Oh Christmas Tree, Oh Christmas Tree, What Native Species Are You?

Many local families have long traditions around the species of native conifer selected to be a Christmas tree. We annually purchase a USFS permit, make a ski trek, and cut down a spindly Douglas-fir, growing in a grove that needs thinning – our way of helping to fire-wise the low elevation forests near Wenatchee.

Our Christmas tree is a Douglas-fir, thinned out of a dense grove.

Our Christmas tree is a Douglas-fir, thinned out of a dense grove.

What native species is your Christmas tree this year?  By taking a look at branch tips and the way the needles are growing out of the branch, along with their color, and shape, you can  identify which Washington native conifer you have decorated.

Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii var. menziesii)

Douglas-fir has a pointed spear-like branch-tip bud.

Douglas-fir has a pointed spear-like branch-tip bud.

  • Needles: Scattered singly over the twigs 0.6-1   inch long.  Underside has 2 white stomatal bands.  Grow radially around the stem; are soft to touch. Attached to branch with a twisted stem.
  • Branch-tip Buds: New growing tips are very sharp tipped and shiny- look like a spear.

Subalpine fir (Abies lasiocarpa)

Subalpine fir needles have the same blue-green color on all sides and grow all around the branch

Subalpine fir needles have the same blue-green color on all sides and grow all around the branch

  • Needles: Scattered singly around the entire branch, but lower branches have more upward tending needles. Entire needle has the same blue-green color, with white stomatal bands, one band on top of needle &two bands on underside of needle. Blunt-tipped end, up to 1.5 inches long. Strong odor.
  • Branch-tip Buds: New growing tips are rounded and light brown.

Grand fir (Abies grandis)

Grand fir needles look glossy green on top and silvery below with the brown branch always visible.

Grand fir needles look glossy green on top and silvery below with the brown branch always visible.

  • Needles Scattered singly along the branch, usually in two outward extending rows. Dark green above, lighter below with 2  distinct white stomatal bands (only on underside of needle), variable in length, up to 2  inches long with notched tips.  When looking down, you can see the brown branch (no needles cover it up).
  • Branch tip Buds: New growing tips are nearly round, yellow-brown and usually resinous.

Pacific Silver fir (Abies amabilis)

Looking from above, Pacific Silver fir have crowded glossy green needles that hide the

Looking from above, Pacific Silver fir have crowded glossy green needles that hide the branch

  • Needles: Scattered singly, tending to crowd toward the upper side of branch.  Up to 1.5 inches long, dark glossy green above, slivery below with bright white stomatal bands.  Distinct notches on blunt tips.
  • Branch tip Buds: New growing tips nearly rounded, purplish, and resinous.

Winter is a great season to learn to identify native conifer trees that grow in Washington’s east-side Cascade mountains.   In late February, join me for a two-evening conifer identification workshop offered by Wenatchee Valley College Continuing Education.   We will study sixteen conifer species focusing on growth form, cones, needle and bark patterns, and explore the natural history for each tree.  You will create your own learning aids and take samples home.  Lectures will focus on how each species is adapted to thrive in the unique climate of our region that includes summer drought and wildfire. Register at https://www.wvc.edu/directory/departments/conted

Merry Christmas!

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