The terms ‘deciduous’ and ‘coniferous’ are used to classify trees into groups according to their leaves and method of seed production.
Deciduous trees are broad-leafed and lose all their leaves for part of the year (usually winter) in a process called abscission and enter a process of dormancy in order to survive winter and conserve water.
Identifying deciduous trees:
- Leaves – Since they lose their leaves, they need to maximise the amount of light they can absorb during the periods that they have them. In order to do this, most deciduous trees are broadleaf trees. The larger surface area of the leaves means that there is a greater area in which photosynthesis can take place. During the autumn, most species’ leaves change colour to red, orange, yellow or brown before abscission.
- Reproduction – Deciduous trees bear fruits or capsules containing seeds. The seeds are protected by either a hard shell (e.g. the acorn from an oak) or a fleshy fruit (e.g. Plums). Their seeds are often dispersed by animals eating or moving them. Most Deciduous trees flower and are angiosperms. They usually flower before the leaves grow, or early in the growing season while leaves are small, to optimise pollen transmission by the wind.
- Shape – Deciduous trees tend to grow outwards to optimise light absorbance.
Some deciduous trees include:
Coniferous trees have leaves in all seasons but gradually lose and replace them throughout the year.
Identifying coniferous trees:
- Leaves – compact and pointed, needle-like or scale-like leaves with a waxy coating and a cuticle. This leaf structure minimises water loss due to evaporation. The leaves are hardier and less palatable to pests and are both more waterproof and windproof. Their leaf structure allows them to photosynthesise year-round and makes them better adapted to living in harsh habitats such as very cold or very hot environments.
- Reproduction – Conifers do not produce flowers, they are gymnosperms. Their seeds are protected by a sharp-toothed cone, which releases seeds by opening their scales.
- Shape – Conifers tend to grow upwards and in a triangular shape.
Some coniferous trees include:
Exceptions to the rule:
Like most cases in biology, there are some exceptions to the rules.
- There are several species of conifer which are also deciduous, including European Larch and Pond Cypress.
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