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Evergreens: Famous Trees and Little-Known Facts

  • Carolyn Hurst The Old Schoolhouse Magazine
  • Published Dec 20, 2010
Evergreens: Famous Trees and Little-Known Facts

When scientists classify plants as members of different families, they list the plants that keep their leaves in all seasons in the "evergreen" family. Plants that lose their leaves in cold or, in some climates, dry seasons, are classified as "deciduous" plants.

While many of us think of pine trees when we hear the word evergreen, the family actually includes a huge variety of plants, many of which have unusually long lives. One of the most unusual is the Welwitschia, a plant found in Africa's Namib Desert. The Welwitschia grows close to the ground and produces only two leaves, which grow continuously throughout the plant's incredibly long life. This unusual evergreen, whose leaves trap moisture from the dew, can live for up to 2,000 years!

Bristlecone pines, which are found in the mountains of the southwestern United States, are another long-lived species of evergreens. In the White Mountains of California, a bristlecone pine nicknamed "Methuselah" (after Methuselah, the oldest person named in the Bible) has been dated to be almost 5,000 years old! This tree is so treasured that the Forest Service keeps its exact location a secret in order to protect it. You can learn more about this venerable old tree at

Methuselah was once thought to be the oldest tree on earth, but scientists have recently discovered a spruce (also an evergreen tree) in the Dalarna province of Sweden that is believed to be even older! Some other notable evergreen senior citizens include the 4,000-year-old Llangernyw Yew, which can be found in the churchyard of the village bearing its name in North Wales. Senator, a 3,500-year-old Bald Cypress located in Big Tree Park in Longwood, Florida, has a trunk diameter of 17.5 feet. While Senator is definitely a big tree, it is small in comparison to California's Giant Sequoias, several of which measure over 100 feet in diameter and stand over 200 feet tall! One of the oldest of these mammoth trees is General Noble, which is over 3,200 years old.  

Many people are surprised to learn that the majority of tropical plants are also evergreens. The soil in tropical forests is relatively low in nutrients. Evergreens grow well in poor soil. Deciduous trees lose nutrients when they shed their leaves. By keeping their leaves, evergreens retain more of their nutrients. This feature of their design enables evergreens to grow in areas where the soil is too poor to support deciduous trees. Broadleaf evergreens—which includes many species of rhododendrons and hollies—are typically found in regions where the temperature doesn't drop below -22° Fahrenheit. In areas where the thermometer dips below that chilly mark, most evergreens are conifers—plants such as pines, spruces, cedars, Douglas-firs, redwoods, yews, and junipers, which produce their seeds in the form of cones.

As the publisher of the award-winning Draw•Write•Now® series and the president of Barker Creek Publishing, Inc., Carolyn Hurst has spent the past fifteen years researching how children learn to draw and the benefits of teaching directed drawing. Visit Barker Creek's website at, or email Carolyn at

Copyright 2010. Originally appeared in The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, Fall 2010. Used with permission. Visit them at

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