The Pacific Northwest is a beautiful and mostly untouched piece of the United States. In fact, an important goal for the inhabitants of the Pacific Northwest is to protect the natural environment. Some trees growing in this area are hundreds and thousands of years old.
Overall, the climate of the Pacific Northwest lends itself to trees of a colossal size. The Rocky Mountains and the Pacific Ocean are two barriers that create a pleasant climate. Additionally, the trees that grow in the Pacific Northwest are usually unique to the area.
In the Pacific Northwest, you will experience moderate summers with wet, cool winters. The winters are not nearly as cold as those in the Northeast. Moreover, the climate is quite humid. Without significant heat accompanying that humidity, the firs and cedars thrive.
Evergreens fill the forests in the Pacific Northwest. Altogether, the Pacific Northwest supports more evergreen trees than anywhere else in the United States. In the state of Washington, you will find 25 native tree species.
The trees growing are a huge part of the economy. Not only do they create beautiful habitats for the diverse wildlife, but they are also depended on for food, medicine, tools, and shelter.
5 Most Common Trees
The top five most common trees growing in the Pacific Northwest are:
- Big Leaf Maple
- Douglas Fir
- Western Hemlock
- Western Red Cedar
- Sitka Spruce
1. Big Leaf Maple
The Big Leaf Maple is one of the few deciduous trees growing in the Pacific Northwest. The massive leaves found growing on this tree thrive in the lush and humid rainforests. In fact, the leaves of the Big Leaf Maple easily reach spans of 12 inches.
Surprisingly, the Big Leaf Maple produces sap that can be turned into syrup. However, despite the same sugar concentration, the syrup from these trees tastes different. The distinct taste lowers in interest in producing any syrup from the sap.
Native Americans believe the Big Leaf Maple carries many healing qualities. The bark can help with ailments like tuberculosis. Additionally, the bark proved useful for baskets and canoe paddles.
The Big Leaf Maple grows not only large leaves, but it grows to great heights as well. Overall, the Big Leaf Maple grows to 160 feet in the right climates. However, most Big Leaf Maples reach heights of 60 feet with similar spreads.
At this time, the largest Big Leaf Maple is in Lane County, Oregon. It stands approximately 120 feet in height with a 90-foot spread.
The only natural habitat for the Big Leaf Maple is the Pacific Northwest. From central California through British Columbia, the Big Leaf Maple triumphs. All in all, it grows best close to the sea. There are very few Big Leaf Maples inland because of the need for moist soils. A small grove grows far away from the coast in California. The climate is unique in this area and lends itself to a vast ecosystem of Pacific Northwest species.
When hiking through the Pacific Northwest, these trees will be easy for you to identify. In every way, they look just like any other maple tree. However, the five-lobed leaves grow to massive sizes. They will measure between 6 and 12 inches in width. Many visitors fawn over the giant size and compare them to their heads or hands.
,2. Douglas Fir
The Douglas Fir travels more inland than the Big Leaf Maple but does so in specific areas. Botanists divide Douglas Firs into two varieties. The first is known as the Coastal Douglas Fir because it grows along the Pacific coast from Central California to British Colombia. The second variety is the Rocky Mountain Douglas Fir. It grows inland along the Rocky Mountains. Unlike the Coastal variety, the Rocky Mountain variety thrives at high altitudes in rocky soil.
This evergreen grows soft, light green needles. It is easy to identify the Douglas Fir by its bark. All in all, the bark is thick and deeply furrowed. It is usually gray but can sometimes be light brown.
The Douglas Fir is a popular choice for Christmas tree farmers because of the quick growth rate, light green color, and soft needles. In the natural habitat, the Coastal variety grows to heights of 300 feet. The Rocky Mountain variety is shorter because of the rocky soil and only reach 70 to 80 feet.
It is not uncommon for the Coastal variety to grow trunks up to 8 feet in diameter. Some even reach 16 feet in diameter. Both varieties live long lives. The Rocky Mountain variety lives up to 400 years, while the Coastal variety live over 500 years. In fact, some Coastal Douglas Firs live up to 1300 years old.
While walking through the Pacific Northwest, you will see these trees growing tall. The thin canopy of soft green needles paired with a deeply furrowed gray bark will surely give it away. After all, the Douglas Fir grows in abundance in the Pacific Northwest.
3. Western Hemlock
Western Hemlock is another evergreen thriving in the Pacific Northwest. This species is covered with light green needles with white bands. Generally speaking, the Western Hemlock grows to 150 feet in height. Because of the weight of the mighty branches, the top of the Western Hemlock will droop towards the ground.
The Western Hemlock grows along the Pacific coast from Oregon up to Alaska. Unlike the Big Leaf Maple and the Douglas Fir, the Western Hemlock prefers the frigid coastal temperatures of British Columbia and Alaska. Additionally, the Western Hemlock grows close to the coast except for one large forest in the Rocky Mountains. In fact, the trees are so prevalent along the coast that the Western Hemlock is the state tree of Washington.
These trees can be giants, easily reaching over 200 feet in height. It is the largest species of hemlock. Altogether, the bark and trunk are like the Douglas Fir.
For centuries, Western Hemlock bark has been the source of tannin. Tannin is one ingredient that aids in the tanning of leather. Many Native Americans eat portions of the Western Hemlock. The inner bark shavings can be pressed into bread or dried and consumed as is. They believe the bark is a treatment for tuberculosis, hemorrhage, and various fevers.
If on the lookout for the Western Hemlock, you may struggle because of its similarity to the Douglas Fir. However, the drooping top is unique to this evergreen of light green needles.
4. Western Red Cedar
The Western Red Cedar is a dominating giant along the Pacific coast. It grows in large forests along the coast. In the same area as the Western Hemlock, the Western Red Cedar grows along the Rocky Mountains. While not reaching as far north, the Western Red Cedar grows in small areas of California up to British Columbia.
The Pacific Northwest truly lends itself to large trees. The Western Red Cedar grows over 150 feet in height and easily reaches 250 feet. Moreover, the diameter of the trunks spread as far as 20 feet.
Depending on the spacing of the forest, the branches may reach to the ground. However, in tightly packed areas, the canopy only grows near the top.
The Western Red Cedar is not afraid of a little shade. It easily reproduces in a high-shade area. Many deer, elk, and other mammals depend upon the Western Red Cedar for sustenance in the cold winter months. Furthermore, other animals will nest in the large trunk cavities.
The Native Americans in the area also highly depend on the Western Red Cedar. In fact, the large trees provide ample lumber for building. Many groups crafted totem poles, homes, and canoes from the lumber.
You will find no problem identifying the Western Red Cedar in nature. The stunning red-brown bark and gigantic size make this tree stand out.
5. Sitka Spruce
The Sitka Spruce is last on our list, but still a prevalent giant in the Northwest. Like the other trees on this list, it prefers the coastal humidity. From afar, the Sitka Spruce resembles the Douglas Fir. However, the Sitka Spruce is covered with the same sharp and prickly needles as all other spruces. Furthermore, the needles carry the same blue-green of the genus.
This giant spruce grows over 300 feet with a diameter of 16 feet at the trunk. It matches the other giants growing along the coast. For sure, it is the largest species of spruce. Many of the Sitka Spruces live for hundreds of years. One tree growing in Olympic National Park is between 350 and 450 years old. At this age, it has just entered middle age.
The Sitka Spruce is at home in the northern parts of California all the way to Alaska.
Identifying the Sitka Spruce may prove difficult from afar. All in all, the features of the Sitka Spruce are identical to the Douglas Fir. However, when up close, the Sitka Spruce has thin, flaky bark. Furthermore, the needles are dark green and sharp.