A quick reference guide to Minnetonka’s evergreen varieties

While evergreen is often used as a catch-all phrase for any tree that remains green throughout the winter months, not all evergreens are created equal.

For example, while “conifer” and “evergreen” are often used interchangeably, evergreen describes a plant that retains some of its needles or leaves year-round, while a conifer can be evergreen or deciduous (losing its needles or leaves), and produces its seeds and pollen in cones.

Most of the evergreens found in Minnetonka did not occur naturally—they are native to northern Minnesota, other parts of the United States, or even other countries. Read on to learn more about the various varieties of cone-bearing evergreens—conifers—in Minnetonka.

For more help with tree identification, visit www.uwgb.edu/biodiversity/herbarium/trees/tree_key000.htm.


Spruce tree

  • Needles are short (up to 1½″), round, and individually attached to the branch.
  • White and black spruce are the only native Minnesota spruce species.
  • White spruce may be confused with Colorado spruce, which is not recommended for planting in Minnesota due to disease susceptibility.
  • Colorado spruce have longer cones than white and black spruce.
  • Norway spruce branches have a drooping silhouette when tree is mature.
  • Black Hills spruce, a type of white spruce, is over-planted in Minnetonka.

Spruce tree needles


Two types of evergreen trees are native to Minnesota and referred to as cedar, but are not true cedar:

Eastern red cedar

Eastern red cedar tree

Eastern red cedar, or juniper, has scale-like and awl-shaped leaves and a berry-like cone. Easter red cedar is dark green during the growing season and reddish-brown in the winter, and grows well on hot, dry, sunny sites.

Eastern red cedar leaves

White cedar

White cedar hedge

Northern white cedar, or arborvitae, has scale-like, aromatic leaves. It can tolerate shade and is often planted as a hedge or screening plant.

White cedar leaves


White pine

  • Needles are connected in bundles by a band called a “fascicle,” bundles of needles attach to branches in groups of two, three or five.
  • Pine needles longer than spruce needles.
  • Austrian, Scotch, jack and red pines have two needles per bundle.
  • Red and white pine are two of the most common Minnesota natives found in Minnetonka, while ponderosa, Austrian and Scotch pine are three of the most common non-native pines found in the city.

Pine needles

Firs and hemlocks

  • Balsam fir and Canadian hemlock are the only fir and hemlock native to Minnesota.
  • Both are shade tolerant and slower growing than other evergreen trees.

Balsam fir

Balsam Fir pitch pockets

  • Balsam fir needles are flat and have two silvery lines on the underside.
  • Balsam firs have prominent “blisters” on the bark, called pitch pockets, and are often used as Christmas trees since they retain their needles and have an aromatic scent indoors.

Balsam fir needles

Canadian hemlock

Canadian hemlock

  • Canadian hemlock needles are short and attached to branches by a peg-like structure, while cones are small and oval and found on twig ends.
  • While not native to Minnetonka, Canadian hemlock can grow in shade and could be planted more frequently in the forest understory.

Canadian hemlock needles

Tamarack (larch)


  • One of few coniferous trees native to Minnetonka, and only deciduous conifer tree found in Minnesota.
  • Needles turn yellow in autumn, then drop prior to winter.
  • Minnetonka contains a few remnant tamarack swamps, and tamaracks are also planted in rain gardens in the city hall parking lot.

Tamarack cones