Conifer Trees

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

 
(left) A large tree trunk stretches up into the canopy; (upper right) a branch covered in needles and cones; (right bottom) a close up of a cone with forked bracts.
Douglas-fir are giants of the forest, with deeply grooved bark (left) with bristle-brush sprays of needles (upper right) and distinctive cones (bottom right). Note the forked bracts between the scales of the cone.

NPS Photos

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.

 
(Left) A large tree with wide branches; (upper right) A single cone upright on a branch; (lower right) details of bracts covering a cone.
Noble fir along Stevens Canyon (left), with upright cones (top right) that are covered in yellow-green bracts (bottom right).

NPS Photos

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.

 
(Left) Spire-like first in a subalpine meadow; (upper right) close-up of a cluster of cones on a branch; (lower right) Two twisted grey trunks.
Subalpine fir in a subalpine meadow at Paradise (left) with detail of a cluster of purplish, upright cones (top right). Subalpine fir can have twisted trunks at high elevations (bottom right).

NPS Photos

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.

 
Combination photo top to bottom of several hemlocks growing in a meadow; close-up of long tightly closed cones; close-up of open cones on bushy branches.
Mountain Hemlock in a subalpine meadow (left) with details of closed cones hanging from the branch (top right) and open cones (bottom right).

NPS Photos

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.

 
Combination photo of a tall conifer on the edge of a rocky river (left); a branch with a cluster of cones (right top) and close up of grooved bark (right bottom).
Western hemlock at the edge of the Nisqually river (left) with details of branches with cones (top right) and bark (bottom right).

NPS Photos

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.

 
(Left) A pine tree with scraggly branches; (top right) A branch with green needles and a small cone; (right bottom) Close up of scaly grey bark..
Lodgepole pine next to the Longmire meadow (left), with details of a cone surrounded by long needles (top right) and scaly bark (bottom right).

NPS Photos

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.

 
(Left) A cluster of several white-trunked pines; (top right) A branch with bunchs of pine needles; (right bottom) Close up of scaly brownish white bark.
Whitebark pine in a subalpine meadow (left), with details of needles (top right) and mature bark (bottom right).

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.

 
(Left) A large pine with full branches tipped in clusters of cones; (top right) Close up of the top of a pine with bunches of needles and hanging cones; (right bottom) Close up of scale-like tree bark.
Western white pine (left) with details of long, hanging cones (top right) and scaly bark (bottom right).

NPS Photos

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.

 
(Left) Base of a tree with scale bark and drooping branches; (top left) Close up of a branch with needles and two cones; (bottom right) A small conifer tree with blue-green needles.
Mature Engleman spruce (left) compared with shrubby, young tree (bottom right), and with detail of cones with pointed needles (top right).

NPS Photos

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

 
(Left) A tall tree with white bark and drooping branches; (top right) A branch with scaled needles and small berry-like cones; (right bottom) Close up of peeling brown-grey bark.
A tall Alaska yellow cedar with a ranger for scale (left) and details of small berry-like cones (top right) and peeling bark (bottom right).

NPS Photos

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.

 
(Left) A large tree next to a snowy road; (top right) A cluster of brown upturned cones; (bottom right) Close up of reddish bark.
Western red cedar next to a snowy road (left), with details of upturned cones (top right) and reddish bark (bottom right).

NPS Photos

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

 
(Left) A small shrubby tree; (upper right) a branch with sprays of needles and a single red berry; (lower right) a trunk with peeling reddish bark.
Yew (left), with details of berry-like seed (top right) and peeling reddish bark (bottom right).

NPS Photos; Bark: NPS/C. Vecchio Photo

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.


Last updated: September 9, 2019

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