evergreen [ EV-er-green ] adjective: having leaves that remain green and functional for more than one growing season, including in winter; not deciduous. noun: a plant that stays green more than one growing season
Although many evergreen trees and shrubs are conifers (having needles or scales as leaves and bearing cones aka strobili), some evergreens are not conifers, but broadleaf plants, including many hollies and some shrubs, vines, and ground covers as well as a few grasses, sedges, and ferns. Not all conifers are evergreens — some are deciduous, meaning they lose their leaves in winter. Some plants that are deciduous in colder climates may be evergreen in milder climate zones. Some species are considered semi-evergreen if they lose leaves when zonal seasonal temperatures are colder than normal or if they lose all their leaves late winter and replace them shortly thereafter.
Native Evergreens (Not Conifers) in Winter
Left to right: Polystichum acrostichoides, Packera aurea, Bignonia capreolata, Ilex glabra, Ilex opaca, Morella cerifera, Kalmia latifolia ‘Elf,’ Carex plantaginea.
Since in colder winter hardiness zones there are fewer native evergreen than deciduous species, people sometimes turn to non-native evergreen plants for winter greenery. Unfortunately, many of these broadleafs are invasive, escaping cultivation and invading our roadsides, parks, forests, and streams. They displace native vegetation upsetting the ecosystem and damaging the environment. Become aware of and do not purchase the species listed as invasive in your area. Learn more about invasive plants.
Left to right: Japanese Barberry, Privet, Creeping Liriope, Wintercreeper, English Ivy, Bamboo, Heavenly Bamboo, Leatherleaf Mahonia, Japanese Pachysandra, Periwinkle.
Native Conifers in Fall and Winter
Left to right: Evergreen Juniperus virginiana, Tsuga canadensis, Pinus strobus, Thuja occidentalis; DeciduousTaxodium distichum (in October, November, and December),
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Burns RM, Honkala BH, tech. coords. 1990. Silvics of North America: 1. Conifers, 2. Hardwoods. Agriculture Handbook 654. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Washington, DC
Jull L. Revised 8/13/2012. Pruning Evergreens. Item number: XHT1013. UW-Madison Horticulture, UW-Extension.
Rose N. January 6, 2016. Not All Conifers Are Evergreen. Plant Profiles. Arnold Arboretum.