Ever Green

By Anita Sanchez

The red, orange and gold leaves are gone, turned to crum­pled brown paper. Now, in the dark days of win­ter, the ever­green trees come into their own. They’ve been there all along, of course, hid­den by autumn’s lav­ish foliage. Their green shines bright­ly amid the bare branches.

The spruces cre­ate a geo­met­ric shape, a tall, nar­row tri­an­gle against the sky­line. Pines are ragged, unsym­met­ri­cal, awk­ward in a lov­able way. On the Wood­land Trail, grace­ful hem­locks shade the hill­side. Some­times the trees are frost­ed by snow. Some­times they sing in the wind. But the main thing about ever­greens is that they’re, well, green: ever green.

Not real­ly. Noth­ing lasts for­ev­er, of course. The tree itself can endure for cen­turies, but the leaves have a much short­er lifes­pan. (They’re shaped like nee­dles, but struc­tural­ly they’re con­sid­ered leaves.) An indi­vid­ual pine nee­dle, for exam­ple, lives three years or so, then turns a sick­ly yel­low and falls off the branch. But ever­green trees keep at least some of their leaves green all win­ter, retain­ing the chem­i­cal chloro­phyll in their tis­sues. The plants are mak­ing food — active­ly pho­to­syn­the­siz­ing, going through the process­es of life, even in the dead” of win­ter. This is an incred­i­bly impor­tant adap­ta­tion for plants that live where sun­light is scarce, the cold fierce, and the snow deep.

Noth­ing looks qui­eter and more serene than an ever­green tree in a win­ter land­scape. But even while stand­ing motion­less under an over­coat of snow, a spruce or fir or pine or cedar is busi­ly work­ing, cap­tur­ing any stray gleam of sun­shine to use in pho­to­syn­the­sis. Sun­light, even a pale win­ter ray, is the start to this process, the key that turns the engine. Only a small trick­le of light pen­e­trat­ing the snow is enough to trig­ger the light-sen­si­tive cells and begin the long chain of chem­i­cal reac­tions, turn­ing air and water into sug­ars that nour­ish the plant.

Since water must be avail­able for pho­to­syn­the­sis to hap­pen, the nee­dle shape of the leaves allows them to con­serve water. Cold, dry winds blow­ing across a sur­face rob it of mois­ture (as we can feel on our chapped hands and lips.) Thin nar­row leaves help a tree hoard water. A waxy coat­ing on the nee­dles also helps keep mois­ture from evap­o­rat­ing — botan­i­cal chap­stick, so to speak.

As you walk under the ever­green boughs on Arbore­tum trails, remem­ber you’re not the only liv­ing thing in the stark win­ter land­scape. Those qui­et trees are churn­ing with life.

Winter 2015

Volume 33 , Number 1

Share this

The Latest from Landis

Aug 06, 2022

Landis Forest 5K - August 6, 2022

A record turnout! Click here to view all the great photos from this event, and... read more

Jun 10, 2022 | Anne Donnelly

Don't Overlook Your Reciprocal Admissions Privilege

A sometimes overlooked benefit of your Landis Arboretum membership is the American Horticultural Society Reciprocal... read more

May 29, 2022

Scenes From the Spring Plant Sale

Thanks to our many wonderful volunteers, plant consignors, vendors, and customers, the Landis Signature Spring... read more

May 28, 2022 | Fred Breglia, Executive Director

From the Director’s Desk: Q&A, Part III

In this last Q&A session, I am focusing on leaf color change during the... read more

May 28, 2022 | Erin McKenna Breglia, Landis Gardener

From the Garden: Milkweeds for Monarchs!

Many people enjoy seeing butterflies in our Landis gardens. especially the monarch butterfly, Danaus... read more

May 28, 2022 | Anita Sanchez

Life and Death on the Lawn

It’s a beautiful summer day. You’ve finished your stack of books from the Landis... read more

News Archive