Conifers are cone-bearing, woody seed plants. They belong an ancient group of plants called the gymnosperms. This group appeared approximately 360 million years ago (before flowering plants) and produce seeds that are not enclosed within plant tissue (gymnos = nudity, sperm = seed, literally, a "naked seed").
In New Zealand conifers dominate rainforests and some infertile shrublands. This contrasts with the rest of the temperate and tropical forests of the world where conifers have been superseded by flowering plants.
Agathis australis (kauri). Photographer: John Smith-Dodsworth
The native conifers of New Zealand are all endemic, meaning they are not found anywhere else in the world. There are 18 native conifers in New Zealand and these belong to four families:
Agathis australis (kauri). Photographer: Wayne Bennett.
Conifers are often referred to as softwoods as opposed to the flowering trees that are hardwoods. Most flowering trees do have harder wood than conifers but they are not absolute as some flowering trees do have soft wood.
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This page last updated on 25 Sep 2012