The Conifer Collection was established in 1981 and is one of the original collections designed by George Hannum in 1977 as part of his landscape plan for the Arboretum. George was Landscape Architect for the Department of Parks and Recreation and oversaw the earliest design and layout of many of the botanical collections you see today.
Showcasing the fascinating diversity of conifers is the primary purpose of this collection. Conifers, often referred to as evergreen trees, bear cones and evergreen needlelike or scalelike leaves. They produce a remarkable range of useful products with perhaps the most well known being paper.
The remaining list can easily fill a book. Did you know that conifers provide us with turpentine, the anti-cancer agent taxol, pine nuts, flavoring for the finest gin, Christmas trees, balsam pillows, ingredients for medicinal use such as cough medicine, fat wood for starting fires and incense?
Conifers have a world-wide distribution and range from the subarctic to the tropics. There are over 500 species. The oldest living conifer is the Great Basin Bristlecone Pine found in California and Nevada where they have been aged by counting their growth rings to be nearly 5,000 years old. Conifers live in the harshest conditions of cold and heat from the summits of Central American volcanoes to the deserts of the Southwest.
One of the more interesting adaptations you can observe right here is with the tightly closed cones and thick plated bark of the Pitch Pine (Pinus rigida). This species has evolved to survive the searing heat of forest fires.
Seeds are well protected in its tight cones which only open after a forest fire has passed. Thick plated bark insulates the tree trunk from heat allowing the tree to survive most average forest fires.
Close your eyes. Smell the air. Look closely at the different barks, cones, needles, shapes, branching patterns and just maybe you will take this introduction and delve further into the fascinating world of conifers.