Identify Spruce and Fir, Baldcypress and Hemlock Needles

Identify the North American Fir and Spruce by their Needles

 

On true pine trees and larches, needles are arranged and attached to the branches in bundles or clusters with two, three or five needles per bunch.  You can eliminate other conifers including spruce and fir trees if the needles are "bundled".

Spruce and fir have their needles attached individually to the branches using different attachments variously called pegs, suction cups, and stalks and are never bundled. All spruce and firs trees (including bald cypress, Douglas fir and hemlock) have their needles attached individually to the branches and will not be in bundled clusters. 

So, if your tree does have single needles that are directly and singly attached to the twig, you will often likely either a fir tree or a spruce tree. These twig attachments will be in the form of wooden pegs for spruce and in the form of direct cups for fir. Conifers with leaf stalks called petioles will be bald cypress, hemlock, and Douglas fir trees.

Move to the sections below to identify your spruce, fir or move on for more options.

If you need to start over with your needle identification, please return to the Tree Key Start Page.

1
The Major Firs

Abies needles/cones on twig
Fir needles and cones. Robert Vidéki, Doronicum Kft., Bugwood.org

Fir needles are typically short and mostly soft with blunt tips. The cones are cylindrical and upright and the shape of a fir is very narrow with rigid, upright or horizontal branching as opposed to "drooping" branches on some spruce trees.

Fir tree needles are soft and flat and are attached to the twig with "suction cup-like" attachments (no pegs or stalks). These needles are attached to twigs mostly in an arrangement that is in two rows. The needles grow outward and curving up from the twig and form a flattish spray. ​

Note: Look for erect and upturned cones growing off branches.

If the needles and twig fit this description you probably have a fir tree.  Go to the major North American fir species.

 

2
The Major Spruces

Englemann spruce
Spruce tree with cone and needles. Dave Powell, USDA Forest Service (retired), Bugwood.org

 

All spruce trees have sharp-pointed needles that are often 4-sided or diamond-shaped in cross-section and have four whitish striped lines. These needles are attached to the twig with wooden pegs called a pulvinus (also called a sterigmata). The arrangement of the needles are whorled and radiate equally around the branch and have the look of a bristle brush.

The adult spruce tree shape is normally narrowly conical.​

Note: Look for downturned cones growing off branches.

If the needles fit this description, you probably have a spruce tree. Go to the major North American spruce species.

 

3
Needles Attached With Leaf Stalks

Douglas fir Leaf Stalks. Creative Commons/Bugwood.org

There are several conifers that have needles that are flattened and attached to the twig with leaf stalks which are also called (petioles) by some botanists.These slender stems support and attach the larger single needle to the branch.

If the needles and twig fit this description you will probably have either Douglas Fir, bald cypress or hemlock. Identify these common conifers that have needles with leaf stalks.