Evergreen trees are a staple in Missouri’s winter landscape, but what’s the story behind their existence and their place in holiday culture?
We use the term “evergreens” for needle-leaved trees that stay green all year. This group includes pines, spruces, hemlocks and true firs. Although evergreens have leaves year-round, the needles fall continually. Some needle-leaved trees – notably the yews and larches – are deciduous, meaning they shed their leaves each year and replace them in the spring (but these are not referred to as evergreens).
Evergreens bear cones, in which seeds are protected by scales. The seeds feed birds, rabbits, squirrels, chipmunks and even coyotes and black bears. Deer browse on evergreen twigs and needles when heavy snowfalls eliminate more favored food.
Evergreens also sustain people through the bleak winters. Pre-Christian cultures believed evergreens had mystic powers. People took evergreen boughs and trees inside at winter solstice to ensure the protection of their home until spring revegetation. Christianity replaced older Pagan religions, but bringing evergreens indoors remained a part of religious traditions. Decorating with evergreens is now a nearly universal holiday practice. And for many, the mere scent of pine releases a lifetime of holiday memories and sustains the promise of springtime rebirth.
More information about evergreens in Missouri can be found online at mdc.mo.gov.