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Leaves and bud of a conifer,
Pseudotsuga or Douglas-fir (Enlarge)
A conifer is a type of tree or shrub characterised by needle-like leaves and bearing reproductive structures called cones. Conifers were once classified as an order (Order Coniferales) within the Class Gymnospermae. In the modern classification scheme (see Kingdom Plantae), the order has been raised to that of a phylum or division. The rules of taxonomic nomenclature require that taxa bear the name of the type genus (in this case Pinus). Thus, the correct name becomes Division Pinophyta, though conifer remains a widely used common name for plants in this division.
Most conifers are evergreen, although some, like larches, Bald cypress and Dawn redwood are deciduous. Typical conifers include the cypresses, pines, cedars, spruces, Douglas-firs, firs and yews. Conifers are commonly (and unscientifically) called evergreens, but many non-coniferous plants such as holly and citrus are evergreen as well. Conifers, widely used for wood products, are also called, as a group, softwoods.