January 23, 2016 | by Stephen Ellsperman

In my every day body of work, I speak to people all the time about vegetation of various landscapes.  Whether its in the broadest context of plant ecology on a large scale or the dead tree in someone’s backyard – vegetation is either a life-saving element or merely a distraction that involves the color green.  I LOVE to talk about plants.  I can really get rolling about some of the most intricate details of plant ecology.  It might be hard to shut me up if you start talking about wetland plants, forests, succession, plant ecology, leaves, dead house plants, tree sap on the hood of the car… (you get the idea).

I am also pretty patient about terminology and nomenclature of plants. I know that most people aren’t as passionate as me in this area, so misused plant terminology generally doesn’t bother me. However, I am human and I do indeed have a certain pet-peeve that has developed through my years in the profession.

There is a BIG difference between “Pines” and “Spruces”.  People often confuse these trees and use their terms interchangeably. I believe its important to know the difference between these two families of gymnosperms as they are each unique and separated by important features. Being someone who finds the difference so important, I will give a quick lesson on how to tell the difference between a Spruce and a Pine.

An easy way to decipher between spruces and pines is by their needles. Spruce needles are shorter and stiffer than that of pines and are directly attached to the branch by a small wood protrusion. Spruces have flexible cones with thin scales that point downwards. The bark is smooth on younger trees and tends to get rougher as the tree ages.

Pines needles are attached to stems in groups of up to five needles. Each needle is 1-3 inches long and tends to be flat and more flexible than those of the Spruce. The cones are rigid and woody. The bark of a pine is rough but not as furrowed and flaky as the spruce tree.

There you have it, a short lesson on the unique qualities and terminology of Spruces and Pines!