Washington is known as one of the most forested states in the United States, with a wide range of tree species that thrive in its diverse climate. There are 22.5 million acres of forest land covering about half of Washington’s total land area, and there are 9.4 billion live trees on this forestland. Most of these trees grow on the more humid west side of Washington, where they can benefit from increased moisture levels. However, some native tree species are also found across other parts of the state, such as Douglas fir, western red cedar, western hemlock, and bigleaf maple, among many others.
These forests provide essential habitats for wildlife such as birds, mammals, and reptiles while also providing economic benefits to local communities through lumber production or tourism activities dependent upon them. For example, timber harvested from Washington forests has been used worldwide to produce furniture and building materials. Birdwatchers travel far distances to find rare feathered friends living in its lush green environment!
Below are some towering trees that are native to the State of Washington.
1. Big Leaf Maple
Big leaf maple (Acer macrophyllum) is a large deciduous tree native to Washington State that can reach heights of up to 158 feet. It has a broad canopy, and its giant leaves are typically 6-12 inches in size, making it one of the easiest trees to identify in the region.
This species of maple provides a habitat for many kinds of animals, including birds, rodents, bats, and squirrels, who use its thick branches for nesting or roosting. In addition, big leaf maples attract numerous species of insects, such as bees and butterflies, which help pollinate other plants in the area. These maples produce winged samara-type fruits full of seeds that many animals love to eat. You can see grosbeaks, black-tailed deer, mule deer, elk, horses, beavers, and rodents eating bigleaf maple seeds. It is also one of the favorite habitats of the barred owl and the Hammond flycatcher. Big leaf maples are host to air plants like club moss and licorice ferns on their bark and branches.
2. Bitter Cherry
The bitter cherry (Prunus emarginata) is a small deciduous tree native to Washington State and the Pacific Northwest. It grows up to 50 feet tall with reddish-brown bark. The leaves are long and egg-shaped with a lovely yellow-green hue.
Bitter cherries produce showy white flowers with an almond scent which develop into small reddish-purple fruits by late summer. These fruits are edible for humans but too sour for most palates.
Bitter cherry trees propagate by underground stems to create a thicket. These thickets are favorite homes to birds, who view them as a reliable source of nourishment. In turn, the birds help distribute the cherry seeds. Deer and many small mammals browse the foliage. This tree is an important host to many larvae, including that of the blinded sphinx, pale tiger swallowtail, and western tiger swallowtail, to name only a few.
3. Black Cottonwood
Black cottonwood (Populus trichocarpa) is a deciduous tree native to Washington State. It has glossy green leaves and can reach towering heights of 164 feet. The grey bark is covered in lenticels and becomes fissured with age.
Its fragrant flowers appear in early spring and give way to long, pendulous catkins that release masses of cottony seeds in late summer – hence its common name! Black cottonwood provides an ideal habitat for cavity nesters, like woodpeckers and owls. Beavers are quite fond of black cottonwood trees as food and material for building dams.
4. Douglas Fir
Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) is a species of coniferous tree native to western North America. It grows in abundance throughout the Pacific Northwest, including Washington State, where it is one of the most common trees. Douglas fir trees grow rapidly and can reach heights of up to 330 feet and trunk diameters exceeding 8-10 feet when mature. The oldest Douglas fir trees in Washington are over 500 years old!
This majestic tree provides an extremely important food source for moles, shrews, and chipmunks, who rely heavily on the seeds. The Douglas squirrel hoards large amounts of cones for winter. Older Douglas fir trees are home to red tree voles and spotted owls. Blue grouse eat Douglas fir needles in the spring, and Lepidoptera larvae rely on the leaves and bark. North American porcupines think Douglas fir bark is a tasty treat, and plants like lichens, moss, and mistletoe live on this tree their entire lives.
5. Oregon Ash
Oregon ash (Fraxinus latifolia) is a species of deciduous tree native to western North America. It grows between 50 and 80 feet in height, with a lifespan of well over 200 years. The bark of the Oregon ash is gray-brown, smooth when young, and becomes furrowed as it matures. Its foliage turns bright yellow before dropping off each autumn.
The fruit is produced by female trees and is a winged samsara shaped like a canoe. Many animal species rely on these seeds for food, including birds such as woodpeckers, flickers, chickadees, grosbeaks, jays, and thrushes. Squirrels, deer, and elk are also known to graze the fruit, foliage, and sprouts.
6. Red Alder
Red alder (Alnus rubra) is native to the Pacific Northwest and can be found in many parts of Washington State. This tree species grows rapidly and can reach heights up to 100 feet. Red alder trees have large, oval leaves that turn yellow in the fall. Their bark is smooth and gray, often covered in white lichen and moss. They produce small cones-shaped fruits full of seeds.
Red alder trees provide numerous benefits for local wildlife in Washington State. They are an important food source for deer and elk in the winter, and beavers eat the bark when there is nothing better around them. Finches, in particular, love the seeds, including common redpoll and pine siskin finches. Deer mice create hoards of seeds for winter dining. Caterpillars eat large amounts of red alder leaves.
7. Shore Pine
Shore pine (Pinus contorta var. contorta) is a small evergreen tree native to the coastal areas of Washington State. It typically grows 40-50 feet tall and is found in beach forests, dunes, and other habitats along the coast. Shore pines are conifers that have twisted needles in bundles of two. The cones of shore pines are egg-shaped and release many seeds.
Shore pines provide nutritious oily seeds for birds like Clark’s nutcrackers, crossbills, grosbeaks, jays, nuthatches, chickadees, and woodpeckers. Chipmunks and squirrels rely heavily on the seeds for winter storage. The leaves are a favorite food of grouse, deer, and elk.
8. Sitka Spruce
Sitka spruce (Picea sitchensis) is a coniferous tree species native to the Pacific Northwest region of North America, including Washington State. It is a large evergreen tree reaching up to 330 feet tall at maturity. The bark on this tree is thin, scaly, and reddish-brown and its needles are short and pointed with bluish-green coloring.
Sitka spruce offers important habitats for various mammals, birds, reptiles, and amphibians. It is a crucial part of the ecosystem, providing hiding places and nesting sites for many creatures. Sitka deer, in particular, require an old-growth Sitka spruce forest for their winter home. Bald eagles and peregrine falcons are very fond of this tree and prefer it as a nesting site over others in the same area. Many insects live within its bark crevices, and mushrooms grow upon decomposing trunks.
9. Western Red Cedar
Western red cedar (Thuja plicata) is a coniferous tree native to the Pacific Northwest region of North America, including Washington State. It can grow up to 230 feet tall and has flat sprays of foliage reminiscent of fans or feathers. The bark is grayish=-brown in color and fissured in verticle bands.
The western red cedar provides crucial forage for Roosevelt elk and black-tailed deer in winter. Dozens of birds and rodents eat the seeds. Larger animals that like to live in dens, like bears, raccoons, and skunks, use red cedar logs as their home. Birds like yellow-bellied sapsuckers, hairy woodpeckers, and Vaux’s swifts make nests in this tree. Western red cedar trees host many insects, like cedar bark beetles, gall midges, and weevils.
10. Ponderosa Pine
Ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa) is a large coniferous pine tree native to Washington State. It grows up to 235 feet tall. It has orange-red bark that fissures into broad plates to reveal the black underlayer. The bark has a distinct turpentine smell. Ponderosa pine produces egg-shaped cones in great numbers. The cones are scaly with sharp points and full of seeds.
Ponderosa pine needles are one of the only foods eaten by the gelechiid moth (Chionodes retiniella) when in the caterpillar stage. Beetles, like western pine beetle, feast on the bark. The seeds are eaten by many animals and birds, like squirrels, chipmunks, quail, grouse, and mule deer. American black bears like this tree for climbing because of its rough bark and straight trunk.
What is the Washington State Tree?
The Washington state tree is the western hemlock (Tsuga heterophylla). The western hemlock is a large coniferous tree native to the Pacific Northwest and can be found in many parts of Washington State. It has short, flat needles that are dark green on top and pale white underneath. This evergreen tree grows up to 273 feet tall with a trunk circumference of up to nine feet.
The western hemlock provides essential shelter for local wildlife, such as birds, squirrels, deer, elk, and even bears! Its thick canopy offers protection from the elements, while its long roots help absorb water during periods of heavy rain or snowfall. Additionally, western hemlock grows in association with edible fungi like Pacific golden chanterelle and white chanterelle mushrooms.
Washington state is a unique place due to the variety of topography and climate it contains. The state’s western side consists of temperate rainforests filled with lush vegetation, while the eastern side holds arid deserts with sparse plant life. This diverse environment makes Washington home to many species of native trees, each providing unique benefits to its local wildlife. These trees provide food and shelter for birds, insects, mammals, and other animals that inhabit these regions. Additionally, they help maintain air quality by filtering pollutants from the air and contribute to soil stability by protecting against erosion in areas prone to landslides or floods. Overall, these native trees play an integral role in keeping Washington’s ecosystems healthy and balanced for future generations.
Summary of 10 Towering Trees Native to Washington State
|1||Big Leaf Maple||Up to 158 feet|
|2||Bitter Cherry||Up to 50 feet|
|3||Black Cottonwood||Up to 164 feet|
|4||Douglas Fir||Up to 330 feet|
|5||Oregon Ash||Up to 80 feet|
|6||Red Alder||Up to 100 feet|
|7||Shore Pine||Up to 50 feet|
|8||Sitka Spruce||Up to 330 feet|
|9||Western Red Cedar||Up to 230 feet|
|10||Ponderosa Pine||Up to 235 feet|
The photo featured at the top of this post is © Marinodenisenko/Shutterstock.com
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- Washington Forest Protection Association, Available here: https://www.wfpa.org/sustainable-forestry/tree-species/
- USDA, Available here: https://www.fs.usda.gov/research/treesearch/58048
- Oregon State University, Available here: https://landscapeplants.oregonstate.edu/plants/pinus-contorta-var-contorta
- , Available here: https://www.wta.org/news/magazine/magazine/1237.pdf
- , Available here: https://your.kingcounty.gov/dnrp/library/water-and-land/yard-and-garden/native-plant-guide-western-washington.pdf