Monthly Archives: April 2014

Alaska Yellow Cedar, Callitropsis nootkatensis

Alaska Yellow Cedar                                                        The Cypress Family—Cupressaceae

Olympic HikeCallitropsis nootkatensis  (D. Don) Oerst. ex D.P. Little

(Kal-lee-TROP-sis   noot-ka-TEN-sis)

Names: The Alaska Cedar is sometimes called Yellow Cypress, Nootka False Cypress or many similar variations.  I like to mix terms and simply call it “Alaska Yellow Cedar.”  Nootkatensis means “of Nootka Sound.” Nootka is a tribe that lived primarily on Vancouver Island in British Columbia. Most horticultural professionals know this species as Chamaecyparis nootkatensis. 

Relationships: There has been some controversy about its correct relationship and naming. It is sometimes listed as Cupressus nootkatensis, but it is thought to be sufficiently different from both Cupressus and Chamaecyparis and should belong to an entirely different genus.  Botanists now place it in the genus, Callitropsis (meaning: beautiful turning).  However, some propose that it should be placed in another genus, Xanthocyparis, (meaning “Yellow cypress”) along with a newly discovered Vietnamese Golden Cypress.

Distribution of Alaska Cedar from Silvics of North America

Distribution of Alaska Cedar from Silvics of North America

Distribution: Alaska Cedar is found along the coast from southeast Alaska through British Columbia.  In Washington and Oregon, it is found mostly in the Olympic Mountains and on the western slopes of the Cascade Mountains.

Growth: These graceful, relatively slow growing trees may be the oldest living trees in the northwest.  Some are known to have been over 1,800 years old.  Though the tallest known Alaska Cedar, on Vancouver Island, is 200 feet (60m) tall, they typically only grow 60-120 feet (18-36m).

Habitat: Alaska Cedar grows in wet to moist sites, from the coastal rainforests to rocky ridgetops near the timberline in the mountains.  In Northern British Columbia & Alaska it descends more often to sea level and is often associated with wet boggy forests.

Wetland designation: FAC, Facultative it is equally likely to occur in wetland or non-wetland.

Diagnostic Characters: The yellowish or bluish-green leaves are scale-like with sharp pointed spreading tips. If you stroke the branchlets the wrong way, they are very prickly.  The cones begin as round, bumpy, whitish-green berries.  They ripen to brown, woody cones with 4 to 6 mushroom-shaped scales with a point in the top center of each scale.  The grayish-brown, shaggy bark can be peeled off in long, vertical strips.  When you expose the yellowish, inner bark, it smells like raw potatoes.  The wood is a bright yellow.

The shaggy bark of Alaska Cedar

The shaggy bark of Alaska Cedar

The scale-like leaves are prickly when stroked backwards.

The scale-like leaves are prickly when stroked backwards.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Young Alaska CedarNatural Alaska CedarIn the Landscape: There is some variability in the growth habit of Alaska Cedar.  Some trees may have flattened branches that droop or “weep” more than others.  The cultivated variety, ‘Pendula,’ has a very distinct narrow, weeping form.  Alaska Cedar is a very popular landscape tree.  Because of its narrow form and slow growth it can be grown successfully near commercial buildings.  Its attractive, weeping habit makes it sought after to provide a focal point for formal landscape gardens.

Phenology: Bloom Period:  From April in the southern end of its range to June in the north. Cones usually mature the following year, both first and second year cones may occur on the same branch.

Propagation:  Seed germination rates tend to be low, but a germination rate of about 12% may be obtained with a warm stratification for 30 days followed by a cold stratification for 30 days at 40ºF (4ºC).  Seed can be stored dry for 3-5 years.  Greater success may be achieved with cuttings treated with IBA or by layering.  Seedling stocks exhibit much more variability in form; vegetative propagation allows you to select desirable traits such as a “weeping” habit.

Use by People: Natives in Alaska and British Columbia used Alaska Yellow Cedar in much the same way as more southern tribes used Western Red Cedar. The preparation of the Alaska Cedar bark was more time-consuming because it had to be soaked and boiled to remove the pitch.  But, because of its softness, it was often preferred over Western Red Cedar bark for weaving blankets, robes, and capes.  The wood was used to make many tools and containers, but it was especially popular for making bows.  Alaska Cedar is not logged much anymore in Washington but is still being cut in British Columbia and Alaska.  The wood is highly prized by the Japanese for use in temples because of its similarity to their sacred Hinoki False Cypress, Chamaecyparis obtusa.

Use by Wildlife: Alaska Cedars are used for cover by birds, small mammals and larger browsers such as deer. It has low food value for birds and small mammals. Alaska-cedar is of minor importance to wildlife as browse except when densities of deer are high. The Alaskan brown bear may strip the bark of the tree in the spring to feed on the sweet sap.
Links:

USDA Plants Database

Natural Resources Canada

Gymnosperm Database

Consortium of Pacific Northwest Herbaria

WTU Herbarium Image Collection, Plants of Washington, Burke Museum

E-Flora BC, Electronic Atlas of the Flora of British Columbia

Jepson Manual, University of California

Calphotos

Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center

USDA Forest Service-Fire Effects Information System

Silvics of North America

Virginia Tech ID Fact Sheet

Native Plants Network, Propagation Protocol Database

Plants for a Future Database

Native American Ethnobotany, University of Michigan, Dearborn

National Register of Big Trees

 

    The Leyland Cypress, Hesperotropsis leylandii  (Cupressocyparis x leylandii), is a hybrid between Alaska Cedar and The Monterey Cypress, Hesperocyparis (Cupressus) macrocarpa.  The hybrid was first discovered in a garden in England where the two parent species were growing in close proximity. The hybrid has since arisen by open pollination on several separate occasions. Like the Monterey Cypress, it is resistant to sea winds.  Its most popular use is as a fast growing screen when many are planted in a row.

Monterey Cypress sculpted by Ocean winds along the California Coast

Monterey Cypress sculpted by Ocean winds along the California Coast

Monterey Cypress more upland.

Monterey Cypress more upland.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A young Lawson Cypress

A young Lawson Cypress

Another similar species, Port Orford Cedar, (also known as Lawson Cypress), Chamaecyparis lawsoniana has a limited distribution in its native southwest Oregon.  Chamaecyparis species are generally called “False Cypresses.” Chamaecyparis literally means “low-growing” cypress, probably referring to the many dwarf, cultivated varieties of the various species.  There are two Japanese species, one species from the eastern United States and one in the west.  There are, however, over 200 cultivars of this species.  The wild form is an attractive, pyramidal shaped tree to over 100 feet (33m) tall, with lacy, fern-like foliage.  It can be distinguished from Alaska Cedar by the X-shape found on the underside of branchlets.  The fragrant, clear wood of Port Orford Cedar is strong, lightweight and easily worked.  It was heavily logged for a hundred years; the very few old-growth trees still being cut fetch premium prices.  This tree should not be planted in moist soils due to the root pathogen, Phytophtora laterilis.  This debilitating fungus disease has killed many natural stands as well as park specimens. Wetland designation: FACU+, Facultative upland; it usually occurs in non-wetland but only sometimes is found in wetlands.

X-markings on Lawson Cypress branchlets.

X-markings on Lawson Cypress branchlets.

Link to Chamaecyparis lawsoniana:

USDA Plants Database

 

 

Western Larch, Larix occidentalis

Western Larch                                                 The Pine Family– Pinaceae

Larix occidentalis Nutt.                                

(Lair-iks    auk-sih-DEN-tay-lis)

Larix occidentalisUnlike most conifers, Larches are deciduous; the needles turn a golden color in the fall before they are shed.

Names:   Larches are sometimes called Tamaracks.  The term “occidentalis” means western.

Relationships: There are eleven species in the northern hemisphere, three in North America.

 

 

 

Distribution of Western Larch from Silvics of North America

Distribution of Western Larch from Silvics of North America

Distribution:  Western Larch draws many tourists every autumn to the eastern slopes of the Cascade Mountains to see entire mountainsides turn golden.  From the Cascades in British Columbia, Washington and Oregon, its range extends eastward to the Rocky Mountains of B.C., northern Idaho and western Montana.

Growth: Western Larch grows rapidly when young.  It can reach 100-175 feet (30-55m) tall; in gardens it usually grows 30-50 feet (10-15m). It may live to be over 700 years old.

 

Habitat: It prefers moist, north or east facing mountain slopes but will also grow on dry, rocky soils.  It is adapted to cool temperatures with moderate precipitation, often as snow.  It is not tolerant of shade.  Its thick bark and high canopy make it well adapted to fire.

Wetland designation: FACU+, Facultative upland, it usually occurs in non-wetlands.

Larix occidentalis needlesDiagnostic Characters: Western Larch is easy to recognize by its short (1-1.8” or 2.5-4.5cm) spring-green needles, 15-30 per spur. The foliage is similar in appearance to true cedars.  New cones are bright red.  In winter, it may be recognized by the pegs on its twigs that once held the needles—it is often mistaken for a dead evergreen.  Mature cones are 1-1.5 inches (2.5-3cm) long with many scales with long pointed bracts.  They often persist on the branches for several years. The bark is reddish brown and scaly, similar to Ponderosa Pine.

In the Landscape: Western Larch provides an ever-changing visual display.  In spring, it is a verdant green with bright red new cones.  As fall approaches the needles turn a bright golden yellow.  In winter, its many cones create a polka dot pattern against the sky on its slender pyramidal form.

Larix occidentalis conesPhenology: Bloom Period:  Mid-April to early June. Cones mature in mid to late August to September; seed dispersal begins in September.

Propagation:  Stratify at 40ºF (4ºC) for 60 days. Germination is best on the surface of mineral soils.  Seedlings transplant easily in the fall.

 

Use by People: Western Larch is a valuable lumber tree. It has the densest wood of the northwest conifers it is often used to make boxes and crates.  Another important economic product is Larch gum; it is similar to gum arabic and is used as an emulsifier or stabilizer in foods and medicine.

Use by Wildlife: Western Larch provides food and cover for a variety of animals.  Squirrels and other small mammals eat the seeds and seedlings.  It is also a preferred nesting site for woodpeckers and other cavity nesters.

Links for Larix occidentalis:

USDA Plants Database

Natural Resources Canada

Gymnosperm Database

Consortium of Pacific Northwest Herbaria

WTU Herbarium Image Collection, Plants of Washington, Burke Museum

E-Flora BC, Electronic Atlas of the Flora of British Columbia

Calphotos

Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center

USDA Forest Service-Fire Effects Information System

Silvics of North America

Virginia Tech ID Fact Sheet + Landowner Fact Sheet

Native Plants Network, Propagation Protocol Database

Plants for a Future Database

Native American Ethnobotany, University of Michigan, Dearborn

National Register of Big Trees

 

Fossil Trees

 

Distribution of Alpine Larch from Silvics of North America

Distribution of Alpine Larch from Silvics of North America

Subalpine Larch, Larix lyallii, is a subalpine species found in the North Cascades and the Northern Rockies.  This species has not been cultivated successfully to any extent.  Any attempt to propagate this tree through collection of seeds or seedlings should be done with great care so as not to disrupt the fragile habitat in which it grows.

Grouse and other game birds are the primary consumers of Alpine Larch needles.

 

 

Links for Larix lyallii:

USDA Plants Database

Consortium of Pacific Northwest Herbaria

WTU Herbarium Image Collection, Plants of Washington, Burke Museum

E-Flora BC, Electronic Atlas of the Flora of British Columbia

Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center

USDA Forest Service-Fire Effects Information System

Silvics of North America

Virginia Tech ID Fact Sheet

Native Plants Network, Propagation Protocol Database

Plants for a Future Database

 

 

 

Ponderosa Pine, Pinus ponderosa

Ponderosa Pine                                                                           The Pine Family–Pinaceae

Pinus ponderosa C. Lawson

(PIE-nus   pon-der-OH-suh)

Pinus ponderosa mountain sceneNames: Our 3-needled pine is the Ponderosa Pine, sometimes called the Western Yellow Pine.  For most of us who grew up in the 60’s and 70’s the word “Ponderosa” elicits memories of Hoss and Little Joe Cartwright, characters in the TV show Bonanza.  The Ponderosa Ranch near Lake Tahoe in the Sierra Nevadas was the setting for the show, possibly derived from the Ponderosa Pines in the area.  The word “Ponderosa” means big or heavy.

Relationships:  There are about 115 species of pines worldwide, 35 in North America.  The needles of pines are borne in bundles (or fascicles).  Pines are separated into two groups: soft pines, which usually have needles in bundles of 5; and hard pines, which usually have needles in bundles of 2 or 3.  We have one common soft pine, (5-needled) and two common hard pines (one with 2 needles and one usually with 3 needles).  Pinus ponderosa is a 3-needled pine.

Distribution of Ponderosa Pine from USGS ( “Atlas of United States Trees” by Elbert L. Little, Jr. )

Distribution of Ponderosa Pine from USGS ( “Atlas of United States Trees” by Elbert L. Little, Jr. )

Distibution: Ponderosa Pine is common throughout the west, from British Columbia to California and Montana to Mexico.  In the Pacific Northwest, we are most familiar with seeing these awesome trees on the eastern slope of the Cascade Mountains.  They are also found on drier sites on the west side of the Cascades in Oregon.  There is also a small population at Fort Lewis near Tacoma.

Ponderosa Pine BarksGrowth: The biggest Ponderosas surviving today are in the Sierra Nevadas and Siskiyous.  The tallest are over 220 feet (65m) tall.  Typically, they grow rapidly to 90-150 feet (30-45m) and live for about 600 years.

 

Habitat: Mature Ponderosa Pines are very fire resistant due to their thick bark and high crowns.  Smaller trees and underbrush are more susceptible.  That is one reason why mature trees are often found in dry, open grassy sites where fires are common.

Wetland designation: FACU-, Facultative upland, it usually occurs in non-wetlands.

PInus ponderosa needlesDiagnostic Characters: These trees are easily recognized by their cinnamon-colored bark that breaks apart in large jigsaw puzzle-like pieces.  The needles form tufts at the end of branches and are usually in bundles of three, but sometimes there may only be two in a bundle.  The cones are 3 to 6 inches long with each scale tipped with a stiff prickle.

 

In the Landscape:   A Ponderosa Pine may be too big for a small garden, but it can make an impressive addition to a large garden or park.

Ponderosa Pine ConesPhenology: Bloom Period:  May to Mid-June. Cones mature in August the following year; seed dispersal begins in September.

Propagation is easy by seed.  The cones need to be collected before they open and allowed to dry.  Once the cones open, the seeds can be shaken out. Stratify at 40ºF (4ºC) for 60 days.  As with other pine species, cuttings are possible only when taken from very young trees.

Use by People: As a timber tree, it is perhaps second only to Douglas Fir in current use.  Knotty pine paneling is made from young ponderosas.  The colorful, mature wood has pale yellow to orange-brown heartwood with nearly white sapwood.  It is used to make attractive wood furniture.

Use by Wildlife: Ponderosa Pine seeds are an extremely valuable food source for birds and squirrels.  It is also a host plant for some butterflies.  Nationwide, pines are second only to oaks in their food value to wildlife.  In the Pacific region, pines are the most valuable.  They have nutritious, oily seeds that are favored by many birds, especially Clark Nutcracker, crossbills, grosbeaks, jays, nuthatches, chickadees, and woodpeckers.  Many small mammals, such as chipmunks and squirrels also eat the seeds.  Foliage is eaten by grouse and deer.  Porcupines and small rodents eat the bark and wood.  Pine needles are a favorite material for making nests. Large pines provide excellent sites for roosting and nesting; small pines provide good cover for many animals.

  Links:

USDA Plants Database

Natural Resources Canada

Gymnosperm Database

Consortium of Pacific Northwest Herbaria

WTU Herbarium Image Collection, Plants of Washington, Burke Museum

E-Flora BC, Electronic Atlas of the Flora of British Columbia

Jepson Manual, University of California

Calphotos

Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center

USDA Forest Service-Fire Effects Information System

Silvics of North America

Virginia Tech ID Fact Sheet + Landowner Fact Sheet

Native Plants Network, Propagation Protocol Database

Plants for a Future Database

Native American Ethnobotany, University of Michigan, Dearborn

National Register of Big Trees + co-champion

Shore Pine, Pinus contorta

Shore Pine                                                                                      The Pine Family–Pinaceae

 Pinus contorta Douglas ex Louden var. contorta

(PIE-nus  kon-TOR-tuh)

Names:   Contorta means twisted, referring to the young shoots. It is called Shore Pine or Beach Pine because it is often found along the Northwest coast. The Lodgepole pine, Pinus contorta var. latifolia (latifolia=broad-leaved) is a variety known for its tall, straight trunks, common in the Rocky Mountains.

Relationships:  There are about 115 species of pines worldwide, 35 in North America.  The needles of pines are borne in bundles (or fascicles).  Pines are separated into two groups: soft pines, which usually have needles in bundles of 5; and hard pines, which usually have needles in bundles of 2 or 3.  We have one common soft pine, (5-needled) and two common hard pines (one with 2 needles and one usually with 3 needles).  Pinus contorta is a 2-needled pine.

Distribution of Pinus Contorta from USGS ( “Atlas of United States Trees” by Elbert L. Little, Jr. )

Distribution of Pinus Contorta from USGS ( “Atlas of United States Trees” by Elbert L. Little, Jr. )

Distribution: The Shore Pine or Beach Pine is found along the coast from southern Alaska to Northern California. Lodgepole Pine is found throughout the Rocky Mountains and other western mountain ranges.

Growth:  Shore Pine grows fairly fast, typically to 20 or 35 feet (6-10m), but the tallest are over 100 feet (33m).  The oldest are about 250 years old.

Pinus contorta branches

 

 

 

 

 

 

Habitat: It is highly adaptable and can grow from dunes and bogs to rocky hilltops and is tolerant of low nutrient conditions and salt-spray. 

Wetland designation: FAC, Facultative, it is equally likely to occur in wetlands or non-wetlands.

Woody cones often hang on to the tree for a long time.

Woody cones often hang on to the tree for a long time.

Diagnostic Characters: The 1-2 inch (2.5-5cm) long, paired needles are stiff and often twisted.  The cones are small and hard (about 1-2 inches or2.5-5cm long) with a sharp prickle at the tip of each scale. They are twisted at the base so that the cones end up pointing toward the trunk. Like many pines, the cones are sometimes serotinous, which means they are sealed shut by resin, usually requiring a fire to release the seeds (although very old ones will eventually open on their own).

An unopened female cone.

An unopened female cone.

 

 

 

 

In the Landscape: Shore Pine has an open form with interesting branching patterns, and is best planted in drifts.   In seaside plantings, Shore Pines are often sculpted by the wind making them quite picturesque.   Pines produce new shoots in the spring, called “candles.”  If it is desired to control the growth of pines, it is better to pinch back the elongating candles in the spring rather than shearing or pruning.  In fast growing species, controlling growth may be an effort in futility.

Male Cones on Shore Pine with elongating "candles."

Male Cones on Shore Pine with elongating “candles.”

Phenology: Bloom Period:  Mid-May to mid-July. Cones mature in August to October the following year; seeds from nonserotinous cones are mostly released before the following growing season. Serotinous cones, cones sealed with resin that open after a fire, may remain viable for many years if they remain on the tree. Serotinous cones, however, are rare in coastal populations.

Propagation is easiest by seed; old cones need to be stored in a dry place to encourage them to release their seeds.  Stratify seeds at 40º F (4ºC) for 30 days. Seeds may remain viable up to 17 years in cold storage. Cuttings are difficult but are possible using single leaf fascicles with the base of a short shoot taken from very young trees.  Pinus contorta has also been propagated using micropropagation techniques.

Use by People:  Natives used the pitch medicinally and put it on open sores.  Today, the lumber is sometimes used for cabinets, knotty pine paneling and other finish work.  Its sibling, the Lodgepole Pine, was used by natives, as the name suggests, for the central pole in tepees.  The straight trunk of the Lodgepole Pine is also used for fenceposts, poles and utility poles.

Use by Wildlife: Nationwide, pines are second only to oaks in their food value to wildlife.  In the Pacific region, pines are the most valuable.  They have nutritious, oily seeds that are favored by many birds, especially Clark Nutcracker, crossbills, grosbeaks, jays, nuthatches, chickadees, and woodpeckers.  Many small mammals, such as chipmunks and squirrels also eat the seeds.  Foliage is eaten by grouse and deer.  Porcupines and small rodents eat the bark and wood.  Pine needles are a favorite material for making nests. Large pines provide excellent sites for roosting and nesting; small pines provide good cover for many animals.

Lodgepole Pines, Pinus contorta var. latifolia, at Crater Lake in Oregon.

Lodgepole Pines, Pinus contorta var. latifolia, at Crater Lake in Oregon.

Links:

USDA Plants Database

Natural Resources Canada

Gymnosperm Database

Consortium of Pacific Northwest Herbaria

WTU Herbarium Image Collection, Plants of Washington, Burke Museum

E-Flora BC, Electronic Atlas of the Flora of British Columbia

Jepson Manual, University of California

Calphotos

Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center

USDA Forest Service-Fire Effects Information System

Silvics of North America

Virginia Tech ID Fact Sheet + Landowner Fact Sheet

Native Plants Network, Propagation Protocol Database

Plants for a Future Database

Native American Ethnobotany, University of Michigan, Dearborn

National Register of Big Trees