Garden of Eyewire: Deciduous vs. Evergreen

Eyewire, citizen science, deciduous, evergreen, botany, Garden of Eyewire

There are so many plants we could face off against each other on Eyewire, but in keeping with our earlier discussion of tree shapes, dendritic arbors, and so on, there does seem to be one overarching botanical distinction to explore for a VS this week. That is, of the two popular categories of trees, which is your favorite: deciduous trees, or evergreens?

First, though, some special scientific clarification! Did you know that trees are not a taxonomic group at all? Instead, different families, genera, and species across the plant kingdom have periodically undergone convergent evolution. That’s the process of independently developing and perpetuating certain advantageous traits because, well, they’re advantageous. No tree type is the parent of other trees; over the ages, it’s just proven useful for many plants to evolve to grow taller than other plants, and to develop woody trunks and limbs. Some botanists don’t even require “trees” to look very tree-like, and some of them would tell you that bamboo and banana plants are trees.

Be that as it may, it’s still fairly easy to classify trees as either deciduous or evergreen. Just remember that those are descriptive terms with no bearing on how closely related any tree species is to another!

Deciduous Trees

  • These are the many trees that shed their foliage on a routine basis, usually in the lead-up to winter or during their ecosystem’s dry season. In some cases, the foliage changes color before falling; reduced daylight hours and/or different rainfall conditions “tell” the trees to stop chlorophyll production, which reveals hues produced by pigments like carotenoids and anthocyanin.
  • Regrowing foliage every year costs a tree’s resources, but successful deciduous species have the advantage of water conservation and being less appealing to herbivores during a vulnerable time.
  • Generally, deciduous trees are also flowering trees.
  • Do you experience your own feelings of needing to retreat and decompress for a while, alternating with surges of productivity? Maybe your personality is a bit like a deciduous tree.

Evergreen Trees

  • These are the trees that keep their chlorophyll year-round so they can constantly photosynthesize! There are less evergreen species than deciduous trees, but evergreens evolved much earlier in the form of conifer species, before dinosaurs went extinct.
  • Evergreens have a huge advantage over deciduous trees in perpetually cold ecosystems, because they don’t need to rely on extracting nutrients from cold soil; they can just maximize solar power.
  • While evergreen and conifer are often used interchangeably, conifers are just trees with seed-bearing cones instead of flowers. Likewise, evergreens often have needles instead of leaves, but that’s not always the case. Larch trees have needles, but they drop them seasonally and are thus deciduous; meanwhile, many leafy trees in tropical environments are evergreens because they have no reason to shed their leaves.
  • Do you tend to putter along, chugging slow but steady? Maybe you have something in common with evergreens.

The battle of the trees starts at 11:00 AM EDT on 5/25 and goes for 48 hours! Bonus information is detailed in your notifications.

Swag (generously sponsored by @susi): The top scoring player on the winning team wins their choice of a mug or notebook! Also, among the top 50% of players on the winning team, 1 player will be raffled the choice of a mug or notebook, and 3 more players will be raffled the choice of sticker or magnet.

Evergreen image by Luis Apiolaza