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The Difference Between Evergreens and Conifers

This time of year my plant friends begin to throw around words like "Evergreen" and "Conifer" somewhat indiscriminately. Some know what their talking about, others... well not so much. Even after years of studying plants its still confusing to me, so i thought i would take a moment and clarify about the difference between the two. 

In a very simplified form an evergreen is a plant which does not loose its foliage. It stays on the entire year. They can be divided into two distinct categories. They can be needled - such as Pine, Spruce, and Hemlock.

An example of a needled evergreen pine

That part is fairly straightforward. A needled evergreen can also have "awl-like" foliage such as a Juniper, or "scale-like" foliage such as Arborvitae.

An example of "Awl-Like" evergreen foliage on a juniper

An example of "Scale-Like" evergreen foliage on an arborvitae

The second category of evergreen are the Broadleaf Evergreens. This category has flat foliage which can range from the tiny foliage of Boxwood to some of the larger forms of Rhododendron and Magnolia.

An example of the smaller broadleaf evergreen foliage of boxwood

An example of large broadleaf evergreen foliage of rhododendron 

Its all pretty straightforward. That is until we come to conifers...
Conifers are defined as trees which are strictly "cone-bearing". Now at first glance we think that it is pretty clear- all evergreens produce cones. Right? Not quite. There are many evergreens which do not produce cones, but produce berries - for example - Junipers. Junipers and others similiar to them, therefore are not conifers, just evergreens. To make matter more confusing plants such as the Larch loose all their needled foliage and bear cones. They are therefore considered conifers.

An example of larch- A conifer which drops all its needles in winter

In summary, remember that conifer refers to how it reproduces and evergreen refers to the type of foliage. 
Evergreen: Foliage stays on all year.
Conifer: Bears cones. May be evergreen or deciduous.

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  • Ulysses Hedrick