Common Conifers of the Credit

Close-up of tree needles.

It’s a Wonderful Time of Year to Appreciate Conifers Trees

Leaves have fallen, there’s a chill in the air and winter is around the corner. Although we might be saying our goodbyes to many plants and animals for the cold season, it’s the most wonderful time of the year to celebrate a group of species that we can enjoy year-round: conifers!

Conifers are trees that have needle or scale-like leaves and produce cones that hold their seeds. Most conifers are evergreen, meaning they have green needles all year long.

Conifers are important for both humans and wildlife. Conifer wood is used for making furniture, paper and lumber. Conifer sap is used to scent soaps and candles. Conifers are also used as Christmas trees. Conifers offer food and shelter to wildlife, particularly birds, rabbits, squirrels, deer and porcupines. Five common conifers in the Credit River Watershed are:

Eastern White Pine

This tall-growing species has the title of Ontario’s provincial tree. Eastern white pine needles are long and grow in clumps of five. The dense branching of their canopies provides nesting habitat for birds of prey, including ospreys, bald eagles, Cooper’s hawks and great horned owls.

Close-up of tree needles showing clumps of five.
White pine needles grow in clumps of five. Photo credit: Pierre Cartier, iNaturalist, CC BY-NC 4.0 DEED).


Also known as American larch, tamaracks are more common in the northern areas of our watershed. This species is an exception to the term evergreen. Each fall, their needles turn yellow before dropping from the tree, resulting in a beautiful scenery. Tamarack needles also grow in clumps, with groups of 15 to 20 needles, but are much shorter than pine needles.

A cluster of  trees with yellow needles.
The yellow needles of a tamarack in the fall. Photo credit: Kathleen Houlahan, iNaturalist, CC0.

Eastern White Cedar

This species has unique flat and scaly leaves. The eastern white cedar is an extremely long-lived and hardy species. The oldest known living cedar in Ontario is over 1,330 years old, growing on the cliffs of Niagara Escarpment.

Close-up of flat and scaly leaves.
The scaly leaves of an eastern white cedar.

Balsam Fir

The needles of balsam fir are flat and look very similar to the needles of another conifer, the eastern hemlock. One way to tell these species apart is that balsam fir needles are longer and each needle attaches to the twig with a small disk or ball shape. The cones of balsam fir grow upright on branches and their otherwise smooth bark is covered in small blisters that release a fragrant, sticky liquid when pressed.

Close-up of twig with needles.
The flat needles of a balsam fir, attaching to the twig with visible disk shapes.

Eastern Hemlock

Eastern hemlock needles are also flat. Their needles are shorter than those of balsam fir and each needle attaches to the twig by a small, linear stem. Eastern hemlock bark is also scalier and is not fragrant.

The spread of an invasive insect called hemlock woolly adelgid (HWA) currently threatens eastern hemlock trees in Ontario. Infestations of HWA kill hemlock trees and are a major threat to our forests. CVC’s Invasive Species Management Program regularly monitors CVC properties for signs of HWA. Though not yet in the watershed, HWA has been found in nearby Hamilton and is expected to move towards us.

Close-up photo of needles connected to small stems.
The needles of an eastern hemlock, each connecting to the twig with a small stem.

CVC’s Integrated Watershed Monitoring Program (IWMP) monitors the health of conifers in our watershed. While monitoring, IWMP watches for new threats to our forest and wetland health, like the hemlock woolly adelgid.

This winter, keep an eye out for these conifers in your area and the wildlife that use them!

Have questions about conifers? Want to share your conifer photos? Connect with us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn.

By Candice Park, Assistant, Watershed Monitoring

Comments (2)

  1. Balsam fir is a really nice tree for residential gardens. They are dense and relatively compact compared to spruce and something that very few homeowners plant.
    Please consider adding one to your yard, not only for its beautiful form, but also for the diversity it will add to your community.

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