The Web of Life (56-3-1) Conifers


ConifersĀ are cone-bearing trees, with a few shrubs among the 630 extant species. Cedars, cypresses, firs, hemlocks, junipers, kauris, larches, pines, redwoods, spruces, and yews are conifers.

Conifers are the dominant plants in the forests where they reside. The conifer lineage extends at least 300 million years.

Boreal conifers are adapted for winter conditions. Their narrow conical shape and drooping limbs readily shed snow, thus relieving them of an otherwise heavy burden. Many conifers harden for winter by altering their biochemistry to resist freezing.

The tropical rainforests have more biodiversity and turnover of species than boreal forests, and so are celebrated by naturalists as exemplifying Nature’s dynamic beauty. But the extensive conifer forests of the world represent the largest terrestrial carbon sink: binding carbon as organic compounds. Thus, conifers’ part in the planetary carbon cycle confers immense ecological importance. Conifer wood (termed softwood) also has great economic value for wood and paper production.

The sap that runs through the wood and needles of conifers are the first line of defense from animal attack. These terpenes are strong organic pesticides.