Category Archives: Conifers

Pacific Yew, Taxus brevifolia

Pacific Yew                                                                                     The Yew Family–Taxaceae

Taxus brevifolia big treeTaxus brevifolia Nutt.

(TAKS-us   brev-i-FOAL-ee-uh)

Names: The Pacific Yew is also called the Western Yew or sometimes the Oregon Yew.  Brevifolia means short leaves.

Relationships: There are about seven species of yew worldwide.   Most are shrubs.  The English species, T. baccata and the Japanese species, T. cuspidata have many cultivated varieties.

 

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

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

The largest Yew in Oregon at Milo McIver State Park.

The largest Yew in Oregon at Milo McIver State Park.

Distribution: The Pacific Yew is found from British Columbia to Northern California from the coast to the Cascades, on the western slope of the Sierra Nevadas and the western slope of the Rockies in B.C., Idaho and Montana.  Rarely ever numerous, it is usually found as an understory tree in moist old growth forests growing beneath other larger trees such as Western Hemlock and Douglas Fir.Taxus brevifolia big tree 2

 

 

Taxus brevifoliaGrowth:  This rather scrubby looking tree grows slowly and usually only reaches 6 to 45 feet (2-15m).  The largest are about 60 feet (18m).

 Wetland designation: FACU-, Facultative upland, it usually occurs in non-wetland but is only sometimes found in wetlands.

Pacific Yew

 

Diagnostic Characters: The needled foliage is similar in appearance to Douglas Fir, True Firs, and Hemlocks.  The needles are arranged in 2 rows in flat sprays, similar to Grand Fir, but the needles are shorter, about an inch (2-3cm) long, coming to a point at the end.  The twigs are green.  Instead of a woody cone, female yew trees produce a bright red, berry-like, gelatinous cup called an aril.  One bony seed is visible through the hole in the end of each aril.  If you are lucky enough to find a mature yew, the bark is very shaggy looking with red to purplish shredded scales.

Yews have a berry-like fruit called an "aril."

Yews have a berry-like fruit called an “aril.”

Western Yew small treeIn the Landscape:  Although many prefer its cultivated cousins, this somewhat homely, scraggly species may find a perfect home in a landscape for those that can appreciate its unconventional beauty.  For those that have a small yard and cannot plant any of the larger native conifers, this little jewel may be the perfect choice!

Male cones

Male cones

Phenology:  Bloom Period:  May to June, male and female on separate plants.  Arils ripen in August to October; seeds are dispersed by birds and rodents, but will also just drop to the ground.

Propagation: Yew is easy to propagate from half-ripe terminal cuttings taken in summer.  The seeds require warm stratification for 90 days, then a cold stratification at 40ºF (4ºC) for another 90 days.  A germination rate of about 55% may be expected the 2nd spring.

Western Yew barkUse by People: Yew wood was prized in both the old world and the new world for its strength and elasticity.  It was used by natives to make many kinds of tools and weapons, particularly bows.  Young native men would rub themselves with smooth yew sticks to give them strength.  The wood is also ideal for carving and takes on a high polish.  The fleshy seed coverings have been eaten in small quantities but should probably be avoided.  The seeds are poisonous to humans!!  Unfortunately loggers who were after the larger Douglas Fir, Hemlock and other trees of old growth forests did not have much regard for the Pacific Yew and many were destroyed in the process of harvesting the larger trees.  The plight of the Pacific Yew gained attention in the 1980’s when it was discovered that its bark yielded the effective cancer-fighting drug, Taxol.  Although there is a now synthetic alternative, the concern over the scarce tree, brought attention to the need for protecting our remaining old growth forests.

Shaggy understory yews are often draped with moss.

Shaggy understory yews are often draped with moss.

Use by Wildlife:  Birds eat the yew’s fleshy arils and disperse the seeds.  The foliage is a winter browse for moose.

Sometimes Yews appear a bronzy yellow next greener hemlocks and Douglas Firs.

Sometimes Yews appear a bronzy yellow next greener hemlocks and Douglas Firs.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

   

Common Juniper, Juniperus communis

Common Juniper

Common JuniperJuniperus communis L.

(joo-NIH-per-us   kom-MEW-nis)

Names:  Common Juniper lives up to its name, being the only circumpolar conifer of the northern hemisphere.

Relationships: There are about 70 species of Juniper worldwide, with 13 native to the United States.  Only 2 species occur in our region.

 

 

Distribution of Common Juniper from USGS ( "Atlas of United States Trees" by Elbert L. Little, Jr. )

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

Distribution:  It is native to Europe, Asia and North America.

Growth: The species varies widely from a groundcover to a tree 60 feet (20m) tall.  In our region it is a prostrate, trailing shrub usually less than 3 feet (1m) tall, forming mats to 9 feet (3m) in diameter.

Habitat: It grows from near sea level in lowland bogs, in dry, open woods and on rocky slopes to subalpine ridges and alpine tundras.

Common Juniper berries

 

 

Diagnostic Characters: The blue-gray leaves are needle-like in whorls of three and very prickly.  Female plants produce bluish-black “berries.”

In the Landscape: There are several cultivated varieties of this species suitable for many situations.  Our native forms are best used in a rock garden or in border plantings.

Propagation is easiest by heel cuttings of mature wood taken in fall.  Seeds have a prolonged dormancy of 14 to 16 months requiring a cold period, then a warm period and another cold period, each about 2-3 months.  Soaking the seed for a few seconds in boiling water may help to remove the fleshy seed coat, which would naturally be removed after passing through the digestive system of a bird or small mammal. If all goes well, you may achieve about 45% germination rate after the 2nd spring.

Use by People: In the old world the berries are known for their use as the flavoring for gin. North American native used all parts of this plant for various medicinal purposes, They used the fragrant branches for rituals and in sweat lodges. The dried berries were used as beads to make necklaces and to decorate dresses by California tribes.

Use by wildlife:  Deer and mountain goats browse Common Juniper to at least a limited extent. Levels of use are typically greatest during the winter or early spring. Caribou and Moose have been observed feeding on Common Juniper. Hares may also browse Common Juniper. “Berries” of most junipers are eaten by many species of birds and mammals,  including American Robins,  Black-capped Chickadees, and Cedar Waxwings. Wild turkeys also feed on the berries of Common Juniper. It also provides cover and nesting sites for birds and small mammals.

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

Virginia Tech ID Fact Sheet

Native Plants Network, Propagation Protocol Database

Plants for a Future Database

Native American Ethnobotany, University of Michigan, Dearborn

 

Rocky Mountain Juniper, Juniperus scopulorum

Rocky Mountain Juniper                                                                               The Cypress Family–Cupressaceae
Juniperus scopulorum Sarg.
Rock Mountain Juniper in Vantage, Washington

Rock Mountain Juniper in Vantage, Washington

(joo-NIH-per-us   skop-yoo-LOR-um)

Names:  Rocky Mountain Juniper is sometimes called Rocky Mountain Cedar or Mountain Red Cedar. “Scopulorum” means growing on cliffs.

Relationships: There are about 70 species of Juniper worldwide, with 13 native to the United States.  Only 2 species occur in our region.

 

 

 

Distribution of Rocky Mountain Juniper from USGS ( “Atlas of United States Trees” by Elbert L. Little, Jr. )

Distribution of Rocky Mountain Juniper from USGS ( “Atlas of United States Trees” by Elbert L. Little, Jr. )

Distribution: The Rocky Mountain Juniper is widely distributed in much of western North America from British Columbia through the Rocky Mountains south to Arizona and New Mexico.

Growth: Rocky Mountain Juniper is one of 11 junipers in the United States reaching tree size.  It is a small tree from 30 to 40 feet (10-13m) tall, with a rounded or columnar habit.  It grows slowly and can live for 300 years.

Habitat: In the Puget Sound, it is only found on dry, exposed bluffs of the San Juan Islands.

 

 

Rocky Mountain Juniper tends to be a scruffy, sparse tree in west side gardens.

Rocky Mountain Juniper tends to be a scruffy, sparse tree in west side gardens.

 

Diagnostic Characters: Juvenile foliage is short, pointed needles in threes. Adult foliage is grayish-green and scale-like with opposite leaves in pairs.  Female trees produce blue, waxy “berries.”  The bark is red-brown, broken into shredded scales.

In the Landscape: Although the species is not widely grown, there are several cultivated varieties, particularly columnar types.  Rocky Mountain Juniper can be used as a small screening tree. Its grayish color and somewhat scruffy appearance can make an attractive contrast with greener, more softly textured conifers. It is useful for shoreline plantings because of its tolerance to salt spray. Its drought tolerance makes it especially appropriate for dry areas; in fact it should not be planted where it would receive too much moisture.

Juniper berriesPhenology: Bloom Period:  Mid April to mid-June. Fruiting period:  Fleshy cones, often referred to as “berries,” ripen in mid-September to mid-December the following year; seeds are primarily disseminated by birds, which eat the fruit in fall and winter.

Propagation is easiest by heel cuttings of mature wood taken in fall.  Seeds have a prolonged dormancy of 14 to 16 months requiring a cold period, then a warm period and another cold period, each about 2-3 months.  Soaking the seed for a few seconds in boiling water may help to remove the fleshy seed coat, which would naturally be removed after passing through the digestive system of a bird or small mammal. If all goes well, you may achieve about 45% germination rate after the 2nd spring.

Use by people: The strong smelling roots of Rocky Mountain Juniper were boiled and used medicinally by natives for bathing and for disinfecting.

Use by wildlife: Many birds, especially the Cedar Waxwing, enjoy the berry-like fruit.  Small and large mammals eat them too.  Hoofed browsers eat the twigs and foliage.  The trees also provide protective cover and nesting sites.

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

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

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
 

Western White Pine, Pinus monticola

Western White Pine                                                                           The Pine Family–Pinaceae

Pinus monticola Douglas ex D. DonPinus monticola tree

(PIE-nus   mon-tih-KOE-luh)

Names: Western White Pine is a 5-needled, soft pine or white pine.  White Pines are so named because of the color of their wood. Monticola means “mountain dweller.”

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.  Western White Pine is our one common (5-needled ) soft pine. We also have two common hard pines (one with 2 needles and one usually with 3 needles).

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

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

Distribution: Western White Pine is native to southern British Columbia, western Washington, northern Idaho, western Montana, the Cascade Mountains of Oregon and the Sierras of California.

Growth: They are fast growing when young and may grow 1½-2 feet (45-60cm) in a year.  In cultivation, they sometimes reach 135 feet (40m). The largest, growing in Oregon, near Fish Lake east of Medford, is over 220 feet (67m) tall.  Most of the largest, however, are in Idaho, growing in remnants of forests depleted by earlier logging and the devastating disease, White Pine Blister Rust. Some historical trees may have reached close to 240 feet (73m). White Pines can live over 400 years.

 

 

Habitat: Western White Pines grow in moist valleys to fairly dry, open sites.

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

Western White Pine ConeDiagnostic Characters: White pines are easily recognized by their long, soft, slender needles in bundles of five.  They are nice to stroke.  The cones of white pines although still woody, are much softer than the cones of hard pines.  The scales on cones of white pines have no prickles and are often dotted with spots of white resin.

 

Western White Pine tall treeIn the landscape:  Western White Pine has an attractive, pyramidal habit.  It is best in large open spaces.  Because the cones can drip pitch in warm weather, it should not be planted next to patios or where cars will be parked.  The possibility of infection by White Pine Blister Rust is increased if the pathogen’s alternate hosts, currants or gooseberries (Ribes sp.) are growing within 10 miles.  However, the virtues of this pine make it worth growing despite the risk.  Resistant strains are becoming available.  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.

Phenology: Bloom Period:  Late June to Mid-July. Cones mature in August to September; seed dispersal begins in September.

Propagation:  Stratify seed at 40ºF (4ºC) for 120 days and sow on the surface of the soil.  Fresh seed is best.  Although seed may remain viable for up to 4 years, germination rates decrease dramatically in older seeds.  Cuttings are difficult but are possible using single leaf fascicles with the base of a short shoot taken from very young trees.  Pinus monticola has also been propagated using micropropagation techniques.

Use by People: Western White Pine was an important timber tree, particularly in northern Idaho and surrounding areas prior to the introduction of infected seedlings from Europe. (The rust disease had previously been introduced to Europe from Asia.)  Many early pioneers were familiar with its eastern cousin, Eastern White Pine, Pinus strobus, and were happy to discover this larger relative.  It is prized for its soft, easily worked, fine textured wood.  It is good for moldings and window and door frames.  Wooden matches were made from Western White Pine in the 1920’s and 30’s. Native Americans boiled the bark and used it medicinally for stomach aches, and tuberculosis; it was also applied on cuts and sores.  The pitch was chewed like gum.

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.

Whitebark Pine near Crater Lake in Oregon.

Whitebark Pine near Crater Lake in Oregon.

There are two other soft pines in or near our region. The Whitebark Pine, Pinus albicaulis is an alpine species commonly found in the Krummholz zone on the eastern crest of the Cascades, but a few grow in the rainshadow side of the Olympic peaks. The Sugar Pine, Pinus lambertiana found in southern Oregon and California has the longest cones of any American conifer, 10-26 inches (25-65cm) long!

 

 

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

Subalpine Fir, Abies lasiocarpa

 

Subalpine Fir                                                                                The Pine Family–Pinaceae

Abies lasiocarpa treeAbies lasiocarpa (Hook.) Nutt.

(AY-beez    lay-zee-oh-CARP-uh)

Names:    Subalpine Fir is often mistakenly called “Alpine Fir,” Since alpine, by definition refers to the area above the timberline, where no trees can live, this tree is more properly called Subalpine (or below the alpine).  Lasiocarpa, means “rough fruit (or cones).”

Relationships: There are about 40 species of true firs in the world, 9 in North America.  We have 4 in our region but only the Grand Fir, Abies grandis, is common in lower elevations.

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

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

Distribution: It is widespread in British Columbia and the Rocky mountains reaching down to Arizona and New Mexico in isolated communities.  In our region it is strictly found in the subalpine zone of the Cascade and Olympic Mountains.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The tall spire-like growth of Subalpine Fir is an adaptation to withstand heavy snowfall.

The tall spire-like growth of Subalpine Fir is an adaptation to withstand heavy snowfall.

 

Growth: Subalpine Fir can reach 150 feet (45m) but usually only reaches 60 to 100 feet (18-30m).  In its natural subalpine habitat, it is often dwarfed and may only grow 1 foot (30cm) in 15 years.

Abies lasiocarpa loaded branches

 

 

 

Habitat:  Subalpine Fir is adapted to live most of the year under snow and in cold valleys.  It can withstand cold air flowing down from large ice fields. This hardy tree may cling to life for 250 years.

 

Young Subalpine Fir trees will actually bend down under the snow and spring up again after the snow melts in summer.

Young Subalpine Fir trees will actually bend down under the snow and spring up again after the snow melts in summer.

drooping subalpine fir

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

The bark of Subalpine Fir

The bark of Subalpine Fir

Diagnostic Characters: The foliage of Subalpine Fir turns up along its branches, similar to Noble Fir, but the needles are shorter and tend to be bluish-green.  The form of the tree is “spire-like,” very pointy and narrow, an adaptation that reduces the amount of snow that is able to build up on its branches.

abies lasiocarpa branches

 

 

 

 

 

Subalpine fir driftIn the Landscape: Subalpine Firs are very attractive growing in drifts in a simulated alpine setting or rock garden.  In fact, entire picturesque clumps are sometimes dug in the wild to be transplanted into a garden or made into a bonsai.  Although some trees are dug legally with a permit, it is still better to obtain nursery grown trees and train them yourself.

 

subalpine fir conesPhenology: Bloom Period:  Late Spring to early summer. Cones mature mid-September. Seed dispersal begins in October.

Propagation: Subalpine Fir can be propagated from seed using the same procedures as for other firs.  You may be able to filch a few seeds from a squirrel cache, but be judicious and leave plenty behind!

Use by people: As with other high elevation trees, the wood is not used much due to its relative inaccessibility.

Use by wildlife: Firs are useful to many animals for cover and nesting sites.  Grouse eat the needles.  Deer and elk eat the foliage and twigs in the winter.  Birds, chipmunks and squirrels eat the seeds.

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

 

Pacific Silver Fir, Abies amabilis

Pacific Silver Fir                                                                                      The Pine Family–Pinaceae

A mature Pacific Silver Fir in the Olympic National Forest.

A mature Pacific Silver Fir in the Olympic National Forest.

Abies amabilis (Douglas ex Louden) Douglas ex Forbes

(AY-beez   uh-MAA-bill-is)

Names : Pacific Silver Fir is also called “Lovely Fir.” In fact, the name “amabilis” means pretty or beautiful. It is also sometimes called Cascade or Red Fir.

Relationships:  There are about 40 species of true firs in the world, 9 in North America.  We have 4 in our region but only the Grand Fir, Abies grandis, is common in lower elevations..

 

 

Distribution of Pacific Silver Fir from USGS ( “Atlas of United States Trees” by Elbert L. Little, Jr. )

Distribution of Pacific Silver Fir from USGS ( “Atlas of United States Trees” by Elbert L. Little, Jr. )

Distribution: Pacific Silver Fir is found from the coast of British Columbia and in the mountains of Washington and Oregon.

Growth: The tallest are just over 200 feet (60m), but most only grow to about 150’ (45m). The largest are mostly found in Olympic National Park and Vancouver Island. Pacific Silver Fir lives about 400 years.

A young sapling and the mottled bark of an older tree.

A young sapling and the mottled bark of an older tree.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Habitat:  Pacific Silver Fir is our most shade tolerant tree and is the climax species of the Pacific Silver Fir Ecological Zone, which lies between the Western Hemlock Zone and the Mountain Hemlock Zone.   It grows in cool, moist rainforests and is sensitive to drought.

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

The needle arrangement is similar to the fur on a dog's tail.

The needle arrangement is similar to the fur on a dog’s tail.

Diagnostic Characters: Like Grand Fir, Pacific Silver Fir has needles that spread horizontally from the sides, but they have shorter needles on the top that point forward and lie flat against the twig. This gives each twig an appearance similar to hairs growing on a dog’s tail. (It can only be “petted” one way!”

In the Landscape: Lovely Fir is not as easy to grow in cultivation, but is worth a try in a suitable habitat!

Phenology:  Bloom Period:  Mid-May to mid-June. Cones mature in August; seed dispersal begins in mid-September.

Propagation: Seeds should be placed in cold moist stratification for 28 days. Germination occurs best at 30°C Day/20°C Night, alternating temperature cycle. Germination is greater in dark than in light.

Abies amabilis branchUse by People: These trees are not highly valued for lumber, perhaps because the wood is not as resistant to decay and the tree’s relative inaccessibility at higher elevations.

Use by Wildlife: Firs are useful to many animals for cover and nesting sites.  Grouse eat the needles.  Deer and elk eat the foliage and twigs in the winter.  Birds, chipmunks and squirrels eat the seeds.

Links:

USDA Plants Database

Natural Resource 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 + co-champion