Difference Between Deciduous and Coniferous

People often think of deciduous trees and coniferous trees as opposites. They are not. The two terms actually refer to different characteristics of a tree. The term deciduous describes the nature of a tree's leaves, while coniferous refers to how a tree produces its seeds. While most trees fall into one or the other category, there are a few that resist classification as such and are members of both categories. A number of terms are often used as synonyms for deciduous and coniferous, such as broadleaf and evergreen, when they do not mean the same thing.

Trees are usually either deciduous or coniferous.

Deciduous Trees

A tree that loses its leaves in the fall is deciduous.

A deciduous tree loses its leaves for part of the year. The word "deciduous" comes from the Latin word meaning "to fall." The opposite of a deciduous tree is the evergreen. Evergreen trees keep their leaves all year-round.

Coniferous Trees

Trees that have cones are coniferous.

A coniferous tree bears its seeds in cones. For that reason, they are a major group of gymnosperms. The opposite of a gymnosperm is an angiosperm. Angiosperms produce flowers and have seeds encased in a protective ovary.

Similar Terms

Some magnolias are broadleaf evergreens.

Broadleaf trees have large, wide leaves. Because of their size, they are usually too fragile to survive the winter. Most broadleaf trees are deciduous. Trees that are not broadleaf are referred to having needles. Needles are thin, modified leaves. The smaller leaves do not have as much as surface for photosynthesis, which is why most evergreens have needles. All conifers have needles, but not all evergreen are conifers. The live oak is an example of a broadleaf evergreen.

Deciduous Conifers

Larch trees turn yellow and lose their needles each fall.

Deciduous conifers are cone-bearing trees that lose their leaves. The European larch (Larix europea) and the common larch (L. decidua) are two varieties. Although it has needles, the needles turn yellow and shed each fall. Other deciduous conifers include the dawn redwood (Metasequoia glyptostroboides), bald cypress (Taxodium distichum), pond cypress (T. distichum var. nutans), Golden Larch (Pseudolarix amabilis) and Tamarack (L. laricina).