Skiing the Cascade Volcanoes
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Conifers of the Cascade Range       (page created April 2003, last updated January 2010)

    In addition to being famed for its towering volcanoes and its prodigious mountain snowfalls, the Pacific Northwest is justly renowned for its magnificent coniferous forests. The mild maritime climate supports a large and diverse assortment of species, while the frequent rainfall allows several of the species to grow to monumental size. Of the handful of tree species known to exceed 300 ft (90 m) in height, four of them are found in the Northwest, the coast redwood (Sequoia sempervirens), Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii), Sitka spruce (Picea sitchensis), and noble fir (Abies procera). Of the five largest species of trees by wood volume, the Northwest is home to numbers 2 through 5, the coast redwood, western redcedar (Thuja plicata), Douglas-fir, and Sitka spruce, which trail only the giant sequoia (Sequoiadendron giganteum) in attaining massive bulk.
    Many of the Northwest's largest trees are found in the coastal rainforests of the Olympic Peninsula and Vancouver Island, and in the "fog forests" of southwestern Oregon and northwestern California, all of which are certainly quite spectacular and impressive areas. However, the Cascade Range encompasses a much broader spectrum of climates and environments, since annual precipitation varies markedly both from west to east across its crest and from north to south along its length. Inland temperate rainforests (a relatively uncommon biome worldwide) are found at several locations on the west side of the Washington Cascades and especially the volcanoes, while a only few dozen miles to the east there is a transition to an interior (continental) mountain environment followed by open scrub and near-desert. The wet side of the Cascade Range supports the same tree species as the coastal areas, while the dry side supports a number of others which can not thrive or even survive along the coast. The north-south extent of the Cascades brings it within reach of a number of California species, which significantly enhance the species diversity of the range.
    Of the largest tree species, only the Douglas-fir reaches its maximum size in the Cascade Range, while others such as western redcedar and Sitka spruce may form large specimens inland but are nonetheless far smaller than their coastal brethren. But sadly, no North American tree species has had more of its giants decimated by logging than Douglas-fir, and the largest trees now alive are a mere shadow of the former champions. The largest currently-known tree in the Cascade Range (although not the tallest) is the Cedar Flats Sentinel, a 264 ft (80 m) tall Douglas-fir found near Mount Saint Helens. However, until it blew over in 1930, the largest tree in the Cascade Range and also the largest known member of the Pinaceae (pine family) in the world was the famed Mineral Tree southwest of Mount Rainier, a Douglas-fir with nearly twice the volume of the Cedar Flats Sentinel. The standing portion of the Mineral Tree prior to 1930 was only 225 ft (69 m) tall, but the broken section of the top which had fallen in an earlier storm was lying nearby and measured at 168 ft (51 m). The combined height of 393 ft (120 m) makes this probably the tallest reliably-measured tree ever, surpassing any known living or dead coast redwood. However, scanty reports do exist of Douglas-firs in British Columbia and of mountain ash (Eucalyptus regnans) in Australia exceeding 400 ft (122 m) prior to being logged. (Read the excellent books "Forest Giants of the Pacific Coast" and "Forest Giants of the World" for more info, see the references at the bottom of this page.)

    The table below lists the conifer species known to be native to the Cascade Range from southwestern British Columbia through northern California. Most published works about "Northwest" trees cover only Washington and Oregon, plus occasionally southern British Columbia and Idaho. As far as I know, there is no single reference book which covers the trees or conifers of the entire Cascade Range. The inclusion of the California section of the Cascade Range makes a major difference in the number of listed species, while including the BC portion of the range does not, since all conifers found there are also native to Washington. (Note that not all of the conifer species native to the Cascade Range are found on the Cascade volcanoes.) By my own preliminary count made in 2003, the Cascade Range is home to 33 native species of conifers in 13 genera, which appears to be more conifer species than any other mountain range in the United States. This statement may come as a shock to advocates of the Sierra Nevada, which has been celebrated since the time of John Muir for both the magnificence and the diversity of its coniferous forests. However, the Sierra Nevada is home to "only" 27 native conifer species in 10 genera, since it lacks the genera and species found in both the inland rainforest and northern interior mountain environments of the Cascades, while gaining only a few species native to dry southwestern environments. However, the Klamath Mountains of NW California and SW Oregon are a near-match for the conifer diversity of the Cascades with 31 species in 13 genera, benefitting from a wide variety of environments and soil types despite their much smaller area. See the second table below for a comparison of conifer species diversity in several North American mountain ranges.
    I have compiled these lists myself from various reputable published sources, which provide descriptions and maps of the native ranges of these species. Where sources conflict as to the extent of the range, I have generally accepted the broader range, on the assumption that the smaller range was simply missing data. I have not personally observed and identified all of these species in the field in order to verify their existence in the Cascades. There may well be errors in these lists, and I welcome any suggestions or corrections from knowledgeable sources (see contact info). Photos and more detailed descriptions may eventually be added for some of the more prominent species. See the bibliography of websites and books at the bottom of this page for further information, or if you have any pressing general questions (like "What's a conifer?"). Excellent drawings and photos of the majority of these species (except the larches) can be found in the superb book, Conifers of California. Click on any botanical name to open the corresponding page from the Gymnosperm Database in a separate window.

Whitebark pine (Pinus albicaulis) is one
of the most distinctive timberline species
throughout the length of the Cascade Range
(photo by Amar Andalkar)
<click to enlarge>

List of Native Conifers of the Cascade Range   (last updated April 2003)

Pinaceae  (Pine Family)

Abies amabilis Pacific Silver Fir Cascades, Olympics, Coast Mtns of OR, WA, BC, AK Sea level - 6000 ft (1800 m)
Abies concolor White Fir Mountains of OR, CA, NV, plus southern & central Rockies 2000 - 11000 ft (600 - 3400 m)
Abies grandis Grand Fir Pacific NW mountains and coast, CA, OR, WA, BC, ID, MT Sea level - 6000 ft (1800 m)
Abies lasiocarpa Subalpine Fir Alaska-Yukon-BC Coast Mtns, Cascades, Rockies Sea level - 12000 ft (3700 m)
Abies magnifica Red Fir Southern OR Cascades, Klamath Mtns, Sierra Nevada 4500 - 9000 ft (1400 - 2700 m)
Abies procera Noble Fir Cascades and Coast Ranges of WA, OR, northwest CA 3000 - 5500 ft (900 - 1700 m)
Larix lyallii Alpine Larch East side of Cascades in WA-BC, Rockies of ID, MT, BC, AB 5000 - 10000 ft (1500 - 3000 m)
Larix occidentalis Western Larch Eastern Cascades and mtns in OR-WA, Rockies of ID, MT, BC, AB 2500 - 8000 ft (800 - 2400 m)
Picea engelmannii Engelmann Spruce East side of Cascades and BC Coast Mtns, plus throughout Rockies 2000 - 11500 ft (600 - 3500 m)
Picea sitchensis Sitka Spruce Pacific NW coast and lowlands, CA, OR, WA, BC, AK Sea level - 3000 ft (900 m)
Pinus albicaulis Whitebark Pine Sierra Nevada, Cascades, and BC Coast Mtns, plus northern Rockies 3500 - 12000 ft (1100 - 3700 m)
Pinus attenuata Knobcone Pine Sierra Nevada, Cascades, and Coast Ranges of CA, OR Sea level - 6000 ft (1800 m)
Pinus contorta Lodgepole Pine Alaska-Yukon-BC Coast Mtns, Cascades, Sierra, Rockies Sea level - 12000 ft (3700 m)
Pinus jeffreyi Jeffrey Pine Sierra Nevada, Cascades, Coast Ranges of CA, Baja CA, OR, NV 200 - 10000 ft (60 - 3000 m)
Pinus lambertiana Sugar Pine Sierra Nevada, Cascades, Coast Ranges of CA, Baja CA, OR, NV Sea level - 10000 ft (3000 m)
Pinus monticola Western White Pine Cascades, Sierra Nevada, and BC Coast Mtns, plus northern Rockies Sea level - 11000 ft (3400 m)
Pinus ponderosa Ponderosa Pine Cascades, Sierra, Coast Ranges, Rockies from Mexico to Canada Sea level - 10000 ft (3000 m)
Pinus sabiniana Gray Pine (Digger Pine) Endemic to CA, in the Coast Ranges, Sierra, Cascades 100 - 7000 ft (30 - 2100 m)
Pinus washoensis Washoe Pine Scattered and rare in northeastern CA, small adjacent parts of NV, OR 5500 - 8500 ft (1700 - 2600 m)
Pseudotsuga menziesii Douglas-Fir Cascades, Sierra, Coast Ranges, Rockies from Mexico to Canada Sea level - 10500 ft (3200 m)
Tsuga heterophylla Western Hemlock Pacific NW mtns and coast, CA, OR, WA, BC, AK, Yukon, ID, MT Sea level - 7000 ft (2100 m)
Tsuga mertensiana Mountain Hemlock Cascades, Sierra, Coast Mtns of CA, NV, OR, WA, BC, AK, ID, MT Sea level - 11500 ft (3500 m)
Cupressaceae  (Cypress Family)

Calocedrus decurrens Incense-Cedar Sierra Nevada, Cascades, Coast Ranges of CA, Baja CA, OR, NV 150 - 10000 ft (50 - 3000 m)
Chamaecyparis lawsoniana Port-Orford-Cedar SW OR and NW CA coast, plus Klamath Mtns and Mt Shasta area Sea level - 6500 ft (2000 m)
Chamaecyparis nootkatensis Alaska-Cedar Cascades, Olympics, Klamath, Coast Mtns, CA, OR, WA, BC, AK Sea level - 7500 ft (2300 m)
Cupressus bakeri Baker Cypress Scattered areas of Klamath Mtns, Cascades, N Sierra of CA, OR 3000 - 7000 ft (900 - 2100 m)
Cupressus macnabiana McNab Cypress Endemic to CA, scattered in the Coast Ranges, Sierra, Cascades 1000 - 3000 ft (300 - 900 m)
Juniperus communis Common Juniper Widest distribution of any conifer, much of Northern Hemisphere Sea level - 11500 ft (3500 m)
Juniperus occidentalis Sierra (Western) Juniper Sierra Nevada, east side of Cascades in CA, OR, WA, ID, NV 600 - 10000 ft (200 - 3000 m)
Juniperus scopulorum Rocky Mountain Juniper Much of Rockies, plus east side of WA Cascades, Puget Sound Sea level - 9000 ft (2700 m)
Thuja plicata Western Redcedar Pacific NW mtns and coast, CA, OR, WA, BC, AK, ID, MT, AB Sea level - 7500 ft (2300 m)
Taxaceae  (Yew Family)

Taxus brevifolia Pacific Yew Pacific NW mtns and coast, CA, OR, WA, BC, AK, ID, MT, AB Sea level - 8000 ft (2400 m)
Torreya californica California Nutmeg Endemic to CA, scattered in the Coast Ranges, Sierra, Cascades 2000 - 7000 ft (600 - 2100 m)

NOTE: The Alaska-cedar (Chamaecyparis nootkatensis) has sometimes been classified in the genus Cupressus. It has recently been reclassified in a new genus, Xanthocyparis, joining the recently discovered (2001) golden Vietnamese cypress, Xanthocyparis vietnamensis. This new classification was apparently gaining broad acceptance among botanists. Then it was discovered in 2006 that the name Callitropsis, published in 1864 but mostly forgotten, had precedence over Xanthocyparis, prompting a rename of the genus to Callitropsis by some authors, while others are fighting to preserve Xanthocyparis. The controversy may not be resolved until the next International Botanical Congress in 2011. Ah, the thrilling and fast-paced world of taxonomy . . .

Comparative Diversity of Native Conifer Species in Several North American Mountain Ranges   (last updated January 2010)



N U M B E R   O F   N A T I V E   C O N I F E R   S P E C I E S
Cascade Range
Olympic Mtns
Coast Mtns (BC-AK)
Klamath Mtns
Sierra Nevada
Rocky Mtns
Abies Firs 633523
Larix Larches 200002
Picea Spruces 224203
Pinus Pines 9449128
Pseudotsuga Douglas-Firs 111111
Tsuga Hemlocks 222211
Calocedrus Incense-Cedars 100110
Chamaecyparis False Cypresses 211201
Cupressus Cypresses 200231
Juniperus Junipers 322346
Thuja Arborvitaes 111101
Sequoia Coast Redwood 000100
Sequoiadendron Giant Sequoia 000010
Taxus Yews 111111
Torreya Torreyas  100110

    Total Species: 331719312728

    Total Genera: 1399131011

Bibliography of websites and books:

Various websites and books which I have found to be useful and informative in preparing this page:
Gymnosperm Database   (extensive taxonomic info, descriptions, and photos for nearly all known species of conifers and other gymnosperms)
Silvics of North America   (online version of book from USDA Forest Service, extensive info and range maps for common North American trees)
Tree Species Range Maps from Atlas of United States Trees   (USDA Forest Service, range maps for common United States trees)
The Distribution of Forest Trees in California   (online version of book from USDA Forest Service, extensive info and detailed range maps for many California trees)
Trees of the Pacific Northwest   (info and identification key for common conifers of the Pacific Northwest)
Flora of North America   (extensive database with info about almost all North American plants)
Calflora   (extensive database with info about almost all California native plants, including detailed referenced range maps for many species)

(books in reverse chronological order)

Conifers of the World: The Complete Reference James E. Eckenwalder Timber Press, 2009720 pp. (View at
A Natural History of ConifersAljos Farjon Timber Press, 2008304 pp. (View at
Northwest Trees (anniversary edition) Stephen F. Arno & Ramona P. Hammerly The Mountaineers Books, 2007272 pp. (View at
The Bristlecone Book: A Natural History of the World's Oldest Trees Ronald M. Lanner Mountain Press, 2007110 pp. (View at
Northwest California: A Natural History John O. Sawyer Univ. of California Press, 2006264 pp. (View at
Forest Giants of the Pacific Coast Robert Van Pelt Univ. of Washington Press, 2001224 pp. (View at
Coast Redwood: A Natural and Cultural History Michael G. Barbour et al Cachuma Press, 2001240 pp. (View at
A Guide to the Sequoia Groves of California Dwight Willard Yosemite Association, 2000124 pp. (View at
Conifers of California Ronald M. Lanner Cachuma Press, 1999284 pp. (View at
Conifers: The Illustrated Encyclopedia (2 volumes) D. M. van Gelderen Timber Press, 1996706 pp. (View at
Trees of the Northern United States and Canada John Laird Farrar Canadian Forest Service, 1995512 pp. (View at
Forest Giants of the World Al Carder Fitzhenry & Whiteside Ltd, 1995224 pp. (View at
The World of Northern EvergreensE. C. Pielou Cornell University Press, 1988184 pp. (View at
Timberline: Mountain and Arctic Forest FrontiersStephen F. Arno & Ramona P. Hammerly The Mountaineers, 1984304 pp. (View at
Northwest Conifers: A Photographic Key Dale N. Bever Binford & Mort, 1981116 pp. (View at

Interested in growing your own conifers? See my page about Dwarf and Slow-Growing Conifers.

Page History:

April 2003Original version of the webpage
January 2004Minor update to internal links
January 2008Updated all links to the Gymnosperm Database
January 2010 Revised count for Klamath Mountains based on reader suggestions and newer info from Northwest California, adding 3 species and 1 genus
Minor revisions to text, adding a sentence about the Klamath Mountains
Expanded the bibliography to include several books published since 2003, plus a few more older ones too

Table of Contents | Introduction | Ratings | WebCams | Bibliography | Highest Volcanoes | Snowfall & Snowdepth | Monthly Chart | Conifers
Ski Mountaineering Photos & Trip Reports Equipment & Info Cascade Volcanoes Ring of Fire Site Map

Amar Andalkar   Seattle, WA, USA   <About the Author / Contact Me>
All material on this website is ©1997-2024 by Amar Andalkar unless otherwise noted.
Last modified Saturday, January 23, 2010