During the Christmas Holidays I spent a few days in the Dolomites where the vegetation is characterized by forests with Spruce Pines (Picea Abies) and Larches (Larix Decidua Miller).
These woods inspired me to write this brief article on some of the curious features of conifers, whose evergreen leaves are long, thin and have a needle-like appearance or are flat, triangular and scale-like.
I would like to begin by telling you a story of something that happened to me about 25 years ago and that I like to share with my students in my ecology classes. A dear friend of mine that nurtures a great respect for the environment, upon his return from a skiing vacation, calls me troubled by the amount of arid forests that he saw when skiing due to, according to him, acid rain.
At first I was astonished by what he was telling me, even with my expertise back then, seemed somewhat alarmist. I thought about this for a few minutes and doubted that this could be so.
My doubt was proven to be well founded after looking into the matter: my friend had mistaken the larch forest, deciduous trees which lose their leaves in the autumn, for dead trees due to acid rain. Fortunately, without taking too lightly the pollution problem, my friend was way off base.
In fact, the error may have been made because generally, as said before, the conifers are evergreens consisting of different categories of trees such as pines, firs, cedars, cypresses, redwoods etc.
In truth there are a few exceptions, or rather, there are only three kinds in the whole world that lose their needles in the winter. Of these only the genus Larix includes a species typical of the European and Italian vegetation: the European Larch. The others are made up of the Dawn Redwood (Metasequoia Glyptostroboides Hu & Cheng) and by the Taxodium Distichum (L.) Rich, also known as the “bald cypress”.
These last two plants are used as ornamental plants in Italy. The subfamily of the taxodioideae are especially found near ditches or ornamental lakes where it develops the characteristic “pneumatophore” known as aerating roots. They are woody projections sent above the normal water level, roughly vertically from the roots enabling plants to breathe air in habitats that have waterlogged soil.
In Lucca you can find a fine exemplar in the center of the pond of the botanical garden. Different exemplars can be found at the city hospital. Other exemplars of taxodioideae can be found, for example, on the Madre island on Lago Maggiore.