"Cedars blossom, though few people know it, And look all dipped in sunshine like a poet".
The evergeen woods have a character distinctively their own. This is most evident in winter, when they stand robed in living green while the deciduous trees are etched in soft grays against the sky, but it is noticeable at all seasons.
They may almost be said to have a flora of their own, for some blossoms blow beneath the evergreens which are not found elsewhere, and others thrive best on the mat of fallen needles which covers the ground under pines and hemlocks.
First and sweetest of these is the trailing-arbutus or May-flower. It fades as spring advances, and is followed by a number of the smaller and humbler orchids, little cousins of the stemless lady-slipper, which appears in June, and which is the last and almost the only showy blossom of the evergreen woods.
In July pine-roots give a home and a maintenance to some curious parasitic plants - "pine-drops," "pine-sap," and "Indian-pipe," or "ghost-flower." In latter summer the only bits of color on the ground are fungi, - white, yellow, orange, and red, - which come pushing through the mat of fallen pine-needles on which they live and feed.
There are few bees in the evergreen woods, and fewer butterflies. The birds seen in the shadowy aisles are the little warblers, which converse in low trills and twitterings. The joyous ringing bird-strains will be heard in copse or swale, in orchard, or meadow, - not in the far withdrawing vistas which lead between these pillared trunks to deeper solitudes.
The brooding silence of the evergreen woods is broken only by the occasional chatter of a squirrel, by wind passing through the boughs with a sound like the wash of waves on far-off shingle, and, perhaps, by the tremulous whistle of the pine-linnet, or the bell-like notes of the hermit-thrush.
Here and there, under the trees, are those cousins of the ferns which look so confusingly like evergreens that they have received the names of "ground-pine" and "trailing-hemlock".
They are fitting companions to the pine-trees, for both represent the vegetable life of the elder world. The group of the cone-bearers to which the hemlock, cedar, pine, spruce, and fir, as well as the arbor-vitae and the larch, belong, were the firstborn of flowering-plants. They are the link, connecting ferns and their allies with the kindred of the lily and of the rose.
All native cone-bearers belong to one botanic group, the Pine family, and this divides itself into two very unequal branches, the true pine connection (Pinaceae) and the yews (Taxaceae).
All our wild evergreens, except the yews, are numbered among the pinaceae, and so are the larch and the "bald"-cypress of the Southern States, which are not evergreen. The Taxaceae are represented in this country by a couple of small garden-shrubs, by the European yew, and the gingko or "maiden-hair tree" of cultivated grounds, and by the wild yew or ground-hemlock which straggles over barren northern hillsides.
The sprouting yew, like the baby-bean or maple, appears above ground with two seed-leaves and so do the seedling juniper, cedar, and arbor-vitae. But the pine, spruce, fir, and hemlock begin at once to show some characteristics which prove their pedigree, and distinguish them from the kin of the lily or of the rose.
For these seedlings enter the world with what children call "a great plenty " of first leaves, from three to sixteen of them, arranged like the spokes of a wheel (Fig.75). These are needle-shaped, and the leaves which follow them are also needle-shaped or scale-like, and differ markedly from the broad, flat foliage borne by the beeches, oaks, and maples.
Thus our native cone-bearers are fitted to cope with the rather trying circumstances in which their lives are spent. For hemlocks, spruces, pines, firs, and red cedars inhabit coasts, mountains, and high latitudes.
All down the Atlantic shore from Maine to southern Florida pines, cedars, and junipers form a natural wind-break, sheltering the deciduous trees which grow further inland from the first keenness of ocean blasts; and in many places evergreen woods border on the great lakes, and bear the brunt of their gales.
Fig. 75. - A seedling pine.
As one ascends high mountains the broad-leaved trees grow fewer, till at last, all the rough slopes are clothed with the sombre green of spruces and pines. Indeed the word "pine" is derived from the Celtic "pin," a crag, which is preserved in the names of some Scotch and Welsh mountains - "Ben Lomond," "Ben Nevis," and "Penmaen-Mawr".
The forests of Maine and Canada are largely evergreen, and as one travels northward deciduous trees are left behind, till, at last, all the land is in possession of the spire-shaped spruces and the pines.
Coast and mountain evergreens must brave rough winds, and evergreens of high latitudes must be enabled to shed the snows of northern winters.
So Nature has fitted them for their circumstances by giving them the stiff, slender leaves which are popularly called "needles," or, as in the case of the arbor-vitae, scale-like foliage, which invests the branches as tiles cover a roof. However fierce the gale, such leaves cannot be torn as spreading foliage would probably be if it grew in similar situations and the slippery needles of northern evergreens shed snow masses which would break broad-leaved trees to pieces.
Some years ago southern Ohio was visited by a moderately heavy snow-storm in mid-May, when all the summer leaves were out. Their broad surfaces caught and held the flakes, and the boughs were soon over-weighted. All hands turned out with poles, rakes, and broomsticks to beat the snow off cherished trees, but, despite much zealous exertion, aided by a May-time sun, many branches crashed down in a few hours. The experience showed the probable effect of northern snows upon evergreens if they bore broad leaves.