There are basic differences that exist between pine and fir trees. Some of these differences are botanical name, native ranges and cone shape. They also have different foliage characteristics. You can tell the difference between the two by focusing on needle clusters and length. Pine trees and fir trees are both conifers that bear cones. These two trees are also members of the same plant family.
There are about 50 fir species that are all native to cold and mountain regions in the Northern Hemisphere. There are about 120 species of pine trees and they are native to many different forests that range from cold regions to the subtropics. Pines can consist of trees or shrubs. Pine trees have needles that have from 2 to 5 in the clusters. Pine needles are shiny, soft and thin and can range in length from less than an inch to as long as 16 inches. Fir tree needles are short and they are always less than 2 inches long. This is a very easy way to tell the difference between pine trees and fir trees.
Both pines and firs grow tall and upright. At the lower branches, firs are much wider. The bark on a fir tree is smooth and cork-like and it is often hidden by the branches and needles. The bark on a pine tree is cracked with plate-like scales that are darker in color underneath. A fir tree has cones that can be purple, green or blue. When these cones are ripe, their color changes to a golden, medium brown. Pine trees also have cones, but they are green and when ripe their color changes to red-brown or black.
A white evergreen pine tree can grow to a height of over 100 feet. They are admired for being so tall and beautiful. European settlers used these pines for building log homes. Fir trees can withstand fires due to their thick bark. Firs can be found standing tall and beautiful in the Southern Appalachian Mountains. Sometimes a spruce can be mistaken for a fir, but you can the difference by looking closely at the needles. If the needle is flat, then it is a fir because spruce needles have four sides. Fir tree cones are much softer than pine cones.
Pines and firs both are often used for landscaping purposes and shade. During the winter season, these trees are still beautiful while most others have lost their leaves and are bare. Pines and firs will thrive in full sun to partial shade with well drained soil. They are easy to grow. Firs make excellent Christmas trees and are also used for other decorative purposes. Firs are closely related to cedars. Firs, pines, cedars and spruce trees all have wonderful aromas and they all help to enhance the appearance of the landscape.
Pine and spruce trees have wood that is much higher in value than firs. Fir trees do not shed their needles as much as pines. It is pine trees that date back to ancient times and in ancient folklore the cones were believed to stand as a symbol of fertility.