Kids Nature School: Deciduous vs Evergreen
Spring is a great time to teach children the differences between deciduous and evergreen trees. Deciduous trees in our area are re-growing the leaves they lost last Fall. Every morning you take a walk at a park, in your neighborhood or just look out the window, you will see the Spring changes happening right before your eyes.
Many people wax poetic about tree colors in the Fall. I love Fall too, but I also adore the changes in the colors as deciduous trees regenerate their leaves. Light lime greens, delicate pinks and reds, and of course a multitude of Spring flowers all mix together to create a watercolor toned palette throughout our forests and neighborhood.
The Washington DC region is made up of a mix of deciduous and evergreen trees. Deciduous trees and shrubs lose their leaves in the fall and regrow them in the spring. Evergreen trees and shrubs keep the majority of their leaves all year long, although, they typically do a “big shed” in the Fall and have a surge of re-growth in the Spring.
When thinking of deciduous trees and shrubs, most people picture broadleaf species such as oaks and maples. Broadleaf trees and shrubs have flat leaves and produce fruits which contain seeds. When picturing evergreens, many people envision coniferous species such as pines and cedars. Coniferous trees and shrubs have needle shaped leaves or scale shaped leaves and produce seeds in cones.
But wait – did you know there are trees and shrubs that are both evergreen AND broadleaf? And both deciduous AND coniferous?
Let’s start with plants that are both evergreen and broadleaf. Can you think of any? Look out your window or take a walk in the neighborhood. I bet you can spot some! American holly trees, southern magnolias, and mountain laurels are all native evergreen broadleaf plants. Box woods and Asian azaleas which are evergreen and broadleaf, are commonly seen in our neighborhoods, but are not native to the Mid-Atlantic area.
Now for the harder question. Are there any trees or shrubs that are both deciduous AND coniferous? This is a toughie – but the answer is YES! In the DC area, you can see a few of the native bald cypress trees growing on Roosevelt Island in the Potomac River. Bald cypress are coniferous – they have needle-like leaves and produce seed cones – but they shed all of their leaves (needles) in the Fall and regrow them in the Spring. In your neighborhood, you might see another, non-native deciduous coniferous tree – the dawn redwood. Dawn redwoods are native to China but are often planted in yards and parks in Northern Virginia. Dawn redwoods are a true redwood and are related to the coastal redwoods and giant sequoias found in California. Like the bald cypress, dawn redwoods shed their leaves (needles) in Fall, regrow them in Spring, and produce adorable little seed cones.
Kids Nature Activity suggestion:
- Look up pictures of deciduous and evergreen trees online and identify if they are broadleaf or coniferous.
- Take a walk in a nearby park, your neighborhood, or just look out the window and identify which trees and shrubs are broadleaf or conferous.
- Draw pictures of the trees and shrubs you see and label them as being either broadleaf or coniferous and either deciduous or evergreen.
- If you would like, add the pictures to your Nature Journal (an upcoming blog topic) and/or submit the pictures to Kids Nature Shows either on Facebook or email at [email protected]