Category Archives: Conifers

Noble Fir, Abies procera

Noble Fir                                                                                        The Pine Family–Pinaceae

Abies grandis Abies procera Rehder

(Ay-beez    prah-SIR-uh or pro-KAY-ruh)

Names:  The name “procera” means “tall.” Noble Fir lives up to both its names, being both tall and noble!  It is the tallest of all true firs.

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.

 

The distribution of Noble Fir from Silvics of North America.

The distribution of Noble Fir from Silvics of North America.

Distribution: Noble Fir is found in southwest Washington, Oregon and northern California, mostly in the Cascade Mountains with some isolated populations in the coastal mountains of Oregon and the Willapa Hills of southwest Washington.  Shasta Fir, Abies x shastensis, is a common hybrid of Noble Fir and California Red Fir, A. magnifica; found in southern Oregon and California.

Growth: One of the tallest known living trees, near Randle, Washington, was 278 feet (85m) tall but has been in decline since the area surrounding it was clear-cut in the 1960’s.  Currently, it sits at the edge of a clear-cut and, having lost its top 50 feet (15m), is now only 227’ feet (69m) tall.  Many of the tallest, including historical trees that have reached 325 feet, grow (or once grew) near Mt. St. Helens.  Noble Fir typically reaches 135 to 210 feet (40-65m) and lives about 300-400 years.

Abies proceraHabitat: Noble Fir is often a pioneer tree on middle to upper elevation sites, establishing itself quickly after a disturbance.  It can grow quickly and can even surpass Douglas Fir.  It is, however, shade intolerant and eventually gives way to Pacific Silver Fir, Abies amabilis, or Western Hemlock.  Its bluish-green needles give a forest of Noble Fir a much different appearance than one of Douglas Fir.  Much of the blast zone on the way to Johnston Ridge near Mt. St.Helen’s was replanted with Noble Fir (see feature photo at top of page).  It was planted at much lower elevations than normal due to the vast areas of land that were being replanted after the eruption, (Weyerhaeuser Co. planted 45,000 acres!) and to the fact that Douglas Fir seedlings were consequently in limited quantity.

Male cones and upward curving needles on Noble Fir

Male cones and upward curving needles on Noble Fir

Diagnostic Characters: All firs are easily recognized by the smooth bark on young twigs and small, round leaf scars left by dropped needles.  Older branches may be covered with resin blisters. Cones are borne upright in the tops of the trees.  At maturity, the cones shed their scales while still on the tree; therefore it is rare to ever see an intact fir cone on the ground. A favorite Christmas tree, Noble Fir is easily recognized by upward curving needles that grow on opposite sides of a branch. Ornaments hang nicely from its open, symmetrically spaced branches.

In the Landscape: It makes a beautiful specimen tree in the landscape.

 

 

Female fir cones are borne at the very top of the trees.

Female fir cones are borne at the very top of the trees.

Phenology: Bloom Period:  May to Early July. Cones mature in mid-August; seed dispersal begins the end of September to the beginning of October.

Propagation:  Stratify seed at 40ºF (4ºC) for 28 days.  Fresh seed is best but seeds may be stored up to 5 years.  Germination rate is often poor.

Use by people: The wood of Noble Fir is the strongest of the true firs and is suitable for light construction and pulping.

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.

 

Noble Fir is a favorite Christmas tree species.

Noble Fir is a favorite Christmas tree species.

 

Care of Live Christmas Trees   It is best to keep live Christmas trees outside.  If you do bring one inside, try to limit the time kept inside to less than a week to prevent it from “breaking dormancy.”  If a tree has been kept inside too long it will need to be kept in a cool, well-lit room until spring or when temperatures are less frigid.  Keep the tree watered—do not allow it to dry out! Afterwards it may be planted at anytime!  Loosen the root ball and/or prune circling roots.  Keep watered in the summer until well established.–See Selecting a Christmas Tree on my sister website, habitathorticulturepnw.com !

   

 

Links:

USDA Plants Database

Gymnosperm Database

Consortium of Pacific Northwest Herbaria

WTU Herbarium Image Collection, Plants of Washington, Burke Museum

Jepson Manual, University of California

Calphotos

Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center

USDA Forest Service-Fire Effects Information System

Silvics of North America

Native Plants Network, Propagation Protocol Database

Plants for a Future Database

Native American Ethnobotany, University of Michigan, Dearborn

National Register of Big Trees

Grand Fir, Abies grandis

Grand Fir                                                                                            The Pine Family–Pinaceae

Grand Fir TreeAbies grandis (Douglas ex D. Don) Lindl.

(Ay-beez   GRAN-dis)

Names: Grand Fir is also sometimes called Lowland Fir because it is the only fir in our area commonly found in lower elevations

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

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

Distribution: It is native from southern British Columbia along the coast to northern California.  In Washington and northern Oregon, it spreads east to the Cascade Mountains.  It is also found in the Rocky Mountains of Idaho and Montana.

Growth: The tallest known Grand Firs are just over 260 feet (80m).  Many of the biggest are on the Olympic Peninsula.   It typically only grows to 135’ to 180’ (40-55m) and is relatively short-lived, living less than 300 years.  Grand Fir grows quickly when growing in the open, more slowly in the shade.

Small Grand Fir Abies grandis

 

 

 

Habitat:  It is shade tolerant but less so than Western Hemlock and Western Red Cedar.  It grows from moist river valleys to dry rainshadow forests.

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

Older bark may be grooved.

Older bark may be grooved.

Diagnostic Characters: All firs are easily recognized by the smooth bark on young twigs and small, round leaf scars left by dropped needles.  Older branches may be covered with resin blisters. Cones are borne upright in the tops of the trees.  At maturity, the cones shed their scales while still on the tree; therefore it is rare to ever see an intact fir cone on the ground. Grand Fir is most easily recognized by its long needles borne horizontally on opposite sides of the twigs.  The entire branch will appear flattened so that it has distinct upper and lower sides.  White Fir, Abies concolor, which is native to southern Oregon, California and much of the Southwest, has a similar appearance but has silvery, blue-green needles. They often will hybridize where they are found together.

Needles are "two-ranked" and twigs are smooth.

Needles are “two-ranked” and twigs are smooth.

 

In the Landscape: When young, Grand Fir grows in a near perfect pyramidal, Christmas tree shape and is much fuller than its cousin, the Noble Fir, Abies procera.  Its attractive shape and its lustrous green leaves make it a glorious addition to any landscape.  Like most firs, it has a strong, balsamy, “Christmas tree” scent.

 

Phenology: Bloom Period:  Late March to Mid-May, in June at higher elevations and inland. Cones mature in August to September; seeds are dispersed a month later.

A grand fir at the nursery.

A grand fir at the nursery.

Propagation:  Stratify seed at 40ºF (4ºC) for 28 days.  Fresh seed is best but seeds may be stored up to 5 years.  Expect only about a 50% average germination rate. The greatest challenge is collecting the seeds when cones shatter at the top of the trees!

Use by People:  These fast growing trees are not highly valued for lumber, perhaps because they are not as resistant to decay. The wood is lightweight and not very strong. It is used for paper pulping and other light-duty uses.  Grand Fir makes an attractive Christmas tree.–See Selecting a Christmas Tree on my sister website, habitathorticulturepnw.com !

 

 

Grand Fir, Abies grandisUse 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 & co-champion

Engelmann Spruce, Picea engelmannii

Engelmann Spruce

Picea engelmannii treePicea engelmannii Parry ex Engelm.

(pie-SEE-uh  eng-guhl-MAN-ee-i)

Names: Engelmann Spruce was named after George Engelmann, a St. Louis physician, botanist, and Colorado plant collector, whose botanical collection became the now world-famous Missouri Botanical Gardens in St. Louis.) .

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

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

 

 

Distribution:    Engelmann Spruce is native to British Columbia and Alberta, south to Oregon, Arizona and New Mexico.  In Washington and Oregon, it is mostly limited to the subalpine forests on the eastern side of the Cascades, with just a few, but some of the biggest in the Olympic Mountains.

Growth: The largest Engelmann Spruce is along the North Cascade Highway and is over 220 feet (67m) tall!   Typically, they only reach 120-150 feet (35-45m).  These trees typically live over 400 years. You can find stunted and dwarfed Engelmann Spruces “Krummholz” in subalpine regions.

Engelmann Spruce, Glacier National Park

Engelmann Spruce, Glacier National Park

 

 

Habitat: Engelmann Spruce is shade tolerant and will grow in a forest understory until a disturbance allows it to replace the canopy species.  It also is able to withstand cold temperatures and is often found growing in cold air drainages coming down from the mountains.

 

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

Picea engelmannii coneDiagnostic Characters: Engelmann Spruce can be distinguished from Sitka Spruce by its 4-sided needles that can be felt when rolled between your fingers.

In the landscape: Engelmann Spruce can be used in large-scale plantings, in parks or along highways.

Nursery at Glacier National Park

Nursery at Glacier National Park

Propagation requirements Stored seeds should not be allowed to dry out.  Seeds need no stratification and should be planted early in the spring on the surface of a mixed mineral/organic soil. Cuttings from current year’s growth, with a heel of older wood, is most successful when treated with 3000ppm IBA, and stuck into sand. Cuttings may be taken from June to October.  Layering is also an option.

Use by People: The wood is not used much in the Cascades due to its relative scarcity and inaccessibility. In other regions, it is used for high quality lumber and for paper pulp. Natives did not use it much either, because it was not near where they lived or hunted.

 

Krummholz—Elfin Trees

Trees that are modified by their habitat in the subalpine regions of mountains are given the name “Krummholz” (“crooked tree” in German).  The “Krummholz Zone” is the area characterized by these dwarfed and twisted trees just below the Alpine Zone.  Typical species include Subalpine Fir (Abies lasiocarpa), Mountain Hemlock (Tsuga mertensiana), Whitebark Pine (Pinus albicaulis), Engelmann Spruce (Picea engelmannii), and Subalpine Larch (Larix lyallii).

Krummholtz

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 Eflora, University of California

Calphotos

Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center

USDA Forest Service Fire effects information system

Silvics of North America

Virginia Tech 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

Sitka Spruce, Picea sitchensis

Sitka Spruce                                                           The Pine Family–Pinaceae

Picea sitchensis (Bong.) Carriere

(Pie-SEE-uh  sit-CHEN-sis)

Picea sitchensis, Sitka SpruceNames: Sitka Spruce is another one of our giant conifers.  Sitka is the name of a Tlingit tribe, and is also the name of a city in southeastern Alaska.  The species name sitchensis is derived from Sitka.

Relationships: There are about 40 species of spruce world wide, seven in North America.   The Engelmann Spruce, Picea engelmannii, is commonly found on the east side of the Cascade mountain crests in subalpine forests.

 

 

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

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

Distribution: Sitka Spruce is mostly found along the moist coasts of southeastern Alaska, south to northern California.  It lends its name to the Picea Sitchensis Ecological Zone, a long narrow zone that stretches along these coasts.  It is distinguished by frequent summer fogs and proximity to the ocean.

 

 

 

 

 

The Largest Sitka Spruce near Lake Quinault.

The Largest Sitka Spruce near Lake Quinault.

 

Growth: Sitka Spruce typically reach 180 to 225 feet (55-70m).  The tallest are over 250 feet (75m) tall.  The largest is at a resort on Lake Quinault and has a diameter greater than 17 feet (5m)!  Most of the giants are found in Olympic National Park, Vancouver Island, and the northern Oregon Coast.  The oldest are over 1300 years old.

Lake Quinault Sitka Spruce, with the YMCA Camp Seymour Naturalists, Spring 1998

Lake Quinault Sitka Spruce, with the YMCA Camp Seymour Naturalists, Spring 1998

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Habitat: Sitka Spruces often start their lives on nurse logs and can grow quickly when young. They grow best in moist, foggy rainforests where they can attain great size.

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

Diagnostic Characters: Most spruces are easy to identify due to their prickly, very sharp, needle-like leaves.  It is true for Sitka Spruce as well.  It hurts to grab a hold of a branch!  The needles are light green or sometimes a silvery bluish-green.  The cones are 1-3 inches (2.5- 7.5cm) long and are thin with wavy, irregularly toothed scales.

In the landscape: It can be used as a large specimen tree.

Sitka Spruce cones

Sitka Spruce cones

Phenology: Bloom Period:  Late April-Early June.  Cones mature in late August/ early September; seed dispersal begins in October.

Propagation: Stored seeds should not be allowed to dry out.  Seeds need no stratification and should be planted early in the spring on the surface of a mixed mineral/organic soil. Cuttings from current year’s growth, with a heel of older wood, is most successful when treated with 3000ppm IBA, and stuck into sand. Cuttings may be taken from June to October.  Layering is also an option.

Sitka Spruce at the nursery

Sitka Spruce at the nursery

 

Use by People: The roots of Sitka Spruce were used by natives for basketry and hats. The pitch was chewed for pleasure and for caulking canoes.  Many Sitka Spruce trees were felled during the early part of last century for the manufacture of airplanes and boats that were used during World Wars I & II.  The wood is also valued for its resonant quality and is used in making pianos and guitars.

Use by Wildlife: The foliage and twigs of spruce are browsed by grouse, rabbits and deer.  The seeds are a valuable food for various birds, squirrels and chipmunks.  The trees provide excellent nesting, roosting and winter cover.

**Note it is best to avoid planting the Colorado Spruce, Picea pungens, in the Pacific Northwest.  It is extremely susceptible to spruce aphids or adelgids, which cause it to loose its older needles.  Sitka Spruce or White Fir, Abies concolor, are a much better choices if you want a tree with bluish or silvery foliage.

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 eFlora, University of California

Calphotos

Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center

USDA Forest Service Fire effects information system

Silvics of North America

Virginia Tech 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

Mountain Hemlock, Tsuga mertensiana

Tsuga mertensiana, Mountain HemlockNames: The Mountain Hemlock, as the name suggests, occurs in the mountains up to the timberline and in subalpine parkland.  Hemlock trees are sometimes called “Hemlock Spruces” to differentiate them from the herbaceous Poison Hemlock, which is in the Parsley Family. The name “Tsuga” comes from Japanese words meaning “mother” and “tree.”  The species is named after German botanist, Franz Karl Mertens.

 

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

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

Distribution: Mountain Hemlock is native along the coast of southeastern Alaska and British Columbia, the mountains of Washington and Oregon to the High Sierras of California.  It is also found in the Rockies of northern Idaho and Montana.

Growth: In its native habitat, Mountain Hemlock grows very slowly due to the long winters.    Subalpine dwarfs may only reach 10 feet (3m).  It grows more quickly in lowland areas, typically up to 100 feet (30m). The tallest trees are over 175 feet (50m).  The oldest are known to be over 500 years old but some may be over 1000 years old.

Mountain hemlocks bend down under the weight of the snow.

Mountain hemlocks bend down under the weight of the snow.

 

Habitat: In the northern part of its range (British Columbia and Alaska), Mountain Hemlock is associated with bogs, and wet areas. It is adapted to deep snow and long winters. It can grow at near freezing temperatures and is can withstand many months covered in snow. The trunks are so flexible that trees bend under the weight of the snow, creating interesting shapes in the snow reminiscent of shepherd’s crooks, snails and embryos.  The trees spring upright again after the snow melts.  It is less shade tolerant than Western Hemlock.

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

 

Needles of Mountain Hemlock.

Needles of Mountain Hemlock.

 

Diagnostic Characters: Mountain Hemlock can be distinguished from Western Hemlock by the following characters:  The leader droops only slightly; the needles are of equal length and are arranged radially around its twigs; and the cones are larger (1-5 inches or 2.5-12.5cm).  The branches also tend to sweep upward at the tips.

Bright green lichen grows above the snow line in Crater Lake National Park.

Bright green lichen grows on the trunks of Mountain Hemlocks above the snow line in Crater Lake National Park.

 

 

Tsuga mertensiana cluster

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the Landscape: Some consider the Mountain Hemlock to be the best native conifer for a small garden.  It can be used as a specimen tree in a container or to create a focal point in a rock garden.  It creates a picturesque scene when planted in clumps or drifts.  Lowland gardeners may be disappointed, however, if they expect their Mountain Hemlock to have the same appearance as the stunted, twisted dwarfs in subalpine meadows.

Mountain Hemlock cones

Mountain Hemlock cones

Phenology: Bloom Period:  Mid-May to Mid July. Cones ripen and open from late September to November.

Propagation: Mountain Hemlock can be grown using fresh seed, stratified at 40ºF (4ºC) for 90 days.  Vegetative propagation, cuttings and layering, is possible using the same methods as for Western Hemlock.

 

 

 

Mountain Hemlock Bonsai from the Pacific Rim Bonsai Collection in Federal Way.

Mountain Hemlock Bonsai from the Pacific Rim Bonsai Collection in Federal Way.

 

Use by People: Mountain Hemlock is not used much commercially because of its inaccessibility in high altitudes, but where it is used; it is generally marketed with and used the same as Western Hemlock.

Use by Wildlife: Squirrels make caches of the cones in the snow. Blue Grouse eat the buds and leaves.

 

 

 

 

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 Eflora, 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

Western Hemlock, Tsuga heterophylla

Western Hemlock                            The Pine Family–Pinaceae

Tsuga heterophylla (Raf.) Sarg.

(TSOO-guh   het-er-oh-FILL-uh)                                   

Tsuga heterophylla, Western HemlockNames:   The genus name “Tsuga” comes from Japanese words meaning “mother” and “tree.” The species name heterophylla, literally means different leaves.  This refers to the different lengths of needles found along a branch. Hemlock trees are sometimes called “Hemlock Spruces” to differentiate them from the herbaceous Poison Hemlock, which is in the Parsley Family.

Relationships:    Of the 10 species of this genus, 6 are native to eastern Asia, and 2 to eastern North America.  The Mountain Hemlock, Tsuga mertensiana, also occurs in our area mostly in the Mountains.

 

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

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

Distribution:    Western Hemlock occurs from the southern coast of Alaska to the northern coast of California and the Cascade Range of central Oregon.  It also occurs in the Rocky Mountains of Canada, Montana and Idaho.  Western Hemlock is considered the climax species in most of our area.  That means that, in theory, if forests are left alone and allowed to grow undisturbed indefinitely, Western Hemlock would be the dominant species.  The Western Hemlock Ecological Zone extends from British Columbia through the Puget Sound Region south to Oregon where it splits along the Coast Ranges and Western Cascades.  It is bounded by the Sitka Spruce Zone along the coast in the west and the Subalpine Zone in the Cascade Mountains in the east.

Young Western Hemlock with a drooping leader.

Young Western Hemlock with a drooping leader.

 

 

Growth:    Western Hemlock typically grows 150-195 feet (45-60m).  The tallest Western Hemlock is over 240 feet (73m) tall.  The oldest are over 1200 years old.

Habitat:    Seedlings of Western Hemlock often begin life on the decaying wood of “nurse logs.” or stumps in the shade of Douglas Firs. They usually start out growing slowly in the shade, much faster in full sunlight when an event occurs that opens it up to the sun. By studying the different sizes of growth rings you can often tell when a tree was growing in shade vs. sun.  It grows on fairly dry to wet sites and is very shade tolerant.

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

The different sized needles of Western Hemlock

The different sized needles of Western Hemlock.

Diagnostic Characters:  Western Hemlock is usually recognized by its drooping top and its different-sized needles in flat sprays.  Its small, woody cones are usually less than an inch (2.5cm) long.

In the Landscape:   The fine textured, fern-like foliage of Western Hemlock gives it a graceful, delicate appearance.  This beautiful tree can be grown singly, in drifts or used as a screen.

Western Hemlock cones

Western Hemlock cones

 

Phenology:   Bloom Period:  Mid-spring –Mid-April is typical, but may range from March-June (earlier in southern coastal areas, later at high elevations, interior and northern stands). Cones begin to mature in August; seeds are fully ripe by mid to late September but cones do not open until October.

Propagation:  For the best results, seeds of Western Hemlock should be stratified at 40ºF (4ºC) for 90 days.  Sown seeds should not be covered; they germinate on the surface of the soil.  Seed can be stored up to 5 years at 32ºF (0ºC).  Propagation by cuttings is difficult but possible with hormone treatment, misting and bottom heat.  Western Hemlock has been grown successfully in the laboratory using micropropagation techniques.  For small quantities, hemlocks may be propagated by layering.

A bonsai of Western Hemlock at the Pacific Rim Bonsai Collection in Federal Way

A bonsai of Western Hemlock at the Pacific Rim Bonsai Collection in Federal Way.

Use by People:   Western Hemlock is the second most important timber tree in the northwest.  The lumber is sold as “Hem-Fir” and is used for making treated lumber.  It is one of the best pulpwoods for making paper products.  It is also a principal source of cellulose fiber used for making cellophane and other products. Natives mostly used the wood for firewood. Young trees and saplings were used for poles and fish traps.  The bark was used to make a reddish brown dye or paint and as a tanning agent. The pitch of hemlock was used on the face, cosmetically and to prevent chapping.

Use by Wildlife:    Hemlocks are favorite nesting trees for many birds.  Pine Siskins, Crossbills, Chickadees and Deer Mice eat the seeds.  Porcupines and Douglas Squirrels and other mammals also eat the bark. Deer and elk eat the foliage and twigs.

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 Eflora, 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 Red Cedar, Thuja plicata

Western Red Cedar                                                         The Cypress Family–Cupressaceae

 Thuja plicata Donn ex D. Don

(THOO-yuh   ply-KAY-tuh)

My cat Silky at the top of a Western Red Cedar

My cat Silky at the top of a Western Red Cedar

Names:   Western Red Cedar is also known as Giant Arborvitae.  Arborvitae literally means “tree of life.”  Plicata means plaited or folded like a fan; referring to how the leaves are folded and compressed next to the tree’s branchlets.

Relationships:  It is one of only four species in this genus; two are from eastern Asia. The American Arborvitae or Northern White Cedar, Thuja occidentalis is native to the northeastern United States and eastern Canada and has several cultivated varieties, with columnar forms that make good screens and smaller “globe” forms that are good for foundation plantings. Many different types of trees are called “Cedars” see the article on What is a Cedar? for more information.

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

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

Distribution:  Western Red Cedar grows from southeast Alaska to northern California and east to northwestern Montana.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The largest Western Red Cedar is near Lake Quinault in the Olympic Rainforest. Only about a 2 foot wide strip is still alive.

The largest Western Red Cedar is near Lake Quinault in the Olympic Rainforest. Only about a 2 foot wide strip is still alive.

Growth: Western Red Cedars typically grow to 120-150 feet (35-45m); the tallest today are about 200 feet (60m) tall. The widest are about 19 feet (6m) in diameter. These giants are found mostly in the old-growth coastal rainforests of the Olympic Peninsula and Vancouver Island.  Some may be 1400 years old or older.

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

Largest Western Red Cedar

 

 

 

 

 

Cedar bark in vertical stripes of red & gray.

Cedar bark in vertical stripes of red & gray.

 

Scale-like leaves are tightly compressed against the branchlets.

Scale-like leaves are tightly compressed against the branchlets.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Diagnostic Characters: Western Red Cedar is easily recognized by its reddish or gray fibrous bark.  The scale-like leaves are pressed tightly to stems, having the appearance of flattened braids in lacy sprays.  The foliage has a sweet chamomile or tansy odor when crushed.  Cinnamon-brown cones are small and elongated and stay attached to branches for a long period of time.  Large branches emerge from the main trunk and droop downward, turning up at the ends.

 

 Western Red Cedar, Thuja plicataIn the landscape: Trees can be planted singly or in groves.  They look best when lower branches are allowed to spread, drooping down to the ground and arching back up again.  Western Red Cedar prefers moist to wet soils.

 

Persistent woody cones of Western Red Cedar

Persistent woody cones of Western Red Cedar.

 

Phenology: Bloom Period:  Mid-spring; Mid-April is typical, but may range from March-June (earlier in southern coastal areas; later at high elevations, interior and northern stands). Cones mature in August; seeds are dispersed September through November.

Propagation:  Seeds of Western Red Cedar do not require a stratification period, however, a stratification period at 40ºF (4ºC) for 60 days may aid germination in dormant seeds.  Seeds may remain viable for 7 years stored dry at 0º F (-18ºC).  Germination rates vary from 34-90%.  Seeds should not be covered; they germinate on the surface of the soil.  Heel cuttings (cuttings where a small piece of older wood is retained at the base) are best taken July-September.  Rooting is most successful when cuttings are treated with 2000ppm IBA, stuck in a sand-perlite or peat-perlite media and overwintered in a cold frame.  Western Red Cedar may also be propagated by layering, which often occurs naturally in the wild.   Seedlings and naturally layered cedars are easily transplanted.

A "Culturally modified" Western Red Cedar on the Makah Indian Reservation

A “Culturally modified” Western Red Cedar on the Makah Indian Reservation

Use by People: Western Red Cedar was the most important tree to native people.  For them it really was the “tree of life.”  Native people rarely felled cedars; instead they used fallen logs or split off boards from standing trees. The decay resistant wood of these trees was used for building long houses, totem poles, canoes, cradles, and many kinds of tools and other items. Women collected the bark by making a horizontal cut in the bark, prying it up and pulling out away from the tree, leaving a long wedge-shaped scar.  Some of these “culturally modified trees” can still be found along hiking trails.  The bark was shredded, woven and made into clothing, mats and other items.  The limbs of cedar trees were twisted into rope.  Baskets were made from the roots.

A bailer & berry picking basket from the Cathlapotle Plankhouse located on the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge.

A bailer & berry picking basket from the Cathlapotle Plankhouse located on the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge.

 

Western Red Cedar is still an important timber tree today although the second-growth wood is not as resistant to decay, as was the old-growth wood.   The production of Cedar shakes and shingles was a big business in the last century, but has declined due to limited availability of old-growth wood and building codes designed to reduce the risk of loss due to fire.   Western Red Cedar is still frequently used for interior and exterior siding, decks, fencing, other outdoor structures and furniture.

Western Red Cedar stumphouse at Guillemot Cove Nature Preserve in Seabeck

Western Red Cedar stumphouse at Guillemot Cove Nature Preserve in Seabeck.

Use by Wildlife: Western Red Cedar provides cover for several wildlife species.  The seeds may be eaten by Pine Siskins.  Deer and elk eat the foliage and twigs.  Small mammals use cavities in Western Red Cedars for dens; birds use cavities for nests.

 

 

 

An old Cedar growing within the trunk of an older burned out stump with typical swooping branches

An old Cedar growing within the trunk of an older burned out stump with typical swooping branches.

 

Links:

USDA Plants Database

Natural Resources Canada

Gymnosperm Database

Consortium of Pacific Northwest Herbaria

WTU Herbarium Image Collection

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

Jepson Eflora, 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

Douglas Fir, Pseudotsuga menziesii

Douglas Fir                                                                The Pine Family–Pinaceae

Pseudotsuga menziesii  (Mirb.) FrancoDouglas Fir tree, Pseudotsuga menzisii

(soo-doe-TSOO-guh    men-ZEE-zee-i)

Names:   Douglas Fir is named after naturalists, David Douglas and Archibald Menzies.  The genus name, Pseudotsuga literally means “false hemlock.”  It was once known as P. taxifolia (meaning yew-leaved).

Relationships:    It is one of only five species in its genus. Three species from Asia and the other, Big Cone Douglas Fir, Pseudotsuga macrocarpa has a limited distribution in Southern California.

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

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

Distribution:    Our Douglas Fir grows from sea level to subalpine mountain sites and has a large distribution from Western Canada down the Pacific coast to central California, and from the Canadian Rockies south to isolated communities in Mexico

Old Growth Douglas Fir in the Olympic Rainforest

Old Growth Douglas Fir in the Olympic Rainforest

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Growth:   Douglas Fir grows rapidly, especially when young.  It typically grows 200 to 240 feet (60-75m) tall. The tallest Douglas firs today are just over 300 feet (90m); historically Doug firs may have attained a height of 400 feet (120m); taller than today’s redwoods!  In cultivation, they easily reach 40-80’ (12-24m)

Damage caused by a lightening strike on Douglas Fir.

Damage caused by a lightening strike on Douglas Fir.

Habitat:    Douglas Firs grow in moist to extremely dry sites.  In ecological terms they are considered both early-successional (they are one of the first trees to colonize an area after a disturbance) and late-successional (they often occur in old-growth forests, just because they live so long– up to 1300 years!). Douglas Fir is a primary component of moist forests in the Western Hemlock ecological zone.  Infrequent, widespread, stand-replacing fires, (usually caused by lightening strikes) naturally occur at perhaps 400- to 500-year intervals.

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

 

Diagnostic Characters:   Douglas firs are easy to recognize by their “groovy” bark, pointed buds, and cones with 3-pronged bracts.  Young trunks or branches often have “resin blisters,” that are easily ruptured; this sticky pitch is very difficult to wash off your hands!

Groovy Bark of Douglas Fir

Groovy Bark of Douglas Fir

 

"Pointy" buds of Douglas Fir

“Pointy” buds of Douglas Fir

 

 

 

 

 

 

Douglas Fir in winter

Douglas Fir in winter

 

 

In the landscape:  Douglas fir is a majestic tree.  It will grow in extremely dry to moist sites.  When growing in a container, it is often spindly and not very attractive, but once it is planted in the ground, out in the open, it will quickly develop into the familiar, pyramidal Christmas tree shape.  On the down side, it is often the bane of golf course and park workers after a windstorm.  Because it is a fast growing tree, the new wood is relatively weak, and broken branches fall to the ground and must be picked up before grass can be mowed.  For the same reason you may wish to avoid planting it next to buildings and other highly maintained areas such as courtyards and thoroughfares.

Douglas fir trees grow with a “central leader.”  This is what forms the single trunk. As with most conifers, it is important never to “top” these trees.  In young trees, it is possible to prune or train damaged or disfigured trees so that they have only one leader.  Trees that are allowed to have more than one leader, besides being unsightly, will have a weak point where the two leaders emerged; creating a likely spot for a future break.

Male & female cones

Male & female cones

Phenology: Bloom Period:   March-June, earlier in southern coastal areas, later at high elevations, interior and northern stands. Cones mature in mid to late September, seeds are dispersed soon after.

Propagation: Seeds of Douglas Fir have about a 40% germination rate with a stratification period at 40ºF (4ºC) for 60 days.  Seeds remain viable 1-2 years.  Volunteers in the landscape may easily be transplanted.

Use by People: The Douglas fir is the most important timber tree in the United States.  It is used for dimensional lumber, plywood and many other building materials as well as paper products.  It was mostly used for firewood by native peoples but the wood was also used for tools such as spear and harpoon shafts. Today it is still commonly used for firewood and is well known as a popular Christmas tree.–See Selecting a Christmas Tree on my sister website, habitathorticulturepnw.com !

Use by Wildlife: Douglas Squirrels and other rodents eat the small, winged seeds found inside Douglas Fir cones.  Pine Siskins and Crossbills and other birds also eat the seeds.  Browsers, such as White-tailed Deer will eat the foliage and twigs in the winter.  The needles and male cones are an important winter food for Blue Grouse

  The Mouse and the Douglas Fir

Douglas Fir cone with 3-pronged bracts

Douglas Fir cone with 3-pronged bracts

There are two versions of a Native American Myth relating the story of a frightened mouse looking for someplace to hide.  In one version the mouse is trying to evade a fox, in the other the mouse is trying to escape a forest fire.  In both versions, the mouse tries to hide in a Douglas Fir cone.  The mouse was successful in evading the danger in both stories.  To this day, when you look closely at a Douglas Fir cone, the mouse’s back legs and tail are still visible beneath the cone’s scales!

 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 Eflora, 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

Tallest Douglas Firs, Historical accounts