In the winter, when most trees are bare and many plants are dormant, evergreens take center stage. Not only do their leaves, seeds and berries provide food for the Bay's winter wildlife, but they are a feast for human eyes hungry for color.

Unlike deciduous trees, which drop all of their leaves in the same season, evergreens shed their leaves on an individual basis, year-round.

It is the threat of dessication, or drying out that causes deciduous trees and shrubs to lose their leaves. When soil freezes, a tree is unable to draw more water through its roots. And, because the humidity of the air is so low in the winter, a deciduous tree, with its unprotected leaves, would soon dry out.

The leaves of evergreen trees and shrubs are protected by a thick, often waxy covering that prevents excessive water loss. Their leaves, or needles, are able to survive the winter.

Because they retain their leaves year-round, evergreens Ð which include pines, firs, spruces, cedars, hemlocks and hollies Ð are invaluable to winter wildlife, who seek shelter or cover amid their branches.

Meanwhile, evergreen's berries, seeds-bearing cones and needles are an important source of food for winter birds and the few mammals that venture out in the winter.

Pines, spruces and firs provide food for birds like the black-capped chickadee, Carolina chickadee, cedar waxwing, evening grosbeak, American goldfinch, ruffed grouse, dark-eyed junco, blue jay, rufous-sided towhee, house finch, purple finch, evening grosbeak, white-breasted nuthatch and Eastern meadowlark. Mammals, such as white-tailed deer, chipmunks and gray squirrels, feast on seeds and needles.

Hollies provide excellent shelter for many species. The fruit is eaten by such birds as the common flicker, gray catbird, cedar waxwing, mourning dove, ruffed grouse, Northern bobwhite, gray catbird, blue jay, mockingbird, white-throated sparrow, rufous-sided towhee and cedar waxwing. Raccoons and white-footed mice also consume the berries, while white-tailed deer may graze on the leaves and twigs.

Junipers and Eastern red cedars are particularly attractive to cedar waxwings, purple finches and Eastern mockingbirds. Hemlocks give protection to black-capped chickadees, Carolina chickadees, tufted titmice, cardinals and dark-eyed juncos. The waxy fruit of common wax myrtle is favored by tufted titmice, common flickers, finches, white-eyed vireos, black-capped chickadees, Carolina chickadees, gray catbirds and rufous-sided towhees.

Evergreens can also help people reduce heating costs. Placed strategically around buildings, evergreen trees conserve energy by serving as a windbreak when other trees are bare. They also help to muffle sounds and reduce the noise pollution reaching a home during the winter.

Evergreens are good for the soul, too. We chase away the dreary winter doldrums by using wreaths, pine roping and Christmas trees to deck our halls, homes, schools, streets and malls.

Christmas trees are grown commercially in all 50 states. Approximately 15,000 growers employ more than 100,000 people. Ninety percent of all Christmas trees are grown on tree farms covering an area of about 1 million acres. An acre of live Christmas trees produces enough oxygen for 18 people every day.

The use of Christmas trees began in western Europe, specifically in France and Germany. Prince Albert introduced the Christmas tree to Britain in 1841. Immigrants took the idea to North America.

Pre-Christian winter festivals used greenery to symbolize life in the midst of the cold and darkness. The use of evergreens and wreaths as symbols of life was also an ancient custom of the Egyptians, Chinese and Hebrews.

The American holly is one of 300 species of holly found on all continents except Antarctica and Australia. Humans have always been fascinated with it. Romans presented holly boughs with gifts to esteemed friends. Druids viewed holly as a tree never abandoned by the sun they worshipped. In the United States, the demand for its boughs for decorating and white wood for lumber and novelty products has reduced the number of large hollies. American holly is grows slowly. It can be planted and pruned as a hedge or grown as tree, reaching 40-50 feet.

Toward the end of the first century, a physician named Galen prescribed juniper tree extract to shrink cancerous tumors.

The oldest living tree is a bristlecone pine named Methuseleh growing in California. It is estimated that this particular tree is 4,700 years old. Bristlecone pines are very slow growing. They gain about one inch every 100 years.

The most isolated tree is a Norwegian spruce growing on Campbell Island in Antarctica. Its closest tree neighbor is about 120 miles away, in the Auckland Islands.

There are approximately 100 species of mistletoe native to the United States. This evergreen does not grow in soil but on the tops of tree branches. Mistletoes are hemiparasitic, meaning they obtain part of their food from an external source. The plants absorb food from the sap of trees through specialized roots called haustoria.The scientific name Phoradendron comes from the Greek words phor and dendron, meaning tree thief.

Evergreens Facts and Folklore

Christmas trees are grown commercially in all 50 states. Approximately 15,000 growers employ more than 100,000 people. Ninety percent of all Christmas trees are grown on tree farms covering an area of about 1 million acres. An acre of live Christmas trees produces enough oxygen for 18 people every day.

Pre-Christian winter festivals used greenery to symbolize life in the midst of the cold and darkness. The use of evergreens and wreaths as symbols of life was also an ancient custom of the Egyptians, Chinese and Hebrews.

The American holly is one of 300 species of holly found on all continents except Antarctica and Australia. Humans have always been fascinated with it. Romans presented holly boughs with gifts to esteemed friends. In the United States, the demand for its boughs for decorating and white wood for lumber and novelty products has reduced the number of large hollies. American holly is grows slowly. It can be planted and pruned as a hedge or grown as tree, reaching 40-50 feet.

Toward the end of the first century, a physician named Galen prescribed juniper tree extract to shrink cancerous tumors.

The oldest living tree is a bristlecone pine named Methuseleh growing in California. It is estimated that this particular tree is 4,700 years old. Bristlecone pines are very slow growing. They gain about one inch every 100 years.

There are approximately 100 species of mistletoe native to the United States. This evergreen does not grow in soil but on the tops of tree branches. Mistletoes are hemiparasitic, meaning they obtain part of their food from an external source. The plants absorb food from the sap of trees through specialized roots called haustoria.The scientific name Phoradendron comes from the Greek words phor and dendron, meaning tree thief.