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Deciduous vs. Coniferous Trees: Lesson for Kids

Instructor
Elizabeth Foster

Elizabeth has been involved with tutoring since high school and has a B.A. in Classics.

Expert Contributor
Amanda Robb

Amanda holds a Masters in Science from Tufts Medical School in Cellular and Molecular Physiology. She has taught high school Biology and Physics for 8 years.

Did you ever wonder why some trees lose their leaves in the fall but others don't? Learn about the differences between deciduous and coniferous trees, and the forests where they grow.

Leaves of Different Colors

Everyone knows what happens to trees in the fall: all their leaves turn red and orange and then fall off until the spring. But if that's true, then how come you can buy beautiful green Christmas trees in December? Why don't Christmas trees turn red and orange in the fall like other trees?

The answer is that Christmas trees are a different type of tree. They're not deciduous trees, like the trees that lose their leaves in the fall. Instead, they're coniferous trees.

Definitions and Examples

Deciduous trees change color and lose their leaves in the fall. There are many different kinds of deciduous trees, including:

  • Sugar maples: The sap of sugar maples is used to make maple syrup.
  • Black walnut trees: The walnuts that you buy at the grocery store come from these trees.

Coniferous trees have needles instead of leaves, and don't change color or lose their needles in the fall. Types of coniferous trees include:

  • Fraser firs: Fraser firs are the most popular type of Christmas tree.
  • Redwoods: Redwoods are the tallest trees on Earth.

Trees in the fall. The coniferous trees are still green, but the deciduous trees are turning orange.
Trees

A few trees are a mix between deciduous and coniferous trees. They have needles like coniferous trees, but they lose them in the fall like deciduous trees. Or they have broad leaves like deciduous trees, but they don't lose them in the fall. But these trees are rare. Most deciduous trees lose their leaves in the fall, and most coniferous trees don't.

Cones and Seeds

The difference between leaves and needles isn't the only distinction between deciduous and coniferous trees. They also have different ways to spread their seeds.

Coniferous trees use cones to spread their seeds. That's why they're called CON-iferous. If you've ever picked up a pinecone from the ground and then dropped it somewhere else, you were actually helping that pine tree spread its seeds and plant new baby pine trees. But deciduous trees are flowering plants and don't have cones.

Deciduous and Coniferous Forests

Deciduous trees and coniferous trees both grow in forests. A forest with mostly deciduous trees is called a deciduous forest, and a forest with mostly coniferous trees is called a coniferous forest.

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Additional Activities

Classifying Native Trees

In this activity, students will take to the great outdoors to identify different trees in the area as deciduous or coniferous. To complete this, students should have access to an area with trees, such as a backyard, nature preserve or a park and a pencil and paper. Depending on where you live, different types of trees will be present. For example, in the deciduous forest area maple trees could be an example of a deciduous tree and a spruce tree would be an example of a coniferous tree.

Directions

In this activity, you're going to apply your knowledge in the lesson to identify whether different trees in your neighborhood are coniferous or deciduous. To do this, you'll need a camera, smart phone, or a pencil and paper to sketch the tree. Include any observations about the scene, such as animals present, flowers or fruits on the tree. Use a table like the one below to record your results.

Photo or SketchDeciduous or ConiferousObservations


Analysis

  1. Which trees were most common in your area, deciduous or coniferous?
  2. Which trees were more attractive to you personally and why?
  3. Why do you think different regions have different percentages of deciduous versus coniferous trees?

Solutions

Students will have answers that vary depending on the region they live in. Colder regions tend to have more coniferous trees because it helps reduce water loss during winter. Dry areas also tend to have more coniferous trees for similar reasons. Students may prefer the appearance of either type of tree, but should be able to give sensory details to support their answer, such as I enjoy deciduous trees because their broad leaves provide shade in the summer.

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