This ancient plant family developed before flowering plants, over 300 million years ago, and today they still hold the records for the tallest, largest, thickest and oldest plants in the world.
- Tallest tree (337 ft / 115m) = Coast Redwood (Sequoia sempervirens)
- Thickest by diameter ( 37 ft / 11.42m) = Montezuma Cypress (Taxodium mucronatum)
- Largest by volume (4878 ft³/ 1486.9 m³) = Giant Sequoia (Sequoiadendron giganteum)
- Oldest tree (4700+ years) = Great Basin Bristlecone Pine (Pinus longaeva)
Although conifers have been taken over in modern times by the abundance and diversity of flowering plants, they are still incredibly important for industry and the planet. The boreal forests that grow across Russia, Canada, and Scandinavia are our most important resource to combat carbon pollution. These trees work year round to clean our air, encompassing about 29% of the world's forest cover, they are our largest biome aside from the oceans. Economically, these trees represent about 45% of the lumber industry. Paper is made from wood chips- the scraps of lumber that are cut into boards for furniture and construction. Conifers also make turpentine, amber, gin, and Christmas trees!
The Latin root of conifers means cone-bearing, as everything within this family is identifiable by its cones. Most conifers have male and female cones on the tree. The wind carries the pollen from the smaller male cones to pollinate the larger female cones (what we think of as a pine cone is generally the female with seeds hidden in its caches). Most seeds are transported by wind or water, but some conifers make cones that stay sealed for up to 80 years and only release their seeds after a wildfire.
All conifer leaves (some call them needles) are designed to minimize water loss with their skinny shape, plus their stoma can stay closed in dry or cold conditions. The darker green of their leaves helps them attract and retain light in dark winter conditions. Some trees, like the cypress, larch, and dawn redwood are called false conifers because their leaves turn orange and fall off before winter.
Isn't Hemlock the Poison that Killed Socrates?
Socrates drank hemlock poison to defend his ideals, but poison kills slowly. So intoxicated and exhausted his last words were merely, "Crito, we owe a cock to Asclepius. Pay it and do not neglect it."
The hemlock plant is native to the Mediterranean, when European setters came to North America they noticed a simlarity in the scent of the tree and the plant they knew from home. So they called the tree Hemlock as well.
About a year after Hurricane Katrina, local fisherman started to notice increased activity about 10 miles off the coast of Alabama.
ABOUT 60 FEET DOWN INTO THE GULF OF MEXICO THEY FOUND AN ANCIENT CYPRESS FOREST THAT HAS BEEN PRESERVED FOR OVER 12,000 YEARS.
A thick carpet of sea anemones now call this forest home, along with spidery crabs, toadfish, red snapper, grouper and a host of other sea creatures taking refuge in its trunks. The knobby stumps of the bald cypress are clearly visible, and around them a thriving reef has been built up.
Hemlock, the Tree That's Going Extinct?
The eastern hemlock tree grows up the Appalachians from Georgia to Canada, and will probably be gone by the end of this century. It will still exist in arboretums and on some private properties, and maybe in the far north, but its great swaths of forest will most likely have rotted out because of a non-native pest. Another reason why you should never transport firewood! - you risk spreading pests living in the wood to new areas.