Conifers, also known as evergreens, are trees that keep their leaves all year. Deciduous trees loose their leaves in the fall. Learn more about the different conifer tree species found in Mount Rainier National Park.
* Identification descriptions pending. Species in italics can be found in the park but are rare.
Pine - Family Pinaceae
Douglas-fir Pseudotsuga menziesii
Prevalence: Abundant Elevation: Low to mid-elevation forests throughout the park Cones: 2-4 in (5-11 cm), with distinctive forked bracts between each scale
Douglas-fir is a dominate species in Pacific Northwest forests. Mature trees can be as large as 13 ft (4 m) in diameter and reach heights of 300 ft (90 m). Some Douglas-fir in the park are believed to be over 1,000 years old. The bark of older trees becomes very thick with reddish-brown, deeply-furrowed ridges. Older trees also loose their lower branches, leaving behind straight trunks. Needles are flat and bristle out around the twigs.
Noble Fir Abies procera
Prevalence: Scattered to Abundant Elevation: Mid-elevation forests throughout the park Cones: 4-7 in (10-18 cm)
Noble fir is one of the taller trees in the park, able to reach heights of 200 feet (60 m), with strong horizontal branches. Needles are four-sided, bluish-green, and curve upwards. The needle tips are blunt to pointed, but not notched like grand or sliver fir. Cones are large with distinctive green-to-yellow, pointed bracts covering the scales. Young bark is smooth and grey with resin blisters, but becomes reddish-brown and furrowed in mature trees.
Subalpine Fir Abies lasiocarpa
Prevalence: Abundant Elevation: Upper elevation forests and subalpine zone Cones: 2-4 in (5-10 cm)
Subalpine fir can be up to 65 feet tall (20 m) tall with a picturesque, spire-like formation at the lower elevations of their range. However, at higher elevations they can be shrublike with twisted trunks due to the pressure of winter snowpack. They can also loose branches on the side exposed to the wind. Needles are blueish-green and curve upwards with blunt tips, and have stripes of stomata on both sides. Cones are purplish, with bracts shorter than the scales. Bark is grey and smooth.
Mountain Hemlock Tsuga mertensiana
Prevalence: Abundant Elevation: Low to mid-elevation forests throughout the park, but typically higher elevation than western hemlock. Cones: 1-2 in (2.5-5 cm), twice as long as the western hemlock
Mountain hemlock has drooping tips similar to the western hemlock, but does not reach as tall. In subalpine areas, mountain hemlock can be stunted and twisted from growing under the pressures of winter snowpack and winds. It has short needles that are equal in length and tend to be bushy around the twigs rather than the "2-ranked" flat spray of needles on the western hemlock.
Western Hemlock Tsuga heterophylla
Prevalence: Abundant Elevation: Low to mid-elevation forests throughout the park Cones: 1 in (2.5 cm), half that of mountain hemlock
Western hemlock is a widespread tree in Pacific Northwest forests. Mature trees are commonly about 4 feet (1.2 m) in diameter but can grow as large as 8 feet (2.4 m) in diameter and 200 feet (60 m) tall. The tree's crown is narrow with drooping tips similar to the mountain hemlock. Bark is dark to reddish brown and becomes grooved with age. Needles are uneven in length and arranged in "2-ranked" flat sprays. The undersides of the yellow-green needles are whiteish with 2 thin white lines of stomata.
Lodgepole Pine Pinus contorta
Prevalence: Scattered Elevation: Low to upper elevation forests in the north side of the park and Longmire Cones: 1.5-2 in (4-5 cm)
Lodgepole pines are smaller trees reaching 6-50 feet (5-15 m) tall. The yellow-green needles are bundled in sets of two, 1.5-2.5 in (3-5 cm) long. Cones are brownish-green and can stay on the branch for years. Some cones are sealed by resin and need wildfire to open. Bark is dark gray and scaly. Lodgepole pine are adaptable to terrain that can be challenging for other trees, such as areas of poor soil, and are tolerant of wide temperature ranges. While most lodgepole pines are found in the north side of the park, there is a population in Longmire. It is believed that early settlers accidently introduced the species to the area.
Whitebark Pine Pinus albicaulis
Prevalence: Locally Abundant Elevation: High elevation forests mostly in the northeast side of the park Cones: 1-3 in (3-8 cm)
Whitebark pine is named for the smooth white bark of younger trees and branches. As the tree matures the bark can form brown, scaly plates. It is the only pine in the subalpine zone and can be stunted and shrub-like from exposure to winter winds and heavy snow. Whitebark pine can grow as a single tree, but is often found in clusters of several trunks. It is a five-needle pine, with egg-shaped cones that hang downwards.
Western White Pine Pinus monticola
Prevalence: Scattered Elevation: Mid-elevation forests throughout the park Cones: 4-10 in (10-25 cm)
Mature western white pines can reach heights of 120 ft (37 m) with an average diameter of 3 ft (90 cm). Limbs form symmetrical whorls around the trunk. Bark is smooth and greyish-green when young, but becomes scaly in older trees. Needles are 2-5 in (5-13 cm) long and grow in clusters of 5. It is the only 5-needle pine found below the subalpine zone. Western white pines were once more common in the Pacific Northwest but many were affected by white pine blister rust during the 1900s, which still affects trees today.
Englemann Spruce Picea engelmannii
Prevalence: Scattered Elevation: Mid to upper elevation forests mostly on the north side of the park Cones: 2-4 in (5-10 cm)
Englemann spruce in the park can grow to be about 65 feet (20 m) tall. Their needles are four-sided, with white stomata stripes on all sides, a sharp tip, and brush towards the tip of the branch. Young branches are fuzzy with bright green needles. Each needle grows separately on the branch and has a woody base that stays on the branch after the needle falls. Cones are yellow-brown with thin, papery, scales. Bark is thin and scaly. Mature trees have a dense crown with hanging pendant branchlets, though the tree can also be shrubby.
Cypress - Family Cupressaceae
Alaska Yellow Cedar Chamaecyparis nootkatensis
Prevalence: Abundant Elevation: Mid to upper elevation forests throughout the park Cones: less than 0.4 in (1 cm), "berry"-like
Alaska yellow cedar can be up to 160 feet (50 m) tall with dirty white to grey-brown bark that peels in short strips. The yellow inner bark is reported to have a distict smell like raw potatoes. Instead of needles, yellow cedar leaves have four rows of similar blue-ish green scales with sharp tips. One way to distinguish them from red cedar is by stroking the leaf branch from the tip against the grain to see if it feels prickly. If it does, it is yellow cedar; if it feels smooth, it is red cedar. Yellow cedar branches hang limply from the main branch. Cones are very small and appear like waxy blue-green berries when young, ripening to brown cones.
Western Red Cedar Thuja plicata
Prevalence: Abundant Elevation: Low elevation forests throughout the park Cones: Egg-shaped with 0.5 in (1.5 cm) scales
Western red cedar can reach heights of 200 feet (60 m) supported by a thick trunk that can form buttresses at the base. The branches spread widely, drooping before turning upward into "J" shapes. Red cedar has grey to reddish-brown bark that can peel in long strips. Leaves have four rows of scales in a shingle pattern pressed closely to the stem (feels smooth compared to the prickly Alaska yellow cedar) and alternate between pairs of folded and unfolded scales. Cones are green when young, then become brown and turn upwards.
Yew - Family Taxaceae
Western Yew Taxus brevifolia
Prevalence: Scattered Elevation: Low elevation forests throughout the park Cones: None, instead has a single seed
Yews are smaller trees, 6-50 feet (2-15 m) tall, and can be shrub-like. Trunk is often twisted or fluted with shredding, papery, red bark. Needles are dull green above, striped with stomata below, sharply pointed, and arranged in two rows to form flat sprays. Instead of cones, yews have single seeds surrounded by a berry-like red cup that is poisonous for people, but popular with birds.