trees growing together. All our deciduous trees—maples, ash, beech, and oak among other broad leaf trees, turned brilliant colors and dropped their leaves in October. Meanwhile our hardy evergreen trees continue to be green all year long.

The evergreens growing in Vermont are also called conifers, because they grow seeds in cones. People also call them softwood trees because their wood is, well, soft. They have lots of names because they are special trees.

Evergreens can grow under harsh conditions, such as rocky mountaintops, because they make food through photosynthesis with their waxy needles every month of the year. Instead of spending lots of energy growing huge leaves every year only to lose them in the fall, our evergreens steadily make energy to grow year-round. Evergreens lose their needles, but lose them slowly over time and always maintaining enough green needles to photosynthesize.

Our most common conifers are white pine, red spruce, balsam fir, and eastern hemlock. We proudly grow other beautiful evergreen trees too, but those are the ones seen the most. All these trees serve a special purpose in winter, they provide important habitat for wildlife.

Because conifers hold snow, and shed snow away from themselves, the space beneath the trees has less snow depth. Hemlocks do this very well, and a grove of hemlock trees is an essential winter habitat for many animals, including white tailed deer. Deer gather under hemlocks in winter because it is a shelter from the weather, and an easier place to dig for food like fern root nodules. These habitats are so important that they are mapped by wildlife biologists and foresters as important habitat called deer yards.

Conifers are wonderful windbreaks, and the thick bushy branches provide safe places for tiny birds like Kinglets to spend winter nights. The next time you are out on a winter adventure and you need to get warm, duck under a conifer for protection. You can find beautiful ones in Allis and other state parks all over Vermont.

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