Family Tree…

In the Dutch translation of the bookseries ‘The Ringing Cedars Of Russia’ the words ‘family tree’ are introduced with the meaning of a real tree, a physical tree so to speak, or in proper English I guess, ‘a tree of the family’. This tree is planted by members of the family on their family-ground. It is in honor of all generations of the family who have lived and live there and the future generations. While translating this article from Dutch to English, I got a bit puzzled about translation issues (as usual).

This is because the Dutch language hasn’t the same meaning for ‘family tree’ as it is in Russian language, nor in English language. In English, ‘family tree’ refers to ‘pedigree’, but in Dutch the words do literally mean ‘tree of the family’ but which is written with the words ‘family tree’.

The word for pedigree in Dutch is ‘stam-tree’, where ‘stam’ stands for both ‘trunk’ of a tree and a ‘tribe’ of people. Now I understand both refer to the lineage of a family, but I have to confess this translaton issue got me puzzled!

Tree of Life

My intent however is to continue this article about the physical family-tree, or to write it in proper English that special ‘tree of the family’, which I will refer to from now onwards as such. In the Dutch version of this article the word-combination ‘family-tree’ is still used.

For variation we might want to call such tree also a ‘tree of life’, if we feel like it? I’m not sure if people use this terminology for the tree of the family that has been planted in honour to their ancestors, descendants, current habitants and future newborns, but it sounds nice for the time being!

‘stam’ is ‘stem’ or ‘trunk’ of a tree

Related to this, I have to say one more thing about the Dutch translation of ‘Family Tree’. As stated earlier, instead of  ‘family’ we use the word ‘stam’. But the second word of this terminology ‘family tree’, has the same meaning in Dutch. Our word for ‘tree’ however is… ‘boom’.
Yes, it’s true! But don’t you worry, we pronounce the two ‘oo’s differently.

Such as how you would pronounce the first ‘o’ of ‘motivation’. Just make the Dutch two ‘oo’s sound as the first ‘o’ in this example. ‘Boom’! There you have it. Anyhow, that’s enough Dutch for today I guess!

Double Meaning

But the meaning of ‘pedigree’ for which we use our own Dutch word, made me contemplate about the double meaning of family-tree. Lets define them for a while as ‘pedigree’ and ‘tree of life’.
For instance, can we see the physical family-tree, also ‘the tree of life’, as a symbol for the connection with our ‘roots’, of our heritage? That is in fact again a concept that refers to it, compare the tree’s ‘roots’, and our roots to the ‘trunk’ as a ‘stam’ or ‘tribe’ of the tree! (stam stands also for ‘stemming from’).

Thus could we also metaphorically view the root system of the tree as our ancestors? And the fanning out branches of the tree, can they symbolise the future generations? After all, two children from just one family will branch out in adult life in different directions, because they have partners from other families with which they get children theirselves.

Ambience Image

Above this article is a picture of a number of tall Conifers. I could not see from a distance exactly what kind it is. It could be a Thuja Cedar. These are widely cultivated in the Netherlands. It is the only conifer and pine species that has fanning leaves that are spread over the entire branch.

But I found the scenery pleasant as it shows how an evergreen tree remains beautiful and green in the midst of winter. And the picturesque bridge with white railing, for example over a ditch or brook, I also find a welcome addition on my family ground. I can imagine that my tree of the family will look something like this on my estate in the distant future.

Ode to Evergreens, Fruit & Flowers!

But as you can see on the same picture, there are plenty of bare branches from the other trees, the right one being a pear. There was still one pear hanging in there (mid-November). But I have depicted here a pear tree from my own yard though, which I have planted four years back, as a witness of love.

But I don’t like to look at these naked branches for 6 months of the year! Thus those trees will not be my main view in wintertime. Therefore I’ll put them at the back of my house. In spring and summer time, when all my fruittrees will bloom with vigor and splendance, I’ll spend my time there on a terrace with surrounding rose arbors. There I’ve said it. This bush is even flowering in a heart shape. Can you see it?



And for those who want to know, a great part of my family ground is reserved for a tree nursery (basically fruit & nut trees and conifers), flowering crops such as sunflowers and other flowers, but also hemp for the building of houses, or any other crops of my choice (which might alter every year) such as pumpkins or grains. But I’m wandering off topic.


There are now millions of people who have read the above mentioned book series (translated into more than 23 languages). So they have undoubtedly also thought about which tree of the family they want to plant in their family domain! And many have already been able to realize this. When I started to think about it myself, I came to the conclusion that I would prefer to have a tree of the family that also remains green in the winter.

So I started to think about Conifers because I wanted to know which tree of those evergreens would be suitable for that. But that appeared to be a comprehensive task. And so I even came to write an online article series about it. However, as an introduction to newcomers, I will place below a number of reasons why I might choose this tree species as the literal family-tree.

Next, other tree species are named below that I think could also be suitable as a tree of the family, or the tree of life if you will. Pondering about this, I might even pick one or more family trees as I would love other types of trees as well. Also my descendants consist of international lineage, thus might deserve more trees for this special purpose.

Long Lifespan

One of the properties that people like to see in a tree of the family, is that it can grow old and can therefore last for several generations. Conifers are certainly eligible for this. These have a very long lifespan, with some claiming that under the right conditions the trees can live up to 1,000 years. Even among the Conifers, there are forest giants in America that are estimated to be about 2,000 to 2,800 years old, and perhaps even older?



Primeval Trees

Another reason to choose Conifers is because the original varieties are hardly available in the Netherlands anymore. This also includes Pines. During excavations in the vicinity of Utrecht, tree remains of pine species that are estimated to be 1.2 million years old have been found. These were found in soil layers of the ‘Tertiary Upper Pliocene’ or ‘Quaternary Lower Pleistocene’.

However, there are still primeval forests in other parts of the world which trees can also thrive in our climate zone. One of these is the Siberian Pine, or ‘Kedr’, as they call it in Russian language. My choice in terms of the special tree of the family might therefore be a pine, the more this was also the source of inspiration for the aforementioned book series!

Life Force

Also, pine seeds taste great, and people enjoy walking in a pine forest. Could the latter be because of the blissfully scented air from the trees? Is this due to the tree resin that spreads through the “breathing” wood, the trunk, the branches and its elegant longleaves?

The pine cones also have a special geometric shape. Can that actually contribute to the liveliness of such a forest? And if these trees are on your estate, they undoubtedly also contribute to the dynamics of nature on site. To me they resonate with the wonderful life force of nature that we are all connected to.

Pine Cones

For example, I wondered if pine cones affect the gusts and eddies of the wind because of their geometric spinning shape? Perhaps an unusual thought, but according to the ‘Jain 108 Academy’, pine cones have a golden ratio code of 8:13. That is the Living Mathematics of Nature.

And according to others, the geometric shape of a pine cone vibrates at an oscillating frequency of 33Hz. (see picture above). Well, I can’t check if it’s all true, because I don’t have much knowledge in that area. But it is interesting, isn’t it?

Thus besides the wind picking up on these pine-cones frequencies, as we may call them, rainwater might also be structured by it, as it flows through the wooden cone blades. Interesting thought right? The activated rain then drips onto the soft mossy forest floor, and this may also activate certain energies and exchange nutrients.

Nature’s Memory

Can these primeval trees also bring back memories of the land of times gone by? Or about how nature functions? This can be enhanced, for example, by seeds from trees that have been growing in the same area or land for centuries. After all, these are still genetically intact and have been formed as reproduction information carriers for centuries. Perhaps they have also absorbed the interstellar configurations of our firmament. Well, these thoughts would make you lyrical, wouldn’t it?

beautiful blossoming tree in spring

Order of Magnitude

But oftentimes people are only interested in the conifer around Christmas time, more in particular as a Christmas tree. And these are usually spruces (the ‘norway spruce’ and the ‘silver fir’), which are cut down after their first twenty years of life. And then there is usually no cone growth to be seen.

That is why people do not always make the link between the Christmas tree and the different types of pines that exist in nature.
But the 6-foot Christmas tree (or smaller) is pretty much the tip or peak of the giant trees they can grow into if given the chance. An order of magnitude that used to be seen in our forests.

ginko biloba

Various Tree Species

Thankfully, people have different preferences for trees as their ‘tree of the family’. It is good to embrace biodiversity as well! Here in the northern hemisphere with a moderate climate one can choose from a number of nut trees and several fruit tree species. Also, the characteristic shape of a tree or leaf may be preferred (such as that of the ginko biloba tree in the photo above).

decorative willow

Many also opt for the longer life of such a tree, sometimes several hundreds of years. Some of these trees have beautiful green foliage in the spring and summer, with lovely ocher and reddish brown hues in the fall. Examples are the oak, the walnut tree, sweet chestnut and the birch and beech. A number of these can also provide us with a rich harvest stock and long-lasting winter food, such as walnuts and chestnuts.

Many people will also choose to plant multiple varieties. And the choice of a physical family tree for one or the other can therefore always be made at a later stage.

young oak,
probably 20 to 30 years old

Emotional and Practical Value

Sometimes people also prefer a tree as a family-tree because it has a certain history. The tree could, for example, have been planted by a beloved grandparent. Or there is already a beautiful mature solitary tree on the estate, such as an Oak. The family may not even know who planted it. That can also be nature itself, for example a squirrel planted an acorn!

ages old oak
probably 200 to 300 years or older

However, due to its imposing size, such an Oak can be suitable, for example, to place a terrace with some chairs underneath or to set up a few benches for recreation. The large canopy of such a tree then provides shelter from the hot summer sun. But any grazing cattle can also stay underneath.

What also sometimes happens is that if such a tree comes to the end, due to age or if it is blown over by a storm, the family then places a new tree on or near the same place where the old tree was. And this tree sapling may have come from the nuts or seeds that the old tree has produced.

It is also possible that young seedlings have sprung up around the tree spontaneously, which the family can then further nurture until full growth, sometimes by moving them to a suitable piece of soil.

walnut tree

Tree of Life for Humanity?

Pondering about the idea of the Earth Hectare Grid, wouldn’t it be nice to have a ‘tree of life’ dedicated to humanity? I do not know how and where such tree should be planted though. It might be even in the form of an art project.

I came to this thought because my successors have quite an extended family worldwide (both in Asia and more countries in Europe, while we have lived in America as well). But we weren’t all born on the same land and haven’t lived on the same land, the latter only temporarily. Does that make one family branch less or more worthy than another? No! All heritages should be honored and acknowledged on one’s Family Domain.

Surprising Outcome

Because once we’ll start following the branching roots and the branching branches of every human being, the outcome is surprising. We’re all intertwined, like we all breathe the same air! Does this mean that all peoples must move across the planet and that the sovereignty of individuals and nations must be abandoned? I guess that’s a no also!

What I’m saying is that we can embrace our differences in landscapes, climate zones, peoples, tribes, languages, food, histories, cultures, etcetera. Because how boring would it be if every human being and every country would be the same? The world is a place where life can be celebrated because there is enough room and wealth available to all of us, with great splendor in diversity. We’ve got to make it work, right? But how?

I suppose what really unites us is our innate nature of being human, and our innate design to live in nature. Can we consider ourselves as a one human family in this way? Who knows, once we realise this, Peace on Earth might appear on the horizon. Thus let us wish each other the very best. After all, it is up to all of us to remember who we are.

Yours sincerely,

Margreet Otto, Wilschut, van Egmond, de Goede.

Margreet, with my maiden name Otto, my mothers last name Wilschut,
followed by the surname of my father’s mother ‘van Egmond’, and the surname of my mother’s mother ‘de Goede’.

Because since this is an article about the ‘Tree Of The Family’, I would love to elaborate on the historical meanings of my names. These are insights I got when doing the ‘name practise’, of which I’m planning to share more about later. But for now and brief:
Margreet is ‘Pearl of the Sea’, Otto is both ‘eight’ and ‘essence of the rose’, and Wilschut is ‘protecting of wildlife’.

Then ‘from Egmond’, this is a village on the north-west coast of the Netherlands, close to where I live, and ‘the Goede’ stands for ‘the Good One’.

Blessings to you all!



Around the 21th of October, halfway the meteorological autumn in the Northern Hemisphere, most fruit on the trees have been harvested, as, depending on the weather, early night frost might set in. Depicted here is the hand of my grandson, who has picked a few apples of my apple tree!

This was actually a dream come true. For fun I had planted my first ever fruit tree on new year’s day of 2019, which appeared to be a pear tree, and two apple trees that same week. For early winter the temperature was still very mild, the sun was shining happily, and the weather forcast didn’t predict snow nor freezing temperatures, so I could actually do it.

While planting them, I envisioned my grandson harvesting fruit from these trees, probably within a few years when the trees would have grown tall. I was secretly hoping though that the trees would at least produce a few small fruits next summer, and with lots of luck this summer, but I actually didn’t expect that to happen, as the trees were still young. (I’ll place a picture of them just planted, later in this article). I felt regret, and thought of this Chinese proverb which states:

      “The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago,

       the second best time to plant a tree is NOW!”

I felt so stupid, why didn’t I plant these trees way earlier? Well I have a few explanations for that, but anyhow, this was the situation.
And for whatever reason, one of the trees must have felt my wish, or was able to magically produce a few glossy big appels which grew increadibly red and sweet!

People mentioned they looked like Snow-white’s apples, indeed I thought this myself, but there’s no poison in these (except for the seeds which are toxic and aren’t edible), as my yard is fully organic and dynamically grown, with a bit of natural compost. (no pesticides nor artificial fertilizer). Also I figured, in a paradise like situation on our planet, Adam and Eve would certainly have picked them too.

Anyhow, as this website is still a work in progress, I would love to mention that if there’ll be a society founded to establish a hectare grid on Earth, I would love the foundation to host a database of original* native fruittrees, nut trees, berry bushes and evergreen trees, for all 4 climate zones! (*original, no cultivars).

People who would want to settle on kindomains can go to such a database, in order to get information on how to propagate and grow trees succesfully. Oh and yeah, probably herbs, vegetables and flowers too.

Wouldn’t it be nice to have this being established by the common people? These could be individuals and/or organisations which have practical experience and knowledge about everything involved. And it can be approached from different diciplines too. Such as contributions from artists, photographers, writers, etcetera.

I know, it’s a bit ambitious and I can’t do this all by myself (lol), but I’m putting the wish here, just in case there would be more people out there who also might want such a thing to happen!

© 2019 | Margreet Wilschut



There are more than 600 species of the Order of Conifers worldwide! Quite a number of them thrive in the Northern Hemisphere, such as the Pine, Cedar, Cypres and Fir or Spruce. Almost all Conifers are evergreen, winter-resistant and tolerate prolonged and severe frost. They grow to a height of 85 to 100 feet (25 to 30 metres), with a crown width and circumference of around 40 feet (12 metres) in diameter with mature trees.

In primeval forests and under the right climatic conditions, the trees can grow to be around 500 years old or even older! Then they can possibly reach a length of around 160 feet (50 meters), with some ancient examples even higher!  A number of Conifers, however, have a shrub shape and become approximately 32 feet (10 meters) high.

Pine, Cedar, Cypres and Fir are the root names of Conifer families. For example, there is not one type of Pine tree, but several. A number of similarities that they then have stipulate that the trees in question belong to the Pine family. However, all mentioned species belong to the tree kingdom of the Conifers! But why is that so?

Cone bearer
The word Conifer comes from the Latin word ‘Coniferae’ which means ‘Cone-bearers’. This is derived from ‘Conus’ which refers to the shape of a Cone, and from ‘Ferre’ or ‘Bher’ which means ‘Carrying’ (‘Bher’ includes the meaning of ‘fruit’ or ‘bearing’ children as in pregnancy).

In Dutch language the word ‘Cone’ is ‘Kegel’, which also refers to the shape of a cone, and in mathematics it is also called ‘Conus’, described as:

‘A geometrically elongated shape with a circle as the ground surface, ending in a point. Between the two ends of the cone is the curved mantle on the outside, and inside the central vertical axis.’

The growth, size and position of the cones differs per Conifer species. The cones are on the branches, standing or hanging on them, with the pinnacle end of the cones pointing outwards.

Taxonomy is the systematic classification of the variety of organisms on Earth. This distinguishes itself in eight important taxonomic grades:

Life, Domain, Empire, Tribe, Class, Order, Family, Genus, and Species.

Conifer in the taxonomic classification belongs to the Order of ‘Coniferales’ (being the ‘Cone-bearers’). As a descriptive plant name (which also applies to trees), the Latin designation is included as a taxonomic standard as ‘Coniferae’.

Conifers are wind bloomers. They belong to the ‘Seed Plants’ (Spermaphyta) class, in the ‘Naked Seed’ category (Clade ‘Gymnospermae’). Also, Conifers can be monoecious or dioecious. This relates to the propagation mechanism of the trees, which is represented in the cones. (More information is included in part 3 of this series of articles entitled ‘Cones and Strobili’).

Conifers grow largely in temperate climate zones and occur throughout the world. In subtropical and mediterranean parts of the world, trees grow in higher areas in the mountains where it is cooler. By nature and in the right climate, the trees grow together in large numbers as forests and woods, such as in the American and Canadian primeval forests, the Scandinavian countries, the German forests or the Siberian taigas.

In 2011, remains of Pine trees and deciduous trees were found during excavations nearby te city Utrecht in the Netherlands, which are estimated to be 1.2 million years old. This tree species therefore naturally also occurs in the Netherlands. In Belgium and Germany there are still a number of places where these remains of primeval forests occur in the layers of the ‘Tertiary Upper Pliocene’ or ‘Quaternary Lower Pleistocene’.

These are chunks of prehistoric wood that are not completely decayed. They have  the form of brown coal, which has a red-brown color, and is also called ‘whip’, ‘spriet’, ‘lignite’ or old-fashioned ‘prits’. These chunks consist of pieces of branches and parts of tree trunks, sometimes up to half a meter long.

Even older humus layers of primeval forest layers have been further thickened, from soft peat layer to brown coal hardened, after which it has become black coal. This mineral-rich soil has a high sulfur content and has been used extensively as a fuel in the last century.

Place names
Many place names in the Netherlands still refer to the forests that once were, and the ancient woods that were originally present, such as ‘Midwoud’ in North Holland, which stands for the ‘Middlewoods’, and ‘Den Bosch’ meaning ‘The Forest’, (later called ‘s-Hertogenbosch’), in the south of the country.

Do you know of such ancient names of places and arias in your country? Even today in our warmed climate and even below sea level in the Netherlands, Conifers are doing great! Unfortunately, the forests that originated in the lower lands have all disappeared.

This has happened historically for a variety of reasons, and in recent decades we have been able to add new factors such as population growth, intensive livestock farming and economic downturn, decline in nature due to climatic conditions (storms, floods and forest fires), overly flexible legislation on logging permits, insufficient replanting and the introduction of cultivars (for example for accelerated timber cultivation).

It is therefore perhaps for the first time in history that people have been confronted with the demand for large-scale new planting of forests. We have never had to think about it this way before! But lets hope we can do it. We might wonder how we would want our planet to look like, now and in the future?

© 2019 | Margreet Wilschut


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Part 2. Conifers naturally grow in forests, but can also function well as solitary trees, for example in parks, in a row of trees, or as a tall green fence. And in addition to being solitary near houses and high buildings, the trees also adorn in groups, or as a mini forest in parks and gardens. Conifers can also be planted alongside roads, and even function perfectly as a fence for an estate or agricultural land.

Trees as noise barriers, wind barriers and filter walls
As a tree wall around cities and along motorways, Conifers are the best choice for several reasons. Because the trees are evergreen, they retain certain specific functions throughout the year. In this way the trees can function as a buffer for wind and noise, but also filter possible and unwanted ‘trace chemicals’ through the dense vegetation. Such particles can be, for example, soot particles from exhaust gases, but also the microscopic wear of rubber car tires, and in addition factory sludge.

Oxygen production
Trees are also a necessity of life. Much of the oxygen we breathe comes from large forests on all continents. Due to the rotation of the Earth, the oxygen produced slowly disperses over the globe.

But with the intensive logging and the dying of oxygen-producing algae in our oceans due to water pollution, as well as forest fires on a large scale worldwide, our oxygen supply can be seriously threatened. So there can only be gained by planting trees, both in the form of forests, as well as in the form of forestry and nature-inclusive agriculture.

Nature recovery
In addition to the production of oxygen (O2), trees and forests also purify air by absorbing carbon dioxide (CO2), bring about soil recovery and maintain water circulation in our ecosystem. This is done through photosynthesis in the leafy green, in which sugar is formed under the influence of sunlight, which is spread through the entire bark through the bark barrels, and also reaches the roots downwards through the trunk.

Rainwater is also sucked deep from the soil by the roots, and the water transport runs upwards through the trunk to the canopy, and the water (H2O) evaporates there, depending on the temperature via the leaf green. This is therefore a self-regulating mechanism that keeps the water and oxygen cycle in balance. In this way trees also contribute to the restoration of the ethereal balance of the earth’s atmosphere.

Soil enrichment
Soil enrichment takes place because of the build-up of a humus layer and the myceleum over the years. This is partly due to the falling leaves in winter that provide the soil with nutrients. Perma culture, including the technique of pruning and spreading branches over the soil and letting waste wood lie, also enriches the soil.

Last but not least, tall trees catch a lot of wind, but also cast their shadow. Do not place these trees close to a house or a road. A guideline for the minimum distance could be the maximum height of the mature trees. In this way, there is less danger even when there is a storm. Logically, trees are not placed in places where you would rather want sun in their drop shadow. On the other hand, for example, food supplies stay cool in sheds that are shaded, and this is also for haystacks, compost heaps, or whatever a possible destination may be. Cattle on pastures during summer heat, thrive also very well in the partial shade.

Also consider the position of the sun. In the north and east relative to the object (in this case the tall trees), sunlight is only in the morning hours. The closer to the tall object (for example, the tall trees or the house), the longer the shade for the rest of the day.

Temperature regulation
In addition, trees and forest formation by shading under the canopy ensure that villages and towns maintain pleasant temperatures during hot summers. In the built-up area, shrubs may be a solution along roads, because they are lower and sometimes multi-rooted. Evergreen shrubs and Conifer forests therefore also provide a habitat for the animal kingdom throughout the year, and are beautiful recreational areas for humans.

Conifers grow very slowly, especially in their first years of life. Therefore, when planting young trees or for a fence, the space around them should remain free so that sufficient sunlight and water can reach the young Conifers. It must be stated though that saplings love to grow and thrive in the halfshades of taller older trees. Also mature trees thrive in the partial shade, which can be seen in overgrown authentic primeval forests of only one Conifer species.

Young trees can best be placed zigzag in front of each other at such a distance, that the final mature green crowns of all surrounding trees, which grow from all sides, and also grow towards each other, are taken into account. That is also different per Conifer species. The crown of a Norway Spruce or Italian Cypress is high but remains narrow in the shape of a green small column, while the green circumferences of a Cedar and Pine are much wider.

Green living fence
In the case of a tall green fence that is laid in several layers of other types of trees than Conifers, account must also be taken of the possible faster growth of these other species, such as shrubs and fruit trees. So make sure you have enough space.

At high age of Conifers, or after prolonged periods of persistent drought, the trunks sometimes become bare at the bottom due to the loss of a few lower branches. Many deciduous tree species also have bare trunks and no undergrowth. In the case of a fence, the resulting view at eye level can possibly be absorbed with the planting of bushes, shrubs and trees that, once fully grown, are much lower, which means that dense vegetation at human height and taller, is also present.

Forest planting also enriches our living environment. It not only gives a pleasant green appearance all year round, but also provides an opportunity for recreation! Nothing better than a walk in the woods and soak up the blissful resinous scents that the trees spread.

Mass planting
With the new hectare management, massive forest planting will be accelerated, and perhaps the quickest, because the largest group of people imaginable, will devote themselves to it with passion, and all the available leisure time. Naturally, that can also happen immediately in the current structure of our society. Where there’s a will, there’s a way.

Just as an example for such a small country as the Netherlands, 1 million hectares (1,000,000 ha.) of agricultural land is made available. Both for the management of hectare units, and for small-scale farms & families. If one plants an average of 200 trees per hectare and 50 fruit trees, we arrive at a number of 200 million trees. Because 200 trees per hectare – or 250 trees, of which 50 fruit trees – times 1,000,000 ha. is a total of 200,000,000 trees!

What will it be like for your country of birth, or for the country you live in now?

Utility of wood
Needless to say, once the forests and woods have regrown worldwide, when there’s plenty of timber to build houses, furniture and numerous utensils, our world will have a total different outlook. Let us hope it is one filled with peace and joy!

© 2019 | Margreet Wilschut


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Part 3. The leaves of Conifers can be either shaped ‘wide and flat’, in the sense of a sheet of paper (with a broad or wide surface), or oblong (which in size can be either small or long). The latter can be compared with the shape of a young blade of grass, seen as an oblong object. We can call these leaves also short or long leaves depending on the treespecies.

Thus the short & long leaves of Conifers have an average in diameter of 0.04 inches to 0.11 inches (1 mm to 3 mm). The length of this type of foliage varies from approximately 0.6 inches to 6 inches (1½ cm to 15 cm). On that scale, and for the purpose of this article, the variety in lengths can be differentiated as ‘short’, ‘medium’ or ‘long’. The longleaf version is shown on the picture with this article. (Picture: Ringing Cedars Russia). This is the end of a branch of the Siberian Pine. In Latin this Conifer is named ‘Pinus Siberica’.

The ‘sheet type’ leaves with a wide surface are seen with most Cypress Conifers. But with all varieties of Conifer leaves, we could give them the common name of either ‘Conifer leaf’ or just ‘leaf’. The latter is also used for deciduous trees. The mutual differences of the leaf shapes of Conifers however, are specified separately in this article for each Conifer type.

Phyto green
All varieties of the oblong leaves, either small or long foliage, form the green coverage of the branches and sometimes trunk, which in a sense you could also view as the ‘coating’ or ‘the fur’ of the tree. The description of this leaf type with ‘needle’ is in fact not entirely correct. The leaf of the Conifer is ‘phyto’, so from plant matter. Phyto stems from the Greek words ‘phyein’ (to bring forth, make grow, that which has grown) and ‘phut(ón)’ (derived from plant matter).

But first lets have a litte bit of insight of what makes the ‘phyto’ plant material. As most of us know, this is due to the chlorophyll in the leaf, which forms the green color. This substance absorbs sunlight (as microscopically small solar cells), and is therefore an energy supplier for the process of photosynthesis. In this, carbon dioxide (CO2) from the air, and water from the soil and air, serve as a supply stream for conversion to oxygen, carbohydrates (sugar) and other phytonutrients for the tree itself and the environment. Due to this process, oxygen is released to the atmosphere, together with other etherical components such as the fragrant resin odor.

Conifer leaf
Most leaves of small & longleaf pines and cedars have a bit of a woody, firm hay-like texture, but the long leaves for example are more flexible as they can slightly bend.

Conifers with wide or broad fanning leaves, are seen with all Cypress species in the Cypress family. These are usually soft in texture and very bendable. Both types of leaves are Conifer leaves.

In Dutch language, we often use the word ‘small’ for oblong, and it is also pronounced the same, but written with one ‘l’ less: ‘smal’. But the meaning of the word is slightly different. Most often we use the word to describe an object or shape which is thin and tall or oblong, but has a small width. Hence the object isn’t wide or broad. A young blade of grass or a straw would be a good example for this. But if we would describe an object as being ‘small’ compared to the opposit ‘big’, we would use the word ‘little’, which is ‘klein’ in Dutch. It was quite a puzzle to come up with a good description for all the different leaves, in the slightly altered way of categorizing them, that is.

Small-leaf and Long-leaf
Another language thing, in some cases we write word combinations together in one word. Let’s say if in Dutch language we would want to describe a Pine leaf as a ‘small leaf’ that would be possible. It would then alter in ‘smalleaf’, hence also with on ‘l’ less! In English it could supposedly be written with or without a hyphen in between, such as small-leaf or just small leaf. And the same is for long-leaf, long leaf or longleaf.

So you might sometimes find different wordcombinations in these articles, for it is just a personal preference, although many different terminologies are used nowadays when it comes to determination. Noted aside, when translating articles from Dutch to English, these are absolutely factors to consider.

Best of both
Please take into account that Dutch people often learn a 2nd language at school, and the higher educated a third or fourth, as we are a very small country, being surrounded by larger countries, all with completely different foreign languages (English, German, Belgium, French). However, in most cases one loses the skill of writing and speaking these languages in adulthood when they are not practised in daily life.

But nowadays due to the internet, it seems languages are more fusing together than before. In the Netherlands especially, English is most heard on tv and internet and in music. It is the 2nd language for many, but not all Dutch people speak or write English, and many just a little bit. And when it comes to writing articles, one has to continuously look up new words in the dictionary, both for spelling and meaning, the latter especially when an unknown professional jargon is being explored. It makes it even more confusing when similar sounding words in two different languages, can have a different meaning, sometimes even opposite!

It is also possible to use the word small-foliage for small-leaf. In a sense, foliage is the indication of all leaves together (of one particular tree, shrub, bush or plant). The foliage of Conifers with oblong leaves grow either individually attached to the brances, as with Spruce and Fir trees, or in clusters as with the longleaf Pines, such as the Siberian Pine, or the small leaves such as from the centuries old Libanon Cedars. The foliage of the latter grow clusterd in star shapes. For all varieties of oblong Pine leaves, there are several types of clusters, namely pairs of two, three or five.

Cluster leaves
According to information on the internet, a cluster of two Pine leaves belongs to the red Pine group, a cluster of three Pine leaves to the yellow Pine group, and a cluster of five leaves belong to the white Pine group. It is not known to the author why the colors are given to the different varieties. These do not seem to be derived from the colours of the bark or wood, is it then just for the purpose of categorical classification?

Good ornamental
The long-leaves of the white Pine group grow on the branches in bundles of five. This results visually in an elongated mass, which, partly due to their length and weight, caused by their dense growth together, are draped slightly bent in an arc from the branch. To express it into a somewhat more poetic description: it creates a ‘good ornamental’ for the tree, an overall impression of an elegantly lush, richly endowed green foliage.

One more language thing, in Dutch the word for ‘leaf’ is ‘blad’. And another Dutch word for ‘blad’ is ‘loof”, which is ‘foliage’. But ‘loof’ has a double interpretation as it can also stand for ‘praise’, in the sense of admiration and respect, or to applaud something. The Dutch verb says: ‘Ik loof, wij loven’ (I praise, we praise). Therefore, we could say: ‘Loof het Loof’, which would then say ‘Praise the Foliage’. You can’t make this stuff up really. Anyway, just for fun!

Size, structure and texture
The structure and texture of the Conifer leaf can vary per family and species. Some small-leaves are only 0.6 inches short (1.5 cm), with a thickness of 0.07 inches (2 mm), firm and round or square-like in structure (can be rolled through fingers), are sharply pointed and grow from woody projections on the branch, which gives it a ‘rough’ look and feel once the leaves have fallen off. (Spruce).

Other leaves are medium sized (4 inches) or long (6 inches), sometimes more flexible, softer and flattened, can therefore not be rolled between the fingers, with a rounding at the end of the leaves which grow from a smooth bark (Fir). The taller leaves grow also from smooth bark (Pine).

From the type of leaf, the cone shape and the manner of growth of the cones on the branches, and the type of bark, one usually recognizes the family to which the Conifer belongs.

But this requires an extensive study (because there are around 600+ species) which is not the aim of this range of articles. The goal is truly a first introduction, oriëntation and valuation, and has no official educational character. If one wants to derive some decision-making from this, research for yourself and preserve the good!

Wide leaf (wide & flat sheet shape)
Conifers from the Cypress family have wide broadly spread leaves. The Cypress ‘Thuja’, for example, has a flat fanning leaf with large notches. It grows the length of the entire branch, and is thick and soft, is bendable and has a flexible texture. It distinguishes this Conifer from all other Conifers with oblong leaves (either small or long), but also from most deciduous trees, which usually have the sheet or blade type of leaves, such as Oak, Birch, Ash, Fruit- and Nut trees. In general, the size and texture of the leaves of deciduous trees, differ from those of the Conifer trees, both the oblong varieties and the wide sheet type versions.

Conifer foliage
To distinguish even further, since the Cypresses belong to the Conifers taxonomically, we can also describe its Conifer foliage more specific, e.g. as ‘Thuja leaf’ or ‘Thuja foliage’. Foliage would probably sound as a better description for the soft and elegant appearance of this type of leaf. But, ‘foliage’ can be used for all leaf types, both for the leaves of deciduous and coniferous trees, for the latter also including the small-leaf and long-leaf versions.

Therefore, one should call it according to ones own preferences, and often to name the tree is in most cases probably the best, or referring back to its Latin name. On the other hand, it would be preferable if there would be one international determination for all Conifers, instead of so many different names in different languages.

All Conifer families consist of cone-bearing trees, and have specific Conifer leaves. Most families in the order of Conifers have small- and long leaves or -foliage such as the Pine, Cedar and Fir and Spruce. Some other Conifers from the Cypress family have wide Conifer leaves or -foliage.

© 2019 | Margreet Wilschut

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Part 4. The word Conifer comes from the Latin word ‘Coniferae’ which means ‘Cone-bearers’. This is derived from ‘Conus’ and from ‘Ferre’ or ‘Bher’ which means ‘Carrying’. More specified: ‘Bher’ includes the meaning of fruit- or children ‘bearing’ as with a pregnancy. (Picture – Ringing Cedars Russia).

In Mathematics a ‘Conus’ is described as:

‘A geometrically elongated shape with a circle as the ground surface, ending in a point. Between the two ends of the cone is the curved mantle on the outside, and inside the central vertical axis.’

The growth, size and position of the cones differs per Conifer species. The cones are on the branches with the end pointing upwards or sideways, or hanging on them. Conifer therefore belongs in the taxonomic classification to the Order of ‘Coniferales’, being the ‘conic-bearers’.

The eight important taxonomic grades are:

Life, Domain, Empire, Tribe, Class, Order, Family, Genus, and Species.

As a descriptive plant name (which also applies to trees), the Latin designation is included as a taxonomic standard as ‘Coniferae’. Conifers are wind bloomers. They belong to the ‘Seed Plants’ class (Spermaphyta), in the ‘Naked Seed’ category (Clade ‘Gymnospermae’).

The Cones
Conifers can be monoecious or dioecious. This relates to the propagation mechanism of the trees, which is represented in the cones. The cones accommodate the reproductive organs in two mutually different cones, the ‘male’ cone also called ‘pollen cone’, and the ‘female’ cone which is also described as ‘ovulation cone’ in the initial stages of cone formation at the tree.

The seed principles are predominantly present in the female cones, in which, after pollination by the wind through the pollen, which originate from the male cone, they further develop into germinating seeds. It usually takes one to two decades after planting a young tree before the cones begin to form.

There are two different categories of cones that vary in size. The first category is the Conifers cones with an average length of around 4 inches. These have a woody structure. The second category of cones has the shape and size of a berry, which also on this much smaller scale, contains a kind of cone structure, the envelope which consists of the berryflesh, with one opening at the bottom.

We refer to this type of cone as ‘Strobili’, in the singular ‘Strobulus’, although this term does not only apply to the cone-shaped berries of certain Conifer species, but to a wide variety of plant groups. In the following, the two cone types with regard to Conifers are described as: ‘Conifers Cones’ and ‘Conifers Strobili’.

The cones of Conifers such as the Pine, Cedar and Cypress are on average 4 inches (10 cm) long. The cones look different for each tree type, although the function is the same. On top of that, one tree can grow two differently looking cones. While other Conifers only grow one type cone. This has to do with their different reproductive systems. For instance, both sexes grow on the pine tree, namely the dark brown colored female cone and the light brown to yellow colored male cone.

The Pine is therefore ‘monoecious’, meaning that husband and wife live in the same house, so they live together. In this case in one tree. Hence a monoecious tree has both male and female cones. However, the wind ensures that the pollen produced by one tree can even be spread hundreds of miles through the air, through cross-pollination, and can land in the female cones of the same Conifer species much further away. So it can be!

There are also Conifers that are ‘dioecious’, in which case husband and wife each live in their own house, or in their own tree. In such a case, there is a ‘male tree’ and a ‘female tree’, and there are therefore two houses. Husband and wife then probably have a living apart together relationship. Dioecious Conifers therefore contain either only the male cones or only the female cones. Some shrub-like Conifers belong to this category.

The seed principle
Both with the dioecious Conifers (male and female living together in one house or one tree) and with the ‘single’ monoecious Conifers (male and female both having their own house or two trees), the seed principle is only formed in female cones.

These dark brown female cones really have the shape of the specific geometric cone. It consists of woody scales that partially overlap each other spirally. Underneath each scale is an ‘ovulation’ sperm principle, being the unfertilized egg, the ‘Endosperm mother cell’. This seed principle in the female cone, which is also called ‘seed bud’ (because it looks like a flower bud in a certain sense), has yet to emerge, and is uncovered. That is why Conifers in taxonomy are among the ‘nudes’ (Clade ‘Gymnospermae’).

The ovulation cones
In the early stages of the growth of these female cones, the cones are still small and soft, while already showing the geometric structure. They look like small egg shapes that grow on the branches, with a direction of growth proportional to the branch. In this early form, the cone is called an ‘ovulation cone’.

After reaching this stage, it will grow into an adult cone in two years. When the cone and internal ovule principles are fully grown, the cone focuses more away from the branch with the point facing outwards, and over time the cone opens its brown scales. The seed buds under the scales are now ready to be fertilized.

The pollen cones
The male cones grow at the end of the branches. These cones are elongated or cylindrical in shape, yellow in color and have a softer spongy structure with small bulges. In these ‘pollen cones’, the pollen is formed, also called the ‘sperm’ pollen. Both cone sexes of a monoecious tree – where husband and wife live together – are on the branches, however the pollen cones are located at the end of the branches and the female cones along the entire length of the branch. It is logical that the pollen cones grow at the end of a branch.

For example, the male cones have the farthest range in the open air to be scooped by the wind, so that the pollen formed in the spring can optimally be disposed of. These are then blown into the air by gusts of wind, and due to an aerodynamic design build on the pollen, they can float tens to hundreds of miles through the air before they land in the open scales of the female cones, of trees nearby or much further away.

When a female cone, being the ovulation cone, collects the pollen, the egg present in the ovule principle is fertilized. After fertilization it grows into germinable pine seed under the scales of the female cones. This seed develops slowly in a few years, and forms a dark brown skin which later hardens into a skin around the seed. Over time, the fertilized cone releases from the branch and falls to the ground to germinate.

For example, squirrels and certain birds also distribute the cones and thus the seeds. The squirrels by storing them underground as winter supplies, which are sometimes not used and then germinate into a tree plant. In addition, there are also clever people who harvest the seeds for consumption or to grow into saplings. In this way, the cross-pollination and reproduction take place at Conifers. Conifers are therefore wind bloomers, and do not need bees or other insects for fertilization.

The mature seeds, when they are suitable for human consumption, must first be removed from the cones or shaken, to subsequently peel each unique seed. These pale yellow colored pine seeds or pine nuts are extremely nutritious and do well as an addition to culinary dishes. An edible oil can also be pressed out that is extremely nutritious.

In some shrub-like Conifers, the cones have the shape and size of a berry, and the shell consists of flesh around a seed bud (the egg) that is also uncovered in this type of Conifers, because the end of the berry has an opening. In that case it is no longer called ‘Cone’, but ‘Strobilus’.

The word ‘Strobilus’ is a descriptive term for the various manifestations of ‘cones’ or ‘cone-like structures’. Moreover, the Strobilus does not only occur in certain Conifer species, but in a wide variety of other plant groups. The word comes from the ancient Greek ‘Strobilos’ which means ‘Whirlwind’. It refers to the rotating shape of the plant part that houses the reproductive organs.

Just like all types of cones, the strobilus has a nice geometric structure that is formed around a central, vertical axis. This axis originated from the stem, and is provided with spiral or cross-implanted structures. These carry the spore boxes (sporangia) that carry seed buds or (partial) fruits. The spores are formed in the spore boxes. Leaves that carry spore boxes are called ‘Sporophylls’, with stems one speaks of ‘Sporangiophores’.

Examples of Conifers with Strobili are the Juniper with the black / blue cone-shaped berries (Food-bearing for the Big Thrush), and the Taxus with the red also cone-shaped berries (Food-bearing for thrushes and other birds). Both Juniper and Taxus have several trunks as large shrubs and are only about 10 meters high.

There are also the Podocarpaceae, an exotic Conifer family from the southern hemisphere. In the northern hemisphere, however, the mutual species differ considerably in appearance and size. There is no clarity about the taxonomic classification, and it has been subject to change over the decades. That is why we will not go into it further here. Also for this type of Conifers, the pollination for the formation of germinable seed always takes place via the wind.

© 2019 | Margreet Wilschut


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