San Diego Natural History Museum--Your Nature ConnectionSan Diego Natural History Museum Biodiversity Research Center of the Californias: Botany Department


Plant Atlas
Climate Change
The Collection

Field Guide

Natural History of Holiday Plants Exhibit
Evergreens | Holiday Color | Poinsettia | Holly | Mistletoe
Christmas Cactus | Christmas Tree | Common Holiday Plants


Calocedrus decurrens, photo courtesy of Norm Roberts Since evergreens have foliage throughout the year, they seem almost unchanging -- it is no wonder that so many of them have been revered by cultures as a symbol of strength and life. The idea of an evergreen plant may give you an image of eternal life, but in a simpler sense it is a reminder of spring. In temperate climes, evergreens exhibiting fresh greenery help to liven up the darker days of winter and the gray tones of a leafless landscape.

What is an evergreen?

Botanically, it is defined as a woody, perennial plant with foliage that persists and remains green throughout the year. The term "evergreen" usually opposes the term "deciduous" in botany. A deciduous plant is one with foliage that falls off or is shed at a specific season or stage of growth. A common example of a "drought deciduous" plant in our deserts is the Ocotillo (Fouquieria splendens). This plant grows leaves whenever there is enough moisture available, but it quickly drops these leaves in order to conserve its water whenever conditions are very dry. The Ocotillo can grow leaves and also drop them many times a year, if conditions warrant it.

Do evergreens lose their leaves?

Yes! Evergreens seem apparently unchanging, but they do lose their leaves over time. Although it may not be as noticeable as a deciduous plant that loses all of its leaves at a particular time of the year, most evergreens are continually shedding and replacing a few leaves at a time.

Can you think of a local, native, evergreen plant?

In our region we have many different species that are evergreen. Along the coast you can commonly see the broad green leaves of the Lemonadeberry (Rhus integrifolia) or the laurel-like leaves of Laurel Sumac (Malosma laurina) throughout the year. Another common plant species with obvious evergreen leaves that can be spotted in most of our urban canyons is the Spanish Bayonet or Mohave Yucca (Yucca schidigera). In our higher mountains of the region, there are various conifer species such as pines and junipers that are obvious examples of evergreen foliage.

Continue to Holiday Color

Text by Jon P. Rebman, Ph.D., Curator of Botany;
Calocedrus decurrens, photo courtesy of Norm Roberts