A guide to coniferous trees in the Alps

Fall has arrived in the Alps, which means mushrooms are popping out of the ground everywhere and leaves of deciduous trees are showing beautiful orange, red and yellow colors. The bright vibrant colors of mountain nature at this time of year is like candy to the eye. Most coniferous trees in the Alps stay green over winter, but there is one species that doesn’t: the European larch (Larix decidua). During fall the needles of these trees turn bright yellow!

European larch 

The autumnal colours in a larch forest make it without a doubt my favourite place to hike at this time of year. The European larch is a very common tree line species in the Alps and you’ll see loads of them along the trails of the Tour du Mont Blanc and the Chamonix Zermatt Haute Route. It is the only coniferous tree in the Alps that loses its needles, which makes it easy to recognize during fall: it’s the only tree that will have bright yellow needles. In summer this beautiful tree has light green needles which feel quite soft when you touch them.

Coniferous trees in the alps - larch
Larch needles turn a beautiful orange in fall, before falling off in winter.

Spruce, fir, pine or larch?

Other coniferous trees you might see on the Tour du Mont Blanc and the Chamonix Zermatt Haute Route are Norway spruce (Picea abies), silver fir (Abies alba) and several species of pine. So how can you tell the difference between all these different coniferous species?

Distinguishing between the four genera of coniferous trees is easy when looking close at their needles:

– P is for Pine, Pairs
The needles of pines are together in Pairs. (Please note there is one exception! The Arolla pine – Pinus cembra – has its needles together in bundles of five).

– F is for Fir, Flat
The needles on a fir are, just like a spruce, attached singly to the branches. To tell the difference between the two you can look at the shape of the needle: only a fir’s needle is Flat. 

– L for Larch, Lots
Larches have clusters of Lots of needles. The L also stands for Losing, because as said before the larch is the only conifer found in the Alps losing its needles over winter.

– S for Spruce, Single
The needles on a spruce are attached Singly to the branches.

Enjoy the colors!

But for now, just take in those bright vibrant autumnal colors. And also, don’t forget to look around for the many mushrooms while wandering along the trails of the Tour du Mont Blanc and Chamonix Zermatt Haute Route!

Simone van Velzen

3 Replies to “A guide to coniferous trees in the Alps”

  1. Edwin says:

    This is going to sound strange, but I’m doing research for a piece of writing I’m doing and this has been very helpful, thank you 👍

  2. Gav says:


    This is awesome and will be very useful for me as I prepare for my Winter International Mountain Leader Assessment. Do you have it in PDF format so that I can save it directly to my phone?

    • Jennifer Stretton says:

      Hi Gav,

      Apologies for the late reply! Unfortunately not – just online.

      Best of luck for your winter IML assessment!

      Kind regards


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