Western hemlock thrives in humid areas of the Pacific coast. It is commonly found in temperate rain forests, usually within 100 miles of the coast.
This large conifer can grow up to 200 feet tall and 9 feet in diameter. It is also long-lived, with the oldest known hemlock coming in at 1200 years!
In addition to being well known for its gorgeous wood, hemlock is used for a variety of other purposes. Western hemlock tolerates shade and grows abundantly underneath mature trees, where it provides an important source of food for deer and elk. Older trees are prone to rot, which makes them excellent sources of cavities for birds.
Native Americans on the Pacific coast carved hemlock wood into spoons, combs, roasting spits, and other implements. Hemlock bark is rich in a substance useful for tanning hides.
Hemlock is also a source of different kinds of food. In addition to offering edible canbium (the spongy cork interior of the bark), a hemlock forest is the preferred place for chanterelles and other edible fungi to grow. The needles can also be chewed or made into tea.
Shore pine and lodgepole pine are two different varieties of the species (Pinus contorta). In the Northwest, the coastal lowland form is called shore pine. Inland, mountain forms of this species are called lodgepole pine.
Shore pine is found between Alaska and Northern California and typically colonizes infertile sites near sea level where other trees grow poorly, if at all. When grown in tough, windy locations, shore pine can be twisted and irregularly shaped (hence the name ‘contorta’).
Although shore pine can live to be 250 years old, they are typically grow to between 20 and 35 feet in height due to the harsh conditions where they live.
Native people used shore pine pitch medicinally and apply to open sores. Various pine species are used to treat arthritis, muscle pains, sores, wounds, and pains.
Today, the lumber is sometimes used for furniture or cabinets, sometimes as paneling or other finished products. Its inland sibling, the lodgepole pine, grows straight and tall, and was used by natives for the central pole in tepees.
Nationwide, pines are second only to oaks in the food value to wildlife. They have nutritious, oily seeds that are favored by many birds and small mammals. Foliage is eaten by grouse, and deer; porcupines and small rodents eat the bark and wood.
Oregon’s forests are among the most diverse and productive ecosystems in the world. On the east side of the Cascade mountains there are dry juniper and pine forests.
The west side, features lush old-growth Douglas-fir forests and a fog belt region. The fog belt region, also called the Coast Ecological Province, is the smallest and narrowest forested region in the state, stretching north to south across the entire coastline.
What differentiates the fog belt zone from the rest of the forested zones in Oregon? The summer climate.
While the rest of the state experiences high temperatures and little moisture, the fog belt experiences lower temperatures and increased moisture and humidity.
Topographically, the fog belt sits at relatively low elevation, rising up from sea level to 400 or 500 feet. This climatically and topographically unique region supports highly diverse fauna and flora.
Some common trees one will see in the fog belt include Shorepine, Sitka Spruce, Western Cedar, and Douglas-fir. Shorepine (Pinus contorta) is the only species of pine that grows in the fog belt.
Shorepine grow within a few miles of the ocean and are typically bushy and distorted. The species has specially adapted to grow in rocky sites and sandy soil, such as sand dunes, and surviving powerful salty winds. These trees bare their round, twisted needles in clusters of twos.
Sitka Spruce (Picea sitchensis) trees were once called tideland spruce because they like the cool, foggy environment of the coast.
This species is the largest species of spruce, growing to almost 100 meters tall. The largest Sitka tree in Oregon is found in Clatsop County with a diameter of more than 5 meters.
These trees bare flat needles and thin, light grey bark that easily peels off. The trunk of the Sitka Spruce is buttressed and does not go straight into the ground like lodgepole pines.
Sitka Spruce is named after Sitka Island, now called Baranof Island, off the coast of Alaska. Sitka Spruce is Alaska’s state tree.
Western Redcedar (Thuja plicata) trees are the only “cedars” with cones turned up and bent backwards on the branch (this species is not a true cedar species).
Another method of identifying Western Red Cedar trees is by looking at the underside of the foliage. There you will find a tiny shape outlined in white; some say this shape looks like a bowtie or a butterfly.
Western redcedar’s frondlike branches are so dense that some Northwest Native Americans called this tree “shabalup,” which means “dry underneath,” because the branches look like they could shed rain. These trees were the main trees used by the Northwest Native Americans to make canoes.
Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) is Oregon’s most common tree and the state tree. The coast variety of this tree grows in the fog belt.
The cone of a Douglas fir is very easily identifiable. Only cones from this tree have three-pointed bracts sticking out between the cone scales.
These are said to look like the hind feet and tail of a mouse diving into a hole. The largest Douglas-fir, the Doerner Fir, is located in Coos County and stands at 327 feet tall.
There are many other trees that can be found along the fog belt, as well as many common understory plants. To learn more, pick up a copy of Oregon State University Extension Service’s field guide, Trees to Know in Oregon.
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