How to Identify Small Evergreen Trees


Evergreens are named so because unlike deciduous plants, they do not lose their foliage in the winter. And while ornamental plants such as pear trees produce showy blossoms in spring, fruits in summer and bright foliage in late fall, when winter comes they are less impressive. Evergreens shine during winter months, when their foliage is still present. Additionally, evergreens such as holly produce bright red berries in winter. Small evergreen trees are good candidates for transplanting into your own garden or lawn. But not all trees that look like evergreens actually are. Identifying an evergreen is quite simple, whether the tree is large or small.

Step 1

Observe a tree during winter. This is the time when true evergreens maintain their foliage, while false evergreens, such as larch or bald cypress, lose their needles.

Step 2

Examine the tree's leaves. If a tree's leaves are flat and thin, it is a broadleaf evergreen tree. If a tree bears cones and has needle-like leaves or leaves that hug its twigs like scales, it is a conifer. There are more evergreens in the conifer family than there are in the broadleaf evergreen category.

Step 3

Examine the needles of conifers. If the needles are grouped in clusters, the tree is a pine tree. Trees with singly arranged needles that are easy to roll between your fingers are spruce trees. If the needles are difficult to roll between your fingers, the cones are upright and the branches have scales that drop seasonally, the tree is a balsam or Frasier fir. If the cones hang down, the tree is an Eastern hemlock.

Step 4

If the leaves of the tree form scale-like coverings along the twigs, the tree is an arborvitae. If the leaves are dark blue-green and the tree produces berry-like cones that are small and brownish purple, the tree is an Atlantic white cedar. If the tree's foliage exhibits a mix of characteristics in which some of the leaves are awl-shaped while others cover the twigs like scales and the tree produces small blue berries, the tree is an Eastern red cedar.

Step 5

Examine the shape of broadleaf evergreen trees. Most broadleaf evergreen trees have glossy leaves with a leathery texture. Each leaf is distinct in shape. Holly leaves are approximately 2 inches long with sharp, needle-like protrusions along the margins. A holly tree will also have red berries in winter. Magnolia leaves are an average of 8 inches long and oval in shape. In spring, magnolias produce large white blossoms with leathery leaves. Live oak leaves are about 5 inches long and oval in shape. They attach to branches in alternating arrangements. Live oaks also produce acorns.

Things You'll Need

  • Magnifying glass
  • Tree identification guide book


  • University of Illinois Extension: Tips on Identifying Evergreens
  • The National Arbor Day Foundation: What Tree Is That?
  • Ohio State University: Evergreen Trees for Ohio

Who Can Help

  • Terry L. Ettinger Horticulture Consulting Services
Keywords: classifying an evergreen tree, identifying an evergreen tree, evergreen tree characteristics

About this Author

Tracy S. Morris has been a freelance writer since 2000. She has published two novels and numerous online articles. Her work has appeared in national magazines and newspapers, including "Ferrets," "CatFancy," "Lexington Herald Leader" and "The Tulsa World."