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The Pacific Northwest is known for its lush, picturesque landscape, drawing locals and travelers alike to enjoy its natural beauty. Home to some of the most productive forests in the world—covering more than 30.5 million acres—it’s no wonder people flock to these forests. These beautiful areas let people enjoy some of the country’s best hikes or simply stroll through the forested landscape.
The next time you plan a visit, use this helpful guide to identify Oregon’s state tree, as well as the state trees of Washington, Idaho, Montana and California. We’ve even included a bonus: the provincial tree of British Columbia, Canada. Learn the recognizable features of these trees, familiarize yourself with the local landscape and share it with fellow enthusiasts as you take in the verdant scenery. Let’s travel to different states within the Pacific Northwest and learn how to recognize their state trees.
1. Oregon – Douglas-fir
Our first stop is Oregon. Oregon’s state tree is the noble Douglas-fir. Known for its impressive height, the Douglas-fir can grow up to 300 feet tall and 7 feet in diameter. Some of the larger trees span 15 to 18 feet wide. They are the second tallest tree species in the world, second only to the coastal redwood.
These trees have one-inch pointed needles, with male and female cones scattered throughout. The most identifiable traits of the Douglas-fir are its cones, which have three pointed bracts protruding out of the scales and look similar to the legs and tail of a mouse. You can discern a young Douglas-fir from an old one by its bark and its height. The bark of a young tree is smooth with resin-filled blisters, but as it ages, the bark grows thicker and darker with deep grooves. And as you can probably guess, as these trees age, they grow taller.
Despite its name, Douglas-fir is not a true fir, and its genus name (Pseudotsuga) actually means “false Hemlock.” Douglas-fir is also a highly sought-after species for lumber production due to its strength, hardness and durability, and it yields more timber than any other tree species in North America.
The Douglas-fir grows widespread in western North America, preferring dry summers and mild, wet winters. Douglas-fir is a sun-loving species that does not grow well in shade and is particularly adapted to predominate in areas that experience frequent disturbance (fire, wind, etc.) It provides shelter and food for a variety of small mammals and birds, including songbirds, the dark-eyed junco and white-crowned and golden-crowned sparrows.
2. Washington – Western Hemlock
Next on the list is Washington with the western hemlock. These large trees can grow over 100 feet tall. Though similar to the Douglas-fir, western hemlock foliage has some distinguishable differences. The cones are smaller, and the western hemlock’s needles are flat and soft, unlike the pointed needles of the Douglas-fir. The needles feather out, and the branches slope downward. You can spot these trees by their narrow crowns, with new growth at the top that often looks floppy, falling over to one side.
The western hemlock grows at low altitudes and is shade tolerant, often growing under the canopy of mature conifer trees such as the Douglas-fir and Sitka spruce. They are an important source of food for deer and elk and can reduce erosion when planted along riverbanks. However, their shallow root system makes them vulnerable to high winds and fire.
3. Idaho – Western White Pine
The western white pine is Idaho’s state tree. It is a fast-growing species that thrives in moist valleys as well as dry, open spaces. These trees are easily recognized by their banana-shaped cones, which can grow up to 15 inches long and are softer than other cones in the pine species. These trees are also distinguishable by their long needles that grow in clusters of five.
Historically, the western white pine was the most abundant forest type in the Northern Rockies. Today, there are about 93 percent fewer western white pines than 40 years ago. This is due to several factors, including fire suppression and decreased planting. Without controlled burning, other species of pine that are more shade-tolerant dominate.
4. Montana – Ponderosa Pine
Montana is home to the ponderosa pine. This large coniferous pine is distinguished from other pine trees by its bark. Young trees are identified by their blackish-brown bark and often referred to as “blackjacks” by early loggers, while mature trees are characterized by their yellow or orange-red bark, which is separated into broad plates with deep fissures. This thick bark also makes them resistant to wildfires.
The ponderosa pine is one of the most widely distributed species of trees in the west and can grow on dry sites due to its wide-spreading and deep root system. Though they grow best grown in full sun with soil that is well-drained, they adapt well to a variety of soils and growing conditions. Once established, the ponderosa pine is drought-resistant.
5. California – California Redwood
Perhaps the most famous state tree of the Pacific Northwest is Northern California’s redwood. These massive trees are the tallest trees in the world and have survived millions of years. Fossil records provide evidence for relatives of today’s redwoods flourishing during the Jurassic Era.
Today, the descendants of these ancient trees are part of a complex ecosystem and can grow up to 367 feet tall and 22 feet wide. The three oldest California redwoods are the President, Grizzly Giant and General Sherman—thought to be over 3,000 years old. These impressive trees are limited to a few hundred coastal miles and prefer the cool and moist air of the Pacific Ocean, keeping the trees continually damp even during droughts.
Bonus: British Columbia, Canada – Western Red Cedar
Finally, our travels take us to the bonus destination of British Columbia. The large evergreen coniferous western red cedar is a beautiful softwood tree. It’s shade-tolerant and grows in cool, moist climates along the coast of British Columbia and its interior wet belt.
This resilient species is resistant to decay and insect damage. For this reason, fallen wood from this tree can remain sound for more than 100 years. Western red cedars are identifiable by their leaves; scale-like, they fold and compress against the trees’ branchlets.
All of these beautiful trees are important for wildlife habitats, watersheds and recreational activities in the Pacific Northwest. Learn more about the trees of Oregon and the Pacific Northwest on the Oregon Forests Forever website.