Life still abounds in winter even when most trees are bare, flowers are gone and many birds have migrated. It is the evergreen tree that remind us of this. Ignored most of the year, and outdressed by plants dazzling us with blazing autumn hues, evergreens now take center stage. Their greens and blues feed eyes hungry for color.
Evergreens are not only good for the eyes but great for the soul. We chase away dreary winter doldrums by decorating our lives with them. Wreaths, pine roping and Christmas trees deck not only halls, but schools, streets and malls.
Evergreen is a term applied to plants that do not lose their foliage at the end of the growing season. Plants that do lose their leaves are called deciduous.
It is not the cold that causes trees and shrubs to lose their leaves but the threat of desiccation. When the ground freezes, a tree is unable draw more water through its roots. Because winter air is low in humidity, a tree would dry out if it retained its unprotected leaves. Deciduous plants shed their leaves annually to conserve water.
The leaves of evergreen trees and shrubs have a thick, often waxy, covering that prevents loss of water. The leaves or needles remain alive and on the plant throughout the winter. Evergreens often sport berry-type fruit and seed-holding cones.
Because they retain their leaves year-round, evergreens, including pines, firs, spruces, cedars, hemlocks and hollies, are invaluable to wildlife for winter cover. Their berries, seeds and needles provide important food for resident birds and the few mammals that venture out in the winter sun.
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 birds like 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 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 help people, too. If placed strategically around buildings, evergreen trees actually conserve energy. While other trees are bare, evergreen foliage provides wind breaks. By intercepting cold winds, evergreens can help to reduce heating costs. Evergreens also help to muffle sounds and reduce the noise pollution reaching a home in winter.
Kathryn Reshetiloff is with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Chesapeake Bay Field Office in Annapolis.
These Trees & Shrubs Will Have You Seeing Green
This is good time of year to evaluate your property.
Are there any evergreens mixed in with their leaf-dropping cousins? Or is your entire yard gray and brown?
Consider planting evergreens this spring.
Here is list of native evergreen trees, shrubs and ground covers.
Remember to choose plants native to your area and suitable to your local soil, light and moisture conditions. They will be easier to grow and maintain and provide the best food and cover for wildlife.
- American holly (Ilex opaca)
- Eastern hemlock (Tsuga canadensis)
- Eastern red cedar (Juniperus virginiana)
- Loblolly pine (Pinus taeda)
- Sweetbay magnolia (Magnolia virginiana)
- Virginia pine (Pinus virginiana)
- White pine (Pinus strobus)
- Cranberry (Vaccinium macrocapron)
- Great Rhododendron, Rose Bay (Rhododendron maximum)
- Inkberry (Ilex glabra)
- Mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia)
- Wax myrtle (Myrica cerifera)
- Alumroot (Heuchera americana)
- Partridgeberry (Mitchella repens)
- Wild ginger (Asarum canadense)
- Wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens)
For information on these and other evergreens and native plants of the Chesapeake Bay watershed, consult the publication, “Native Plants for Wildlife Habitat and Conservation Landscaping: Chesapeake Bay Watershed” at www.nps.gov/plants/pubs/chesapeake/
To order a single copy from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Chesapeake Bay Field Office, call 410-573-4593 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.