The Latin name concolor references the uniform white color on the top and bottom of the two inch blue-gray needles. Along the twig, needles are loosely spaced and turn upwards giving them a V or U-shape.
White firs are commonly found in the park’s lowest elevations, often growing amongst ponderosa pine and Douglas fir. White firs are less fire-resistant than their cohorts due to the thin bark found on younger trees. In the absence of fire, these prolific seeders rapidly crowd out other tree species because their seedlings thrive in shaded conditions.
Whitebark Pine (Pinus albicaulis)
One of the most significant tree species in the park grows at the highest elevations which hints at its hardiness, size, and contribution to the subalpine ecosystems. Whitebark pine reach heights of 40 to 60 feet (12 to 18m) and may survive over 500 years. Needles are in bundles of 5 and may reach 7 inches (18 cm) in length.
Click on Whitebark pine to read more about its significance, the mutual relationship with Clark's nutcracker, threats to the species, and current conservation.
Western White Pine (Pinus monticola)
This is one of three, five-needle pine tree species growing in the park. The others are the high elevation whitebark pine and the long-needled sugar pine. Western white pines are often found in mixed forests and can reach heights of 180 feet.
The most distinctive feature of western white pines is the long, slender cone. Cones can reach five to twelve inches and may form a gentle curve like a banana. The cone scales are curved at the tips, and often have a white sticky resin.
Subalpine Fir (Abies lasiocarpa var. lasiocarpa)
Branching from bottom to top the subalpine fir is one of the shortest conifers in the park. The crown dramatically narrows and spirals to the top. Purple cones sit upright on the short, uppermost limbs. When the cones are mature, the scales break off leaving the core spike on the tree.
Subalpine fir enjoys cool temperatures, and is found at the highest elevations in the park and also in higher-elevation drainages where cold air pools. The observant hiker will find it along the Rim Trail from Discovery Point to Hillman Peak, where it can be found in both upright and krummholz forms. It rarely exceeds 100’ in height.
Sugar Pine (Pinus lambertiana)
Sugar Pine is named after the sweet resin (sap) that seeps from tree wounds. It is recognized as the tallest species of pine trees in the world. Also impressive are the sugar pine cones which can reach 20 inches in length and produce seeds the size of corn kernels. The large cones dangle from the tips of upper limbs like a fish from a fishing pole.
The sugar pine produces bundles of five needles, each are 10 to 20 inches long. A white color appearing on all three sides of the needles distinguishes the Sugar pine from the shorter-needled, western white pine where white is present on only two sides. Click here for expanded information about sugar pines.
Red Fir (Abies magnifica x procera)
The challenge surrounding red fir species is knowing which variety or hybrid it is. At Crater Lake, in the southern Cascades and nearby Siskiyous Mountains the most commonly identified Red Fir is the Shasta Red Fir. It is a hybrid of the Red and Noble Firs that grows larger cones with whiskery, shorter bracts. Like all firs, the cones are upright on top of the branch rather than hanging from it.
Individual needles look like hockey pucks, and when rolled between fingers their square shape is detected. Looking up into the tree, the needle clusters appear to grow in a snowflake-like pattern. The common name, red fir, refers to the dark red color of the bark on a mature tree. The Latin name Abies magnifica addresses the tree’s magnificent presence.
Ponderosa Pine (Pinus ponderosa var. ponderosa)
Which camp are you in, butterscotch or vanilla? A nose pressed close to the bark of a ponderosa pine might breathe in one of these commonly noted aromas. However, an easier way to identify a ponderosa pine is by the yellow to reddish, flat, puzzle-like pieces of bark. Also, ponderosa pines are the only pines growing at Crater Lake that have three-needles per bundle.
Ponderosa Pines dominate the lower elevations of the park, primarily on the south and east sides. One attribute that distinguishes ponderosa pines as perfect trees to grow in volcanic soils is a long tap root. The root allows moisture to be absorbed at many levels, and it steadies the tall tree in high winds. The height, towering crown, and thick bark render the Ponderosa Pine fire resistant.
Mountain Hemlock (Tsuga mertensiana) and
Western Hemlock (Tsuga heterophylla)
Looking up towards the sky is one easy way to identify the mountain and western hemlocks. Their defining signature is a droopy leader at the top. Mountain hemlock are widespread in the park beginning around 5,000 feet in elevation, prevalent around the administration buildings and along Rim Drive. Western hemlocks grow at lower elevations on the western side of the park along slopes and canyon bottoms. Both species have small cones with rounded scales.
Two different size needles, with green above and white underneath, identify the western hemlocks and differentiate the two hemlock species. Mountain hemlock needles lack the white underside, and are more uniform in size. Similarly, the needles of both species appear to grow from the sides of the twigs.
Lodgepole Pine (Pinus contorta var. latifolia)
There are three varieties of Lodgepole Pines found in Oregon and each have a distinct range. At Crater Lake and in the Cascade Mountain Range only the variety latifolia grows. It is tall and straight as its name suggests. Lodgepole pines reach 100 feet in height and they grow throughout the park.
There are two helpful keys in identifying the lodgepole pine. One is knowing that it is the only native pine in the Pacific Northwest with two needles per bundle. The second hint are the prickly scales on the cones.
Incense Cedar (Calocedrus decurrens)
Incense cedar is one of the lesser known conifers in the park but many people are familiar with how it feels in hand and its aromatic essence. Most pencils and cedar chests were once made from its wood.
All cedars in the United States bare a false identity. They are not of the Cedrus genus which mainly grow in the Middle East. However, their common name aptly refers to their incense aroma.
Engelmann Spruce (Picea engelmannii)
Engelmann spruce needles are arranged all the way around the twig resembling the shape of a bottlebrush. Each needle is four-sided with a sharp tip that serves as a helpful reminder you’ve touched an Engelmann spruce needle! When needles fall off, the woody peg from which they grew remains on the twig giving the twig a bumpy texture. The cones are about three inches long with pointed, paper-thin scales.
The wood from an Engelmann spruce is best known for its use in crafting superior violins and guitars, and is a great source for paper. These trees can be found in lower elevation drainages on the western side of the Park. Engelmann spruce are never too far away from a water source.
Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii var. menziesii)
Douglas-fir is the state tree of Oregon and by far the most common conifer in the state. It is found in the lower elevations of the park. Competing with ponderosa pine and white fir trees for space and nutrients, Douglas-firs can grow over 200’ tall. The deep furrowed bark and the tree's height help make this species fire resistant.
The Douglas-fir is not at all a fir tree nor is it a hemlock as the Latin name suggests—Psuedotsuga or false hemlock. Douglas-fir cones are the only cones with a three-pointed bract and are easily identified as a common fairy-tale about mice tails and feet remind us.
More on Douglas-Fir, by NPS Klamath Inventory & Monitoring Network.
Quaking Aspen (Populus tremuloides)
The name says it all. Three inch, heart shaped leaves attached to flexible stems quake in a gentle breeze. As the leaves collectively quiver a distinct whispering sound fills the air. Quaking aspen leaves sport two shades of green in spring and summer, turning to gold in autumn.
The whitish bark of Quaking aspen make them easy to identify. This species is small in comparison to the surrounding conifers. At most, they are 80 feet tall and have 2-foot diameter trunks. Aspen groves are uncommon in the Park, scattered at lower elevations in remote areas. Outside the Park, a short hike through an aspen woodland can be found at the Wood River Day Use Area.
Black Cottonwood (Populus trichocarpa)
Black cottonwood is one of few deciduous trees growing in the park. In contrast, it is the tallest, fastest-growing hardwood in the western United States. The cottonwood grows in moist areas such as along Annie Creek. Leaves hang from a long petiole or leafstalk. A breeze reveals their bi-color, green on one side and silvery-white on the other.
The names cottonwood and Populus refer to the springtime dispersal of seeds. Billowy cotton-like tufts are attached to tiny seeds that float with the wind. In the fall, a lone black cottonwood tree growing on the western shore of Wizard Island reveals itself as it turns to gold. This rare site can be viewed with binoculars from the Watchman Lookout.
Last updated: April 27, 2022
Crater Lake National Park
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