Nature on our doorsteps: Conifers are not just for Christmas

By Rosaleen Dwyer

Rosaleen Dwyer is the County Heritage Officer at South Dublin County Council – every week she gives us an insight into the natural heritage around us and the beautiful biodiversity of the plants and creatures

At Christmas, it is obvious why we choose the evergreen conifer. 

Deciduous trees drop their leaves in autumn, mainly because decreasing light levels make it harder for the tree to make its own food.

Tidy cone shaped conifers in a Christmas Tree farm 1

 Tidy cone-shaped conifers in a Christmas Tree farm

Also, as big soft leaves are easily damaged by frost and wind, deciduous trees withdraw their valuable nutrients and discard the withered leaves.    

Conifers, however, have evolved to survive harsh weather and difficult growing conditions. 

Their natural environment is in locations where soils are rocky and wet and where they are exposed to cold and wind. 

Conifers have adapted to survive these harsh environments.

Their leaves are narrow and needle-like and are covered in a waxy layer.

Conifers needle like leaves help them survive winter weather 1

Conifer's needle-like leaves help them survive winter weather

This structure protects the leaf against frost and the drying effects of cold winds, allowing the tree to retain its leaves over winter while continuing to make food.

The conifer’s dense bark also helps by protecting the tree’s internal parts from winter’s cold.

The cone shape of many conifers is a very useful adaption. 

In snowy conditions, the weight of accumulating snow could break a tree’s branches, but the cone shape of conifers encourages snow to glide off easily.

Of course, this cone shape is also very suitable for decorating indoors at Christmas time.

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