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Identifying Evergreen Trees by Silhouette

Picture of an eastern hemlock tree silhouette
Eastern Hemlock silhouette

By Saundra McBrearty, Outreach and Volunteer Specialist
Evergreen trees remain a colorful gem in Ohio’s subtly colored winter landscape. The fresh green needles break up the whites, greys, and gold that everything else has seemingly become. Now is a good time to shine the spotlight on our Ohio conifer trees, before our deciduous trees sprout spring leaves. We can learn to identify our common conifer trees at a distance by looking for basic silhouette shapes and branching characteristics.

Trees tend to grow in a certain manner and assume a characteristic posture. These viewing shapes can be recognized at a glance, from a distance, or even while riding in a car. Of course, trees will vary depending on the light, moisture, and density of vegetation. And a tree grown in an open field will look different than one grown in a forest where it must compete for light and water. The appearance of a tree will also vary with age; a sapling looks quite different from a mature tree. Still, even with these caveats, identification of trees by their silhouette can be fun and it’s not all that difficult to learn.

Ohio can claim six native genera of conifers: yew (Taxus), pine (Pinus), Larch/tamarack (Larix), hemlock (Tsuga), northern whitecedar (Thuja), and redcedar (Juniperus). There are several others such as spruce (Picea) and fir (Abies) that are planted as ornamentals far and wide. Click here to see some common conifers and how to recognize them by their silhouettes. Another good source of information on Ohio conifers can be found here at

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