Comparing Conifers and Deciduous Trees ..
What's the Difference Between Deciduous and Coniferous Trees?
Conifer needles last for several years, with spruce needles living up to a decade and those of Bristlecone pines in California lasting 20, 30, or even as long as 40 years. Holding onto needles during the winter also allows the tree to photosynthesize year round…as long as temperatures are mild enough and days long enough.
Differences Among Deciduous and Coniferous Trees
Growing a cuticle comes at a price, though. It requires an investment of carbon, which the tree must recruit via photosynthesis. Individual trees, and each species as a whole, must find just the right balance between costs (like growing a cuticle) and benefits (like durable leaves) that foster survival.
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Most (not all) conifers keep their leaves year round, while many broadleaved trees (including all of those that grow in the Methow) shed their leaves in the fall and grow new ones in the spring—an approach to life that seems wasteful, if not downright profligate, on its face. But nature is nothing if not efficient, so…there must be a reason.
Tree: Tree, woody plant that regularly renews its growth (perennial)
In the course of a growing season, many of those leaves will be torn by the wind, eaten by insects, pecked by birds, and colonized by fungi and bacteria. The overall leaf area is so much greater, though, that the short-lived leaves are still a good investment. Their photosynthetic capacity—that is, their ability to capture carbon and convert it to nutrients—is greater than that of the longer-lived coniferous leaves.
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The pines are a stable presence from one season to the next, but in this summer season the deciduous trees seem to throb with life as light and water mingle in a seasonal photosynthetic dance. In just a few short weeks they’ve created a dense canopy of new leaves, and by the end of November they’ll have shed them.