Skip to content
Illustration of Pinus torreyana by Charles Faxon

Conifer Collection plants

A summer view of the Conifer Collection
A summer view of the Conifer Collection


Fun Facts

  • Most conifers are evergreen; however, species such as dawn redwood (Metasequoia glyptostroboides) and golden larch (Pseudolarix amabilis) are deciduous, which means that they lose their needles each fall and sprout new ones each spring. Golden larch and dawn redwood are particularly striking in fall, when their needles turn color before falling.

  • True cedars (Cedrus spp.) and larches (Larix spp.) bear short needles arranged in clusters or whorls. Pines (Pinus spp.) have needles arranged in fascicles: small bundles of two, three, or five needles bound together at the base by a sheath. The rest of the needle-leaved evergreens have single needles set individually along the twig or branchlet.

  • Spruce (Picea spp.) needles are sharp-tipped, set singly on stout twigs in spiral lines, with each needle sitting on a woody peg that protrudes from the twig. Firs (Abies spp.) bear blunt-tipped needles that lack woody pegs and often appear to be arranged in two ranks along the stem. Hemlock (Tsuga spp.) needles are short, blunt-tipped, and flat, and the undersides of needles display two distinct white lines, which are actually stomates (leaf pores).

  • The cones of pine, spruce, and hemlock are pendulous (hanging downward). In contrast, cones of fir and cedar are held erect on the branches and shatter when mature.


The Conifer Collection is comprised of 579 gymnosperm taxa (kinds) representing 211 species, 31 genera, and 9 families. The main tract occupies twenty-four acres (10 hectares; excludes Hemlock Hill) and is arranged to facilitate the study of cone-bearing plants. Just like flowering plants, conifers form seeds. However, instead of being enclosed in fleshy fruits, the seeds of conifers are protected in cones. These seed cones are the female reproductive structures of conifers. Conifers also have pollen-bearing cones, which are the male reproductive structures. Male and female cones can occur on the same plant or on separate plants. Accurate identification of conifers requires an examination of the cones; however, leaf (needle) characteristics are also important clues to identification.



Featured Plants

Illustration of Ginkgo by Charles Faxon
1113-89*C Map it ↗


Scientific Name
Ginkgo biloba

In the early 20th century, American and European botanists believed that the ginkgo, while common in cultivation, was extinct in the wild. This ginkgo was collected from one of the few presumed wild populations of this species in China.

View plant bio
Ginkgo biloba
524-48*AA Map it ↗

Dawn Redwood

Scientific Name
Metasequoia glyptostroboides

This dawn redwood was grown from seed brought to the Arboretum in 1948 from China. Widespread during the Mesozoic Era (around 252 to 66 million years ago), dawn redwood narrowly escaped extinction. Today, it is a common feature among botanical gardens and parks across the temperate world.

View plant bio

Plants in this Collection

Plant ID Accession Date Recieved As Origin Source

Featured Walk

This quarter-mile tour through the Explorers Garden features stories from the Arboretum’s century and a half of collecting plants around the world. Click here to take this tour on Expeditions, the Arboretum’s mobile app.

Related Stories