A conifer is a tree belonging to the cone bearing order Coniferales. These trees have needles or scale-like leaves and are very different from hardwood trees which have broad, flat leaves and usually without cones. You can easily identify a conifer from a hardwood.
Also called evergreens, conifers normally keep foliage or needles through the entire year. The notable exceptions are baldcypress and tamarack which shed needles annually.
These "softwood" trees usually bear cones and include the pines, spruces, firs, and cedars. Wood hardness varies among the conifer species, and some are actually harder than some hardwoods. Most of the common conifers are of major economic importance for lumber and paper production.
With each hardwood tree species listed here, I will provide information about habitat and their important tree associates. Also provided is a link to each of these major conifers that describes preferred habitat conditions, silviculture treatments for management, images of the foliage and fruit and the effects of fire.
Baldcypress grows into a large tree and the bark is gray-brown to red-brown, shallowly vertically fissured, with a stringy texture. The needles are on deciduous branchlets that are spirally arranged on the stem. Unlike most other species in the family Cupressaceae, bald cypress is deciduous, losing the leaves in the winter months and thus the name 'bald'. The main trunk is surrounded by cypress "knees" that protrude from the ground.
Alaska cedar is a cypress (Cupressaceae) that botanists have had historical problems determining it's scientific category. The species goes by many common names including Nootka Cypress, Yellow Cypress, and Alaska Cypress. Even though it is not a true cedar, it is also often confusingly called "Nootka Cedar", "Yellow Cedar" and "Alaska Yellow Cedar". One of its common names derives from its discovery on the lands of a First Nation of Canada, the Nuu-chah-nulth of Vancouver Island, British Columbia, who were formerly referred to as the Nootka.
Atlantic white-cedar (Chamaecyparis thyoides), also called southern white-cedar, white-cedar, and swamp-cedar, is found most frequently in small dense stands in fresh water swamps and bogs. Heavy cutting for many commercial uses during this century has considerably reduced even the largest stands so that the total volume of this species growing stock is not currently known. It is still considered a commercially important single species in the major supply areas of North and South Carolina, Virginia, and Florida.
Northern white-cedar is a slow growing native North American boreal tree. Arborvitae is its cultivated name and commercially sold and planted in yards throughout the United States. The tree is identified primarily by unique flat and filigree sprays made up of tiny, scaly leaves. The tree loves limestone areas and can take full sun to light shade.
Chamaecyparis lawsoniana is a cypress known by the name Lawson's Cypress when cultivated in the landscape, or Port Orford-cedar in its native range. It is not a true cedar. Port Orford Cedar is native to the southwest of Oregon and the far northwest of California in the United States, occurring from sea level up to 4,900 ft in mountain valleys, often along streams. Port-Orford-cedar is found with an extremely wide variety of associated plants and vegetation types. It usually grows in mixed stands and is important in the Picea sitchensis, Tsuga heterophylla, mixed evergreen, and Abies concolor vegetation zones of Oregon and their counterparts in California.