Mount Rainier National Park can claim no such gigantic trees as the ancient sequoias found growing in Sequoia and Yosemite National Parks but for density of stand and uniformly fine forests there is no finer timber growing on earth than is found covering the lower slopes of Mount Rainier. Much of the timber if cut into lumber would run one hundred and fifty to two hundred board feet to the acre and individual trees of three different species reach a diameter of six feet or more and a height of two hundred and fifty feet. Many of these trees growing in dense stands exhibit from one hundred to one hundred and fifty feet of clear bole. Individual trees contain sufficient material if cut into lumber to build a large size dwelling.
The three largest trees in the Park are the Western Hemlock, Western Red Cedar and the Douglas Fir which by the way is not a true fir or abies but belongs to the genus Pseudotsuga and has no other close relatives. Of the three big trees mentioned the Douglas fir is by far the most important both in size, numbers and quality of wood. It is found from British Columbia southward to Northern Mexico. The finest forests occuring in Washington and Oregon are on the lower slopes of the coast mountains. Douglas Fir is common in the Park up to 3600 feet, sometimes in almost pure stands but often mixed with other species. In the higher mountains it prefers warm southern exposures and is seldom found on the wind-swept ridges.
The tree seeds itself annually and the young trees grow very rapidly in the open but do not flourish in the shade. For that reason clean-cutting and fire aid in establishing the new stands. As the trees become older the rate of growth varies with the situation and character of the soil so that the size does not determine the age of the tree.
Both the Douglas fir and the Western Red Cedar are long lived trees and specimens are occasionally found 250 to 270 feet high 10 feet in diameter and 700 years in age. Each species has a definite old age limit after which it becomes decadent and dies from natural causes. With the Western Hemlock this limit is only between 300 and 400 years. The bark of the Douglas fir is reddish brown and deep-furrowed.
At each station along the Nisqually road, sections of a large Douglas fir tree six feet in diameter have been mounted as bulletin boards. A study of the annual rings of this specimen revealed some interesting facts. The tree from which it was cut stood at an elevation of 3100 feet on a favorable site. The tree was 225 feet high and 665 years old.
The little tree started in the year 1258, "when knighthood was in flower," and America was yet unknown.
At the time Columbus discovered America this tree was 234 years of age, 28 inches in diameter and 150 feet high. When Mount Rainier was first discovered by white men in 1792 the tree was practically as large as it was when cut.
Another interesting fact revealed was that this tree accurately checked the weather records as far back as they go and carried the record back much farther. For instance there is a well-known climatic cycle of wet and dry years extending over periods of about 35 years each depending upon the arrangement of the sun spots. Just as accurately as the glaciers and weather bureau had recorded the wet and dry periods the record was left in the trees. All through its 600 odd years this tree has series of small rings alternated with series of larger rings between 35 and 40 of each to a series and denoting dry and wet period respectively. The fluctuations of the glaciers have recorded less definitely the same information.
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