by Katherine Wagner-Reiss


1. The word conifer means:
A) Cone-bearing
B) Seed-bearing
C) Flower-bearing
D) None of the above

2. How do conifers reproduce?
A) Male flowers and female flowers
B) Male pollen cones and female seed cones
C) Spores
D) None of the above

3. How are female seed cones pollinated?
A) Flying insects
B) Wind
C) Crawling insects
D) All of the above

4. Why are female seed cones rather than male pollen cones used as decorations?
A) Male pollen cones are smaller
B) Male pollen cones disintegrate on the tree after a few weeks
C) Female seed cones are larger and can stay on the tree for two or more years
D) All of the above

5. What are the three types of conifer leaves? (hint: see photo above)
A) Scales, needles, and hammers
B) Scales, needles, and awls
C) Short needles, medium needles, and long needles
D) None of the above

6. Conifers, also known as evergreens, do not hold onto their leaves forever; they drop the oldest leaves each year. How long does it take a conifer to turn over all of its leaves?
A) One to seven years, depending on the soil
B) One to seven years, depending on the species
C) Eight to ten years, depending on the species
D) None of the above

7. Most conifers are evergreen, but which of these conifers drop all of their leaves each fall i.e. are deciduous?
A) Larch
B) Baldcypress
C) Dawn-redwood
D) All of the above

8. Resin is a sticky, aromatic substance exuded from injured bark, especially in conifers in the pine family. What are some functions of resin?
A) Wound healing for physical injuries to the tree
B) Physical deterrent and chemical toxin against insects and pathogens
C) Preventing black rat snake predation on nests of red-cockaded woodpeckers
D) All of the above

9. What are the white lines seen on certain conifer leaves, e.g. on hemlocks?

A) Stomatal bloom, waxy powder that waterproofs the air-exchange pores
B) Markings to guide insect pollinators to the pollen
C) Injured leaf tissue caused by extremes in temperature
D) All of the above

10. Which of the following are historical uses of conifers as food?
A) Pine “nuts,” the seeds of pines
B) Arborvitae leaf and bark tea, which may contain neurotoxins
C) Juniper berries flavoring gin
D) All of the above

11. Why do some conifer needles appear blue?
A) Waxy coating on the green needles makes them appear blue
B) Blue pigments produced to signal to birds that the leaves are toxic
C) Blue pigments produced to capture alternative wavelengths of light
D) All of the above

12. How do evergreen conifer leaves survive freezing weather?
A) Cellular adaptations prevent water column destruction during freeze-thaw cycles
B) The small surface area of the leaf prevents snow accumulation and breakage
C) Waxy coating on the leaf surface prevents desiccation
D) All of the above

Answer key: 1) A 2) B 3) B 4) D 5) B 6) B 7) D 8) D 9) A 10) D 11) A 12) D

May I suggest a winter excursion to the Morris Arboretum to check out hundreds of different conifer species and cultivars from all over the temperate world? Look for conifers bearing cones, conifer leaves with stomatal lines, conifer trunks seeping resin, blue conifers, deciduous conifers, dwarf conifers, and weeping conifers! One of my favorite pines is Pinus koraiensis ‘Morris Blue.’ A young 2008 specimen can be easily found in the Azalea Meadow, just beyond the late George Sugarman’s colorful aluminum statues; its needles demonstrate silvery stomatal lines. Find this or any of the trees at the Morris Arboretum at Collection Connection.

Katherine has her Certificate in Botany from the New York Botanical Garden and is a botanical tour guide and free-lance writer. You can contact her with comments or requests for photos at



On Saturday, December 19 at 7 a.m., a group of hearty birdwatchers gathered at the Morris Arboretum for the annual Christmas Bird Count. This is the longest-running citizen science survey in the world. It is a census of birds in the Western Hemisphere done by volunteer birdwatchers and administered by the National Audubon Society. It provides population data for use in science, especially conservation biology, though many people participate for recreation. We counted about 30 bird species at the Arboretum, the temperature when we started was about 20 degrees!


Photo credit: Tony Geiger 

As 2020 comes to a close, we are looking back to appreciate the beauty of the garden, and the comfort that nature can provide. Each of these images were made possible because of you - your joy, your love, and your support. We thank you for letting us be a part of your lives — we could not have made it through this year without you.

January - Witchhazels are our favorite part of winter. We planned witchhazel walks and tours to educate folks about the beauty, anti-inflammatory properties, and amazing fragrance of these funny little flowers.

February - On a chilly February day, all it takes to have outdoor fun is bundling up to spend time with loved ones.


March - The hellebores burst forth in the Rose Garden as a sneak peek of the Rose Garden’s glory to come. Hellebores are also known as the winter rose that foreshadow the coming of Spring.

April - Eastern redbuds dazzle us with their dark red color right before they burst open to show their lighter pink layers.


May - May is the Rock Wall's turn to show off! You can find an assortment of succulents and other colorful plants between the cracks of the wall that borders the Rose Garden.

June - Our staff worked throughout the shutdown to ready the Garden for reopening, ensuring that visitors could visit safely and enjoy the beauty of nature.


July - We were so excited to reopen! The Garden wasn't the same without all of you.


August - You could feel the excitement from everyone. A chance to get outside, enjoy the fresh air, and expend some energy.

September - Did you know that the Morris Arboretum is just one of the 36 gardens in America’s Garden Capital and the America’s Garden Capital Passport is the best way to visit them all?


October - Our first-ever Halloween nighttime events provided a safe space for children and the young at heart to get their spooks and thrills out!

November - The unseasonably warm fall was a gift to us all as we got to enjoy nature's last gasp before preparing for winter.


December - A good snowstorm always enhances the beauty of the Holiday Garden Railway. With more colorful lights and trains zipping along the tracks, we couldn't thank mother nature enough for the snowy backdrop.

Article and photos by Katherine Wagner-Reiss

Christmas fern, each frond with 20–35 pairs of pinnae (leaf segments). Notice the brown sori (clusters of spore cases) covering the undersides of the upper pinnae on the fertile fronds.

Auricles protruding from the bases of the pinnae (leaf segments), produce a “Christmas stocking” or “Santa’s boot” appearance. An auricle is a plant part likened to an ear.

The Christmas fern earned its name because, as one of the few native ferns that is evergreen, it is available as a Christmas decoration; in addition, one can imagine that each of its leaf segments looks like a traditional Christmas stocking or even Santa’s boot (see photo).

The scientific name is Polystichum acrostichoides. Polystichum means “many in a row,” referring to its sori (clusters of spore cases) being arranged in rows on the backsides of fertile leaf segments (see photo). The placement, size, and shape of sori were the major way that fern genera were differentiated in 1800, when the name Polystichum was assigned.

The epithet acrostichoides means “similar to Acrostichum.”  Acrostichum is a fern genus characterized by having its spore cases distributed as a dense uniform mass on the undersides of its leaf segments, rather than having them organized into discrete sori. Although Christmas fern does have sori, they are so crowded together that they superficially appear as a uniform mass; hence acrostichoides (see photo).

Polystichum acrostichoides is a fern for the shade or part shade garden; it grows in clumps that enlarge over time. It is tolerant of moist or dry soil and of deer and rabbits. While typically found singly or in groups of two or three in the wild, it can be planted en masse for erosion control. You can find Christmas fern at the Morris Arboretum on a shady little path between the back of the Rose Garden and the Fernery (see photo). You will also find it in woodlands throughout eastern North America. The fertile fronds with sori are seen June through October; in the winter you will still see the dark green vegetative fronds. In spring, the inedible fiddleheads (i.e. unfurling new leaves that look like the ornamental scroll at the top of a fiddle) emerge.

P.S. Perhaps my personal story can inspire you to think of the Morris Arboretum as a wintertime destination. In order to get my Botany Certificate from the New York Botanical Garden, I took a class called “Native Flora in Winter.” I spent a lot of that winter outside; I enjoyed every experience, despite not being a fan of cold weather. Dress in layers, don’t stay out too long, and finish with a hot drink: you’ll be happy you got outside to examine evergreens like Christmas fern!

Katherine has her Certificate in Botany from the New York Botanical Garden and is a botanical tour guide and freelance writer.

Polystichum acrostichoides: Polystichum means “many in a row” referring to the brown sori (clusters of spore cases). The sori are so crowded together that they give an acrostichoid appearance (see text).

Polystichum acrostichoides (Christmas fern) located along this woodland path leading down to the Fernery.