Many of us agree that new snow on evergreen boughs is one of nature's most beautiful sights.

These trees and shrubs have special adaptations, some obvious, some not so. The needles of evergreens have waxy coatings that protect them from the cold, dry winter air. Also, evergreen branches bend under the weight of heavy snow and cast it off, reducing the chance that they will break.

In the South, broad-leaved evergreens such as the live oak, southern magnolia and rhododendrons add a green look to the landscape in winter. However, here we have native spruces, pines, junipers, an arborvitae, and the balsam fir. The term "narrow-leaved evergreens" applies to all. All these leaf-retaining plants belong to a great group of plants that botanists call gymnosperms — plants that have no flowers in the ordinary garden sense of the word, but bear seeds on the surface of the scales of cones.

The native Minnesota evergreens play a major role in the ecology of our northern forests. However, all across the state, evergreens make our cities and individual yards more livable in the winter by protecting us from winds and adding shelter in places. They fill in for the deciduous trees and shrubs that are bare and cold this time of year.

Jim Gilbert's Nature Notes are heard on WCCO Radio at 7:15 a.m. Sundays. His observations have been part of the Minnesota Weatherguide Environment Calendars since 1977, and he is the author of five books on nature in Minnesota. He taught and worked as a naturalist for 50 years.