Spruce trees and shrubs have short needles that are sharp and stiff. They are square and, according to Iowa State University, can be rolled between your fingers. Spruce needles grow on tiny stems that remain attached to the bark when the needles fall, giving branches a rough feel. Spruce cones have thin scales and are flexible. Bark is rough, ridged and may become scaly as the tree gets older. Norway spruce, white spruce and blue spruce are common types of spruce. Dwarf varieties of spruce include, Little Gem and Gnome.
The term "evergreen" is often misleading. Trees and shrubs with needle-like leaves that don't drop in the fall are called narrow-leaved evergreens or evergreen conifers. Needle size and arrangement varies among genera and can help you identify an evergreen conifer with small needles. Most types of evergreen conifer can be pruned as bushes or left to grow into trees.
According to Michigan State University, yew is often confused with hemlock and fir. Yew needles are short, about one-half to one-inch long, and are flat. Needles are pointed and arranged opposite each other on the branch, giving the entire branch a flat appearance. Yew needles lack the white mid-vein on the leaf underside common to hemlock and fir. Japanese yews and English yews, as well as crosses of the two, are commonly available at garden centers.
Fir needles are short, soft and flat with rounded tips. They are attached directly to the branch, giving naked branches a smooth feel. Fir needles have white stripes on the undersides of their leaves. Young fir bark is smooth and grayish, but may furrow as the tree ages. Cones are thin, around two to four inches long, and full of pitch. Balsam firs are commonly grown for use as Christmas trees. Nana is a dwarf variety of balsam fir. Other fir varieties include, white fir and Korean fir.
Hemlock needles are only about one-half inch long. They are soft, flat and attached to the branch with tiny, thin stems. The undersides of hemlock leaves are lined with white. Cones are small and flaky. Hemlock bark is thick with deep ridges. According to Michigan State University, hemlock bark can sometimes look orange, but is usually brown. Aurora, Camby and Palomino are dwarf varieties of Canadian, or eastern, hemlock.
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