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Conifers of Washington

Our sweeping green landscape is our state's collective identity with the nickname "Evergreen State." The presence of these evergreen trees has shaped Washington's history. Redcedar was the choice material for the Native Americans for homes and canoes. Douglas fir and Western Hemlock were the favorites of the west coast’s boomtowns for lumber. In 1919 Washington produced 4.9 billion board feet of lumber making the timber industry Washington's largest employer. (nothing is permanent Bezos!)

Today almost half of Washington is covered with forests largely of conifers. Let us find out more about these towering trees around us.

"Trees are poems that the earth writes upon the sky." - Khalil Gibran

Conifers are gymnosperm, which literally means “naked seeds”. Conifers seeds are exposed in cones instead of flowers. They grow throughout the world besides Antarctica (too cold even for conifers!). The world’s oldest trees are the ancient 5000-year-old conifers and the world’s largest trees are whooping 4.4 million pounds conifers. The Conifer family includes the pines, cypresses, junipers, cedars, spruces, hemlocks, firs, larches, and yews.

The three most common conifers around us are Douglas fir, Western Redcedar, and Western Hemlock, followed by Sitka Spruce and Pacific Yew.

Douglas Fir

The state tree of Oregon is not a true fir. Our most versatile conifer grows in extremely dry to moist soil. Being fast-growing, they make excellent Christmas trees and lumber. Douglas firs are easy to recognize by their “groovy” bark when mature, short flat needles with two white bands underneath, cones up to 4 inches long with pitchfork-shaped bracts protecting the seeds and erect top.

Western Red Cedar

No true cedars are native to the Pacific Northwest and Western Redcedar is also not a true cedar. Its wood is used to make shakes, shingles, decking, siding, and fencing. The wood chips are used to make medical masks and gowns.

Western Red cedar is recognized by its reddish or gray fibrous bark, scale-like leaves, characteristic aromatic foliage, cinnamon-brown small elongated cones, and drooping branches.

Western Hemlock

Our State tree - Western Hemlock is a favorite nesting tree for many birds. The Pacific Northwest is home to two hemlocks - Western and Mountain. Mountain hemlocks have blue-green needles and Western hemlock needles are yellow-green. It is the second most important timber tree in the northwest. It is also used to make paper and paper products.

Droopy branches and short needles make it easy to recognize. Needles have two white lines on the underside. Its bark is thin with red inside.

Sitka Spruce

It is one of the Pacific Northwest native spruces and is mostly found in moist places. It is used for lumber, paper, and musical instruments such as guitars and violins.

Just like any spruce, it has prickly and sharp needles that are silvery bluish-green. Small cones that are thin with wavy, irregularly toothed scales. Its bark has scaly and flaky textures.

Pacific Yew

This is the only native yew tree of the Pacific Northwest and has amazing medicinal qualities. Taxol, a natural-source cancer drug, comes from Pacific Yew. It is also used to make cabinetry, archery bows, canoe paddles, and musical instruments. It can be recognized by its dark-green pointy needles and scarlet berries. Its bark is thin, and scaly with a purple hue. Shorter of all, it enjoys the shade of soaring conifers.

Besides these conifers, we have numerous deciduous trees parading in their lush glory in summers and lighting up the landscape with colors in autumn. How thankful I am to live in this magnificent state and be on this awe-inspiring planet!

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