Category Archives: Large Trees

Red Alder

Red alder (Alnus rubra)
Alnus rubra

Red alder is a fast-growing deciduous tree well suited for disturbed and infertile soils, and an excellent nitrogen fixing plant. Generally grows to a height of 40-50 feet, sometimes reaching up to 80 feet. Red Alder flowers in March with hanging, cylindrical reddish-orange catkins. Leaves turn a slight golden color in the autumn.

In the open, red alders grow into a broadly conical shape with spreading branches. It is an excellent wildlife tree that provides cavity-nesting opportunities and forage for a wide range of songbirds. It also serves as a host plant for swallowtail butterfly larvae.

Best in sun to part shade with moist soils.

  • Light Requirements: Full Sun, Part Shade
  • Water Requirements: Moist
  • Ease of Growing: Easy to grow
  • Growth Rate: Moderate
  • Spreads: No
  • Wildlife Support: Pollinators, Pest-eating Insects, Birds or Mammals
  • Edible: No
  • Mature Height: 40-50ft
  • Mature Width: 40-50ft


Madrone (Arbutus menziesi)
Arbutus menziesii

Madrone is an attractive, broad-leaved evergreen tree with a twisting trunk that develops beautiful reddish-brown exfoliating bark with age. Mature size ranges from 20 to 65 feet tall and wide. Madrone does best in full sun and grows well on hillsides with dry, well-drained or rocky soils. Leaves are dark, shiny green and shed irregularly throughout the year.

Flowers are small, pinkish, and bell-shaped, arranged in drooping clusters. Flowers appear in April, followed by small round orange-red berries. Madrone’s fruit is eaten by a wide range of birds and its flowers attract numerous pollinators. They reach their full aesthetic potential when planted in a grove. Madrones can be difficult to establish, so plant small seedlings and be patient.

  • Light Requirements: Full Sun
  • Water Requirements: Dry
  • Ease of Growing: Hard to grow
  • Growth Rate: Slow
  • Spreads: No
  • Wildlife Support: Pollinators, Pest-eating Insects, Birds or Mammals
  • Edible: No
  • Mature Height: 20-65ft
  • Mature Width: 20-65ft

Paper Birch

Betula papyrifera

Paper birch (Betula papyrifera) is a medium to fast growing deciduous tree, reaching a mature height of 50-70 feet. The leaves are simple, alternate, to 4 inches long, toothed and roughly egg-shaped, coming to a pointed tip. The leaves turn bright yellow in the autumn. Flowers are male and female catkins to 1½ inches, blooming in the spring.

Paper birch is a widespread North American species; on the West Coast, the birch is considered native from eastern Oregon to Alaska. Paper birch is known for its distinctive bark, which is whiter than many birches and peels in papery strips. The bark of the birch was used for canoe-making across the United States outside of the Pacific Northwest (in the Pacific Northwest, Western redcedar is more commonly used). Traditional uses for birch resin include medicine, adhesive, and chewing gum. Today birch is a commonly used for pulp wood and as an ornamental tree.

Because all birches attract aphids and their “honeydew,” the tree is not recommended for patios or parking areas.

  • Light Requirements: Full Sun, Part Shade
  • Water Requirements: Moist
  • Ease of Growing: Easy to grow
  • Growth Rate: Moderate, Fast
  • Spreads: No
  • Wildlife Support: Birds or Mammals, Pollinators
  • Edible: No
  • Mature Height: 50-70ft
  • Mature Width: 15-25ft

Western Redcedar

Western redcedar (Thuja plicata)
Thuja plicata

Western redcedar is a species of Thuja, an evergreen coniferous tree in the cypress family Cupressaceae, native to the northwestern United States and southwestern Canada, from southern Alaska and British Columbia south to northwest California and inland to western Montana.

The foliage forms flat sprays with scale-like leaves in opposite pairs, with successive pairs at 90° to each other. The foliage sprays are green above, and green marked white with stomatal bands below. The cones are slender, 15-20 mm long and 4-5 mm broad, with 8-12 thin, overlapping scales.

Western redcedar is a large tree, to 50-60 m tall and 3 m (exceptionally 6 m) trunk diameter. The Quinault Lake redcedar is the largest known Western redcedar in the world with a wood volume of 500 cubic meters. Located near the northwest shore of Lake Quinault north of Aberdeen, Washington, about 34 km from the Pacific Ocean, it is 53.0 m high with a diameter of 5.94 m (Van Pelt, 2001).

It is among the most widespread trees in the Pacific Northwest, and is associated with Douglas-fir and Western hemlock in most places where it grows. In addition to growing in lush forests, Western redcedar is also a riparian tree, and grows in many forested swamps and streambanks in its range. The tree is shade-tolerant, and able to reproduce under dense shade.

Western redcedar is the Provincial tree of British Columbia. It is also known (mainly in the American horticultural trade) as Giant Arborvitae. The name Western redcedar is also sometimes split into three words as ‘Western Red Cedar’, though this can cause confusion, as it is not a cedar.

Commercial uses

The soft red-brown timber is valued for its resistance to decay, being extensively used for outdoor construction in the form of posts, decking, shingles, siding, and so forth. It is cultivated as an ornamental tree and also (to a limited extent) in forestry plantations and for screens and hedges.

It has been introduced to other parts of the temperate zone, including western Europe, Australia (at least as far north as Sydney), New Zealand, the eastern United States and higher elevations of Hawaii. It is also used to line closets and chests, for is pungent aromatic oils are believed to discourage moth and carpet beetle larvae, which can damage cloth by eating wool and similar fibers. This is of course more effective in a properly constructed redcedar chest (sometimes made entirely of cedar), since the oils are confined by shellac and leather seals. A well-sealed redcedar chest will retain its pungent odor for many decades, sometimes for over a century. Its light weight and stength make it a popular choice for guitar soundboards.

Native American Uses

Western redcedar has an extensive history of use by the Native American people of the northwest coast of North America, from Oregon to southeast Alaska. Its wood is used to make canoes, totem poles, houses, masks, helmets, armor, boxes, utensils, tools, and many other art and utility objects. Some northwest coast tribes refer to themselves as “people of the redcedar” because of their extensive dependence on the tree for basic materials.


The bark is easily removed from live trees in long strips, and is harvested for use in making mats, rope and cordage, basketry, rain hats, clothing, and other soft goods. The harvesting of bark must be done with care because if the tree is completely stripped it will die. To prevent this, the harvester only harvests from trees which have not been stripped before, and usually less than a half round of the bark is removed. After harvesting the tree is not used for bark again, although it may later be felled for wood. Stripping bark is usually started with a series of cuts at the base of the tree above any buttresses, and the bark is peeled upwards. To remove bark high up, a pair of platforms strung on rope around the tree are used, and the harvester climbs by alternating between them for support.

Since redcedars lose their lower branches as all tall trees do in the rainforest, the harvester may climb 10 m or more into the tree by this method. The harvested bark is folded and carried in backpacks. It can be stored for quite some time as mold does not grow on it, and is moistened before unfolding and working. It is then split lengthwise into the required width and woven or twisted into shape. Bark harvesting was mostly done by women, despite the danger of climbing 10 m in the air, because they were the primary makers of bark goods. Today bark rope making is a lost art in many communities, although it is still practiced for decoration or art in a few places. Other uses of bark are still common for artistic or practical purposes.


Redcedar branches are very flexible and have good tensile strength. They were stripped and used as strong cords for fishing line, rope cores, twine, and other purposes where bark cord was not strong enough or might fray. Both the branches and bark rope have been replaced by modern fiber and nylon cordage among the aboriginal northwest coast peoples, though the bark is still in use for the other purposes mentioned above.

Harvesting redcedars required some ceremony, and included propitiation of the tree’s spirits as well as those of the surrounding trees. In particular, many people specifically requested the tree and its brethren not to fall or drop heavy branches on the harvester, a situation which is mentioned in a number of different stories of people who were not sufficiently careful. Some professional loggers of Native American descent have mentioned that they offer quiet or silent propitiations to trees which they fell, following in this tradition.

Felling of large trees such as redcedar before the introduction of steel tools was a complex and time-consuming art. Typically the bark was removed around the base of the tree above the buttresses, and then some amount of cutting and splitting with stone adzes and mauls would be done, creating a wide triangular cut. The area above and below the cut would be covered with a mixture of wet moss and clay as a firebreak, and then the cut would be packed with tinder and small kindling and slowly burned. The process of cutting and burning would alternate until the tree was mostly penetrated through, and then careful tending of the fire would fell the tree in the best direction for handling. This process could take many days, and constant rotation of workers was involved to keep the fires burning through night and day, often in a remote and forbidding location.

Once the tree was felled the work had only just begun, as it then had to be stripped and dragged down to shore. If the tree was to become canoes then it would often be divided into sections and worked into rough canoe shapes before transport, but if it were to be used for a totem pole or building materials it would be towed in the round to the village. Many trees are still felled in this traditional manner for use as totem poles and canoes, particularly by artists who feel that using modern tools is detrimental to the traditional spirit of the art. Non-traditionalists simply buy redcedar logs or lumber at mills or lumber yards, a practice that is commonly followed by most working in smaller sizes such as for masks and staves.

Because felling required such an extraordinary amount of work, if only planks were needed for housing, these would be split from the living tree. The bark was stripped and saved, and two cuts were made at the ends of the planking. Then wedges would be pounded in along the sides and the planks slowly split off the side of the tree. Trees which have been so harvested are still visible in some places in the rainforest, with obvious chunks taken off of their sides. Such trees usually continue to grow perfectly well, since redcedar wood is resistant to decay.

  • Light Requirements: Full Sun, Part Shade, Full Shade
  • Water Requirements: Moist, Seasonally Wet
  • Ease of Growing: Easy to grow
  • Growth Rate: Moderate
  • Spreads: No
  • Wildlife Support: Birds or Mammals
  • Edible: No
  • Mature Height: 100-200ft
  • Mature Width: 30ft

Western Hemlock

Western hemlock (Tsuga heterophylla)
Tsuga heterophylla

Tsuga heterophylla, commonly known as the Western Hemlock, is the largest species of hemlock growing to 200′ tall, and with a trunk diameter of up to 4′. The tallest specimen, 78.9 m tall, is in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, California. It is long-lived, with trees over 1200 years old known.

Western hemlock bark is thin, furrowed, and brown. Young trees have a broad conic shape with a strongly drooping lead shoot. At all ages, it is readily distinguished by the pendulous branchlet tips. The needles are short, averaging less than 1″ long, strongly flattened in cross-section, mid to dark green above, and with two broad bands of white stomata below with only a narrow green midrib between the bands.

The cones are small, pendulous, slender, and cylindrical, 1-3″ long with thin, flexible scales. The immature cones are green, maturing gray-brown 5-7 months after pollination. It is a very shade-tolerant tree, with young plants typically growing up under the canopy of other conifers such as Sitka Spruce and Douglas-fir. Without disturbance, hemlocks eventually dominate the canpoy, as other conifers cannot grow in their dense shade. However, storms and (rarely) wildfires create openings in the forest where less shade-tolerant species can regenerate.

Western Hemlock is the state tree of Washington.

Cultivation & Uses

Western Hemlock is cultivated in its native territories, where its best reliability is seen in wetter regions.

Western Hemlock boughs are used to collect herring eggs during the spring spawn in southeast Alaska. The boughs provide an easily collectible surface for the eggs to attach to as well as provide a distinctive flavor. This practice originates from traditional gathering methods of the Tlingit people.

The edible cambium can be collected by scraping slabs of removed bark. The resulting shavings can be eaten immediately, or can be dried and pressed into cakes for preservation. The bark also serves as a source of tannin for tanning.

Western Hemlock is also an important timber and paper tree, and is grown worldwide as an ornamental species.

  • Light Requirements: Full Sun, Part Shade, Full Shade
  • Water Requirements: Dry, Moist
  • Ease of Growing: Easy to grow
  • Growth Rate: Fast
  • Spreads: No
  • Wildlife Support: Pest-eating Insects, Birds or Mammals
  • Edible: No
  • Mature Height: 120-200
  • Mature Width: 30-40ft

Grand Fir

Grand fir (Abies grandis)
Abies grandis

Grand fir or giant fir is native to the Pacific Northwest of North America, occurring at altitudes of sea level to 1,800 m. It is a large, evergreen, coniferous tree growing to 40-70 m (exceptionally 80 m) tall and with a trunk diameter of up to 2 m.

The glossy dark green leaves are needle-like and 3-6 cm long. They lie in two more-or-less flat ranks on either side of the shoot. The cones are 6-12 cm long and 3.5-4.5 cm broad. The cones do not fall to the ground whole, but disintegrate on the tree and release their seeds at maturity, about 6 months after pollination.


The foliage has an attractive scent, and is sometimes used for Christmas decoration, including Christmas trees. It is also planted as an ornamental tree in large parks.

  • Light Requirements: Full Sun, Part Shade, Full Shade
  • Water Requirements: Moist, Seasonally Wet
  • Ease of Growing: Easy to grow
  • Growth Rate: Moderate
  • Spreads: No
  • Wildlife Support: Hummingbirds, Pest-eating Insects, Birds or Mammals
  • Edible: No
  • Mature Height: 200ft
  • Mature Width: 40ft
1 2 3