Needles vs. Leaves: A Plant Evolution

Trees come in all shapes and sizes, but all of them have either the ability to grow leaves or needles – never both, and never neither. Trees that can grow leaves are called deciduous trees, while those that can grow needles are called conifers, something you may have forgotten since high school science class.

The leaves of a deciduous trees change colors and fall off once a year when the weather begins to cool. Conifers, better known sometimes as evergreens, remain on all year, although the needles may fall off after a few years. There are also a few unique species called deciduous conifers that we discussed in our last blog post.

Needles on TreesHow exactly did these two distinct types of trees come to exist? The answer is simply evolution. As the non-profit Friends of Trees highlights, 250 million years ago the Earth’s climate became colder and drier, especially in latitudes well north or south of the equator. This, of course, goes against what most trees like, as many species thrive best in weather that is warm and humid.

As a way to survive, conifers evolved to have needles that could retain more water. The trees also had seeds that would stay on longer until there was enough moisture to take root and grow a new tree. Needles also are better at wind resistance than the big, flat leaves of deciduous trees, meaning they are less likely to fall off during a big storm. They are also more difficult for insects to eat.

Since they stay on year round, needles can help generate energy for trees in every season. While they look different than leaves, needles work in much the same way, providing the same functions of capturing sunlight, taking in carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen.

Of course, both trees are beautiful, and can thrive in a wide range of climates and conditions. If you are looking for a tree for your property, check out the selection here at Cold Stream Farm. We offer a wide range of trees of different shapes and sizes that can help add beauty to wherever they are planted. Check out our conifer selection and deciduous tree inventory online now, or call us today at 231-464-5809 to learn more.