Conifers - Pinaceae
Scientific name: Pseudotsuga menziesii
Shape: narrowly conical, occasionally up to 100 m in height
Foliage: evergreen leaves in two opposite ranks, with two white bands on undersurface
Female cone: hanging cone, up to 10 cm long, with characteristic bearded appearance due to bracts emerging between scales
Origin: western North America
Comments: a trunk of Douglas fir was used for the flagpole at Kew; it originally weighed 39 tonnes and was presented by the Government of British Columbia in 1958 to mark the centenary of the province and Kew’s bicentenary.
Scientific name: Abies firma
Shape: tree to 50 m in height, oval or flattened crown
Foliage: evergreen; glossy leathery leaves in two opposite sets with V-shaped depression between them
Female cone: large erect cone up to 13 cm long, yellowish green before ripening, with bracts protruding slightly between scales; cone breaks apart when ripe
Comments: this is considered to be the most beautiful of the Japanese firs. It is widely used in Japan as a source of paper pulp.
Scientific name: Cedrus atlantica
Shape: massive trunk and large flat-topped crown, up to 40 m high
Foliage: evergreen; borne in tufts, needles up to 2 cm in length, blue-green in colour
Female cone: erect barrel shaped cone which is very resinous and breaks apart when seeds are ripe
Origin: Atlas mountains of Algeria and Morocco
Comments: unlike other conifers the cedars produce cones in autumn rather than spring. The three cedars can be distinguished by the level branches of C. libani (cedar of Lebanon), the ascending branches of C. atlantica and the descending branches of C. deodar (deodar).
Scientific name: Picea abies
Shape: narrowly conical to 35 m high
Foliage: evergreen with slender needle-like leaves to 2 cm in length with sharp point; when leaves fall a small peg remains on the stem
Female cone: cylindrical brown hanging cone to 15 cm which ripens during the first year and releases seeds but cone remains on tree
Origin: Europe, particularly Scandinavia and northern Russia
Comments: this important timber tree is also used as a Christmas tree.
Scientific name: Pinus sylvestris
Shape: broadly spreading tree to 35 m; old specimens may only have branches at the top producing a flat crown
Foliage: evergreen; paired, usually twisted blue-green needles up to 7 cm long, with basal sheath
Female cone: hanging egg-shaped cone to 7.5 cm long
Origin: Asia and Europe; one of only three British native conifers
Comments: in mediaeval times, the name Pinus was given to any plant with a cone - this included species that we now call birches (Betula) and alders (Alnus).
Scientific name: Larix decidua
Shape: narrowly conical to 40 m, branches horizontal or upwardly curved with hanging branchlets
Foliage: deciduous; soft and needle-shaped to 4 cm, green becoming yellow in autumn
Female cone: egg-shaped upright cone to 4 cm, red when young
Comments: although larch is not native to Britain and was only imported in the mid-nineteenth century, it has quickly become important to a number of wild birds including the Scottish crossbill.
Notable conifers at Kew