How To Identify Conifer Trees

how to identify conifers

How do you identify conifers?

Hello! In this tutorial, we are going to learn all about how to identify conifers. You will soon be able to tell your pine from your spruce, your spruce from your fir, as easy as abc. Are you ready? Lets get started! (If you would like to learn more about our most common trees, you can also check out these resources.)

Let's learn how to identify conifer trees



True cedar leaves are long, round in cross section and grow in clusters, like pine, but are shorter than pine and stiffer. They are also highly scented. Their cones are small, upright and dainty.



Cypress leaves are flat like fir, but have a scaly appearance. Their cones are small, round and look like wooden berries.

douglas fir

Douglas fir

Douglas fir leaves are short, soft and singular with a white line underneath. Their cones dangle downwards and have little mouse-feet projections between their scales.

Fir with suction cups!


Fir leaves are short and singular like spruce, but are soft, flexible and flat in cross-section, with two white lines underneath and are attached by tiny round cups. The cones stand upwards on the branch and can be quite colourful. Their branches arch downwards and grow packed tightly together.



Hemlock leaves are flat, like yew, but very vary in length and are soft and floppy, with white bands underneath. They are attached by delicate pegs. Their cones are oval, with large, loose plates. The branches are soft, flexible and droppy and the whole tree looks dainty and feathery.



Junipers actually have two different leaf formations. Some specied have short, sharp, spikey leaves; while other specied have flat, ferny leaves. Their cones take the form of small, round, blue-coloured berries.



Larch leaves are medium lenght, round in cross section and grow in rosettes around the branch. Its cones are small, circular, dainty and frilly. They grow on top of the branch.

scots pine


Pine leaves are long, round in cross-section and grow in little bunches (fascicles), with a knot or twist at its base. Their cones are egg-shaped, hard and woody and they dangle down beneath the branches. The bark is reddish in colour and plated in texture and the trees themselves are very tall, with their branches concentrated at the top.

norway spruce


Spruce leaves are short, stiff, singular, square in cross-section and attached by little wooden pegs. Their cones are long, thin, sleek and bendy and they dangle down beneath its upward arching branches.

yew tree berries


Yew leaves are flat with pointy ends and attached by little green stalks. Their cones are actually small red berries with cave-like depression underneath and a seed hidden inside. The bark is darks and flaky and the whole tree looks dark and dense.

So, how do you identify conifers?

At first, identifying conifers can seem like an impossible task – they are all dark green, with needly leaves and cones. But, once you know what to look for, you will quickly realise that underneath that mass of green needles, they are actually quite different.

How many types of conifer are there?

Here in the UK, you are likely to come across one of ten types of conifer: cedar, cypress, fir, hemlock, juniper, larch, pine, sequoia, spruce and yew.  And to identify them, you need four little details – their leaves, cones, branches and bark.

How to identify conifers by their leaves

When deciding to identify a conifer tree by looking at its leaves, the main things we need to pay attention to, are the size and shape of the conifer’s leaves, their texture and how they are attached to the twigs.

  • Size or length – Are all the tree’s needles the same length or are they different lengths? Are they long or short?
  • Shape – Are the needles round, square or flat?
  • Texture – Are the needles smooth and sleek or are they scaly? Do they have any surface (or undersurface) markings?
  • Attachment – Are the leaves arranged singly or in groups or clusters? Also, are they attached straight to the stem or are they joined to it by little pegs?

Identifying conifers by their cones

When using cones to help identify a conifer tree, we need to know their shape, flexibility, scale shape and their position on the branch.

  • Shape – Is the cone egg-shaped, round or elongated? Does it look sleek, bumpy or frilly?
  • Flexibility – Is the cone hard and woody or can you flex it (even a little bit)?
  • Scales – Are the scales thick or thin? Angular, rounded or wavy?
  • Position – Do the cones dangle down beneath the branches or stand up on top like candles?
  • Lastly, does a conifer look like it has berries instead or cones? Or even minature cones?

Identifying conifers by their branches

This may not be the easiest way to identify conifers, but can provide an extra clue. The main things to look for are the location of the branches on the tree trunk, their bendiness and their general direction of growth.

  • Location – Are the branches are clustered at the top of the tree or spread out along its whole length? Are they spaced apart or packed closely together?
  • Bendiness – Can you flex the branches or are they rigid?
  • Direction – Do the branches curve upwards or downwards? Or do they appear to stick straight out to the sides?

Identifying conifers by their bark

As with many trees, bark can only be used as a reliable clue when looking at younger trees. Because, as the tree matures, its bark thickens and it loses its quirks and identifiable personality. But, basically, you want to look at two things:

  • Texture – Is the bark flaky, scaly or fibrous?
  • Colour – Does the bark look grey, red or brown?


Well, there we go! I hope you enjoyed this tutorial and have a better idea now, of how to identify our most common conifer trees. If you would like to learn more about identifying trees, why not check out my tutorials on identifying nuts, seeds, leaves or berries.

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