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Fir vs. Spruce vs. Pine: How to tell them apart

Telling the difference among conifers can be tricky. To me, they are all Christmas trees. But calling them such doesn’t really mark me as a discerning gardener. There is, however, a quick way to tell these three common conifers apart.

Look for the number of needles that come out of the same spot on a twig. If a twig bears needles in groups of two, three, or five, you can safely call it a pine. If the twig carries its needles singly, it’s a good bet you’ve got a fir or a spruce. Pull off a needle, and roll it between your fingers. If it feels flat and doesn’t roll easily, it’s a fir. If the needle has four sides and, thus, rolls easily between your fingers, it’s a spruce.

Fir Click to enlarge image Fir Photo/Illustration: Kerry Moore
Spruce Click to enlarge image Spruce Photo/Illustration: Kerry Moore
Pine Click to enlarge image Pine Photo/Illustration: Jennifer Benner
Photos: Michelle Gervais
From Fine Gardening 107 , pp. 30