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Discover Nature Notes
Published Display Date
Dec 29, 2019

Evergreen trees are a staple in Missouri’s winter landscape. But what’s the story behind their existence and their place in holiday culture?

We use the term “evergreens” for needle-leaved trees that stay green all year. This group includes pines, spruces, hemlocks and true firs. Although evergreens have leaves year-round, the needles actually fall continually. Some needle-leaved trees–notably the yews and larches–are deciduous. They shed their leaves each year and replace them in the spring. Obviously, they are not referred to as evergreens.

Evergreens bear cones, in which seeds are protected by scales. The seeds feed birds, rabbits, squirrels, chipmunks and even coyotes and black bears. Deer browse on evergreen twigs and needles when heavy snowfalls eliminate more favored food.

Evergreens also sustain people through the bleak winters. Pre-Christian cultures believed evergreens had mystic powers. People took evergreen boughs and trees inside at winter solstice to ensure the protection of their home until spring revegetation. Christianity supplanted older Pagan religions, but bringing evergreens indoors remained a part of religious traditions. Decorating with evergreens is now a nearly universal holiday practice. And for many, the mere scent of pine releases a lifetime of holiday memories and sustains the promise of springtime rebirth.

Cool Facts

  • The oldest bald cypress trees in Missouri can be found at Allred Lake Natural Area, where they range from 500 to 1,000 years old. This is the last remaining stand of old-growth bald cypress in the state.
  • The Eastern white pine species was crucial in our nation’s history. The tall straight trunks were prized for ship masts in colonial days, and a protracted battle with the English Crown over the use and ownership of America’s stands of large white pines contributed to the uprising of the American Revolution.
  • Because of its attractive, evergreen leaves and bright red berries that persist at Christmastime, the American holly tree is associated with Christmas (“holly” is an ancient variant of the word “holy”). It’s a popular landscaping shrub, provides good windbreaks and its incredibly white wood is prized by carvers.

Find tips for Christmas tree care.

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