Wednesday, August 07, 2013

There Are A Lot of Trees Out There

I have a friend who is a science teacher, and with whom I play golf regularly.  He will point out the various species of trees that we encounter, despite my complete inability to retain the information he is so graciously imparting.  I suppose this works out for him, as he is able to tell me the same thing over and over again and I happily treat it like new information.  He seems to like talking about the flora and fauna, and I figure that eventually something will stick.

As I wandered through the various national forests and parks on my recent journey, I encountered a wide range of pine trees.  I was struck by how different the types of pines were, and early on made an attempt to identify them.  A tree that I thought I recognized early on as a White Pine later turned out to appear in a range of varieties, but was largely the Ponderosa Pine, not the Eastern White Pine that we find in Minnesota.  A variation on that tree is the Jeffrey Pine, which apparently smells like vanilla if you stick your nose in its bark.

In my mind, the conifers fall into five different categories that made sense to me.  There were...

  • Trees that seem to lose their branches in the lower sections of the trunk.  These trees were usually quite tall.  As a category its a little awkward since when these trees are young they probably look quite different.  But the trees that I encountered were generally mature groves, so they were tall enough to fit this category.  These same trees might fall into the Christmas Tree category when they are young...which was possibly evident in fire zones where the trees are returning and are only four or five feet tall.  In any event, these trees included:  Lodgepole Pine, Ponderosa Pine, and Jeffrey Pine.
  • Christmas Tree Types.  These were trees that kept that full, triangular shape even if they were a bit taller.  They seem to tend to be shorter trees, though, in the fifteen to thirty foot range.  These included Douglas Fir, White or Engelmann Spruce, and the Colorado Blue Spruce.
  • Tall Skinny Types.  These are trees that tend to look kind of scruffy.  They have branches all the way up and down their trunks, but sparsely.  The Sugar Pine was cool because it had these enormous cones that hung down, so it looked like the trees were sagging.  Species included the Subalpine Fir, Whitebark Pine/Limber Pine, Sugar Pine, and the Western Larch.
  • Redwoods.  These were usually pretty obvious.  They seem to be larger, even the regular not giant varieties.  I think I saw Western Red Cedar, Western Hemlock, Giant Sequoias, and Coastal Redwoods.  Although I didn't go up to the land of the Giant Sequoias, they are located in Victoria (not natural to the area) on Vancouver Island, and I thought I spotted some of these as I crossed the northern section of the Sierra-Nevada range when heading out of California to Oregon.
  • Various kinds of Junipers.  The coolest version of this is the way that the junipers mix with the sage brush in the dry sections of Wyoming, Colorado and Utah.  
There are over 100 conifers native to Western North America, so its small wonder that I struggled to figure this out when I was cruising through the various forests.  Most of the info above comes from internet research that I did this morning to figure out what it was that I thought I saw. 

Maybe some of it will stick.

Incidently, here is the list of national forests and parks that I encountered.  My favorite was Clearwater National Forest, but I'll post more info about them later.  I was surprised by how many national forests there are.  We may be destroying the planet, but we have also made some efforts to protect and manage it as well.  The forest service has a cool interactive map of their various forests.

Here's the list of the few that I went through...

Badlands National Park
Black Hills National Forest (Mt. Rushmore)
Medicine Bow National Forest (Into Laramie):
Shoshone National Forest (Island View Lake):
Custer National Forest (Stillwater Headwaters)
Little Big Horn National Park
Flathead National Forest (At lake and then bordering SW Glacier NP)
Bighorn National Forest
Rocky Mountain National Park
Routt National Forest
Browns Park National Wildlife Refuge
Ashley National Forest (Flaming Gorge)
Bridger-Teton National Forest (Green River Lake)
Yellowstone and Teton National Parks
Gallatin National Forest
Beaverhead-Deer Lodge National Forest (I15 to Helena)
Lewis and Clark National Forest (Bordering SE Glacier)
Glacier National Park
Banff National Park
Vancouver Island
Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest
Shasta-Trinity National Forest
Modoc National Forest
Malheur National Forest
Umatilla National Forest
Clearwater National Forest
Lolo National Forest

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