Late October is a great time of the year to do tree studies with the kids in the UK and this week we are going to focus on the difference between deciduous and evergreen trees as we go on our nature walks. We’ve enjoyed all the Autumn leaf activities of the past few weeks, watching the transition of leaf colour and collecting the fallen leaves but now we are noticing another change. In the last couple of days whilst out on our walks at our local nature spot we have started to notice that some of the trees are looking a little bare whilst others are not. In the landscape it is very clear that as some trees drop all their leaves for Winter others stand tall and green. We want to use this opportunity to teach our daughter about deciduous and evergreen trees and the different methods they have for surviving the cold Winter months.
What is the difference between deciduous and evergreen trees?
Deciduous originates in Latin meaning ‘that which falls off’ and so deciduous trees are those that lose their leaves during Winter. Some common deciduous trees found in the UK are Hazel, Ash, Birch and Chestnut.
Evergreen trees display green leaves throughout the year. They do lose their leaves but it is gradual and not all at once. Some common evergreens trees found in the UK are Yew, Juniper, Eucalyptus and Pine.
The advantage to keeping their leaves is that they don’t lose the precious nutrients in the leaves by dropping them. As evergreens are adapted to growing in nutrient poor areas holding onto those nutrients is a great advantage.
How do trees survive Winter?
Deciduous trees grow large, broad leaves with a large surface area that allows for greater photosynthesis to occur during the Spring and Summer. These leaves are great for the warmer seasons but if they were to remain on the tree throughout winter, the water inside the leaf would freeze causing the cells inside to rupture and the leaf would turn black and die. To stop this from happening the tree recalls all the water to the wooden parts of the tree and lets the leaves fall to the ground. The tree will then stand in a dormant state, conserving as much energy as possible in wait for the warmer weather of Spring.
Evergreen trees grow thin, tough leaves or needles that are covered in a waxy coating called Cutin that makes them resistant to water loss. The thick, waxy skin insulates the small amount of water so it does not freeze. This means photosynthesis can occur during Winter although at a slower rate and therefore there is no need to drop the leaves all at once.
In addition, some evergreens concentrate sugars or “antifreeze proteins” in the leaves to help prevent freezing. The sugars help lower the freezing point of the water content and the antifreeze proteins bind to forming ice and prevent it from damaging the plant cells.
We are really enjoying spending time exploring and studying nature as a family. Please share with us on social media any family adventures of your own.