When you start looking at conifers it is important to look at how needles are arranged.
If needles are single (not in groups) the next question is how they are attached.
There are five distinct types of needle attachment:
On a short brown peg. This is typical for Spruces (Picea). When the needles are shed the shoot is very rough
With a sucker-cup. This is typical for Firs (Abies). When the needles are shed the scars are depressed and the shoot feels smooth
Needles are decurrent – running down onto the shoot. This is typical for Yews (Taxus)
Needles have a green petiole parallel to the shoot and a very short brown peg. This is typical for Hemlocks (Tsuga)
Needles are attached with a sucker-cup, but the scar is raised. When the needles are shed the shoot is ‘a bit’ rough. This is typical
for Douglas Firs (Pseudotsuga)
Take extra care with Douglas Firs – superficially, shoots resemble Norway Spruce, but the absence of pegs and conical buds give it away.
Finding a cone with 3-toothed bracts is helpful.
A short article on identification of conifers with spirally arranged needles was published
in British Naturalists’ Association’s journal Country-Side following a BNA Herts Branch meeting in January 2020.
More information about the article