The Conifer Collection showcases 575 gymnosperm taxa (kinds) representing 29 genera and 9 families. Occupying twenty-four acres (10 hectares; excludes Hemlock Hill), each specimen within the collection is arranged to facilitate the study of cone-bearing plants. Just like flowering plants, conifers form seeds. However, instead of being enclosed in fleshy fruits, the seeds of conifers are protected in cones. These seed cones are the female reproductive structures of conifers. Conifers also have pollen-bearing cones, which are the male reproductive structures. Male and female cones can occur on the same plant or on separate plants. Accurate identification of conifers requires an examination of the cones; however, leaf (needle) characteristics are also important clues to identification. Historic views of the conifers are made available by the Arnold Arboretum Horticultural Library.
Most conifers are evergreen; however, species such as dawn redwood (Metasequoia glyptostroboides) and golden larch (Pseudolarix amabilis) are deciduous, which means that they lose their needles each fall and sprout new ones each spring. Golden larch and dawn redwood are particularly striking in fall, when their needles turn color before falling.True cedars (Cedrus spp.) and larches (Larix spp.) bear short needles arranged in clusters or whorls. Pines (Pinus spp.) have needles arranged in fascicles: small bundles of two, three, or five needles bound together at the base by a sheath. The rest of the needle-leaved evergreens have single needles set individually along the twig or branchlet. Spruce (Picea spp.) needles are sharp-tipped, set singly on stout twigs in spiral lines, with each needle sitting on a woody peg that protrudes from the twig. Firs (Abies spp.) bear blunt-tipped needles that lack woody pegs and often appear to be arranged in two ranks along the stem. Hemlock (Tsuga spp.) needles are short, blunt-tipped, and flat, and the undersides of needles display two distinct white lines, which are actually stomates (leaf pores). The cones of pine, spruce, and hemlock are pendulous. In contrast, cones of fir and cedar are held erect on the branches and shatter when mature.
New! Link to a tour of this collection on Arboretum Explorer. Our new mobile web application allows you to take self-guided tours of featured plants in our landscape. Follow this link and you will see colored leaf icons. Click/tap on an icon to get a plant name and image; click/tap the “i” button on the right to get more detailed information. For more information on how to use the mobile application click/tap on “Help” in the menu.
The south entry for Conifer Path begins just inside Walter Street Gate, amid a grove of larch trees (Larix spp.). The path begins less than a minute’s walk from Walter Street Gate, and about a two-minute walk from Bussey Street Gate. The north entry for Conifer Path is along Valley Road, opposite the oak collection. This entrance is closest to Centre Street Gate (about a five-minute walk away); it is about twenty minutes from Forest Hills Gate and about thirty minutes from the Arborway Gate. In addition to Conifer Path, the conifer collection can be viewed from Hemlock Hill Road; a small footbridge across Bussey Brook provides limited access. Additional conifers may be viewed throughout the Arboretum landscape, particularly on Hemlock Hill and near the Peters Hill Gate. If driving, park outside the Centre Street Gate, Walter Street Gate, or along Bussey Street.
Conifer Path is composed of crushed stone and covers terrain that includes occasional mild inclines; the entrance from the Walter Street Gate is moderately steep. Many plants in the collection are sited off the path in grassy clearings. In winter, access may be limited by snow and ice; please use caution.
A self-guided tour of Conifer Path is available online or in the Visitor Center. An interpretive sign is posted near the Valley Road entrance to Conifer Path and provides a brief introduction to conifers.
New! Link to a tour of this collection on Arboretum Explorer. Our new web application allows you to take self-guided tours of featured plants in our landscape. Follow this link and you will see colored leaf icons. Click/tap on an icon to get a plant name and image; click/tap the circled “i” on the right to get more detailed information. For more information on how to use the mobile application click/tap on “Help” in the menu.
How long should I explore?
Conifer Path is approximately ½ mile long. While it takes about fifteen minutes to walk, one can easily spend more than an hour exploring conifers on and off the path.
Plan your visit to the Arboretum.
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- Takaso, Tokushiro. 1990. “Pollination Drop” Time at the Arnold Arboretum. Arnoldia 50(2): 2-7. [pdf]
- Warren, R., E.W. Johnson. 1988. A Guide to the Firs (Abies spp.) of the Arnold Arboretum. Arnoldia 48(1): 2-48. [pdf]
- Warren, R. 1982. Spruces of the Arboretum. Arnoldia 42(3): 102-129. [pdf]
- Smith, J. 1979. The Mexican White Pine. Arnoldia 39(4): 278-285. [pdf]
- Fordham, A.J. 1967. Dwarf Conifers from Witches’-Brooms. Arnoldia 27(4-5): 29-50. [pdf]
- Simple Key to the Pines. 1951. Arnoldia 11(9): 63-70. [pdf]
Search for related articles in Arnoldia, the magazine of the Arnold Arboretum.