Winter Tree Identification – Conifers (Part 1)

In the Northwest we are surrounded by trees. Our parks, neighborhoods and urban areas are blanketed in a canopy of leafy friends. With so many trees around, it might be easy to assume that anyone who lives in the Northwest is an expert in tree identification. Sadly, many citizens have a hard time naming some of the most common types of trees. The individuals who can identify trees are most likely an arborist or a former scout of some sort. The good thing is that identifying trees is a skill that is easily learned and does not have to be reserved for those with special training. With some time for observation and a bit of patience anyone can quickly learn the basics, even in the winter.

Trees can easily be divided into two categories, Conifers and Deciduous – we’ll spend the next two posts explaining how to easily identify them, leaves or no leaves.

Identifying Conifers in the Winter

If it’s winter and the tree is green, then it’s coniferous. Conifers have needle like leaves or flat scale like leaves. These trees might look very similar at first glance but the leaves of each tree has their own unique characteristics that can be used to quickly identify them.

Pine – On pine trees the needles are arranged on the branch in groups of two, three, or five needles per cluster. They include lodgepole, sugar, ponderosa, and western white pines.


Lodgepole Pine

Fir – The needles of fir trees are attached individually on the branches and are soft and flat and cannot be rolled between your fingers. The Grand, Pacific Silver, Noble and Douglas firs are all examples of fir trees native to the state of Oregon.


Douglas Fir

Spruce – On spruce trees the needles are hard, square and can be easily rolled between your fingers. Sitka, Engelmann, and the Brewer spruce are the only native species to Oregon.

winter tree identification - Sitka

Sitka Spruce


Cypress – Cypress is a large family of trees with scale like flat scale like leaves that include cedars, junipers, Sequoias and arborvitae.


Western Red Cedar

With this handy guide it becomes easier to narrow the search when trying to identify certain trees. If your are still having difficulty, the Oregon State local extension office is a great place to find help. Be sure to stay tuned to our blog for next week’s post which will highlight identifying deciduous trees, even without their leaves.

Lodgepole Pine Photo By Jason Hollinger (Lodgepole Pine “Flowers”  Uploaded by Amada44) [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Douglas Fir Photo By Leslie Seaton from Seattle, WA, USA (Douglas fir) [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Sitka Spruce Photo By Roland Tanglao from Vancouver, Canada (Wild-Pacific-Trail-20100606-IMG_1148.jpg) [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Cedar Photo By Walter Siegmund (Own work) [GFDL ( or CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

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