When the average person thinks about the Pacific Northwest of the United States they usually bring to mind thick woods with amazing plants and large trees. After all that is where the famous Redwood grows. It actually used to be much thicker and more widespread forestry. See, when the original settlers were marching west they began taking down trees at a rapid pace in order to make commercial goods.
To our luck and surprise today many areas didn’t get cleared. We can be thankful because it gives us the lush forestry that we think about in the Pacific Northwest. Some of these areas survived to tell the tale of what the ancient forests used to look like. One area that we can visit today is called the NOCA (North Cascades National Park) Here is a government link to the park (https://www.nps.gov/noca/planyourvisit/noca-50.htm ) . These areas are known to many as old growth forests. It basically means that they are old considering they have not been cleared in hundreds of years. The plant and animal life and habitat are unique to this earth because of the old growth.
Once you get to these ancient forests there are a few ways to identify that you are to them. The first sign you will notice is giant trees. Not only will the trees be giant you will see a variety of heights in the canopy. Also, there will be a great variety in the age of the plants. You will see everything from new seedlings starting to pop out of the ground to mid-size trees, all the way to the monster large trees that are old ones. Not only will you see a variety of ages in the growth but you will also see a lot of dead trees that will be leaning or on the floor. These dead ones are known as snags.
In these Old Growth Groves there are many trees but, 2 trees we would like to point out, that may come across your path. The first to mention is the Western hemlocks (Tsuga heterophylla). These trees actually live in the shadows of larger trees. The top quarter of these trees lean over to one side as if it is off balance. The majority of the tree is vertical but when you get to the top quarter it will be noticeably laid over like a hairdoo almost. The cone from the Western hemlock is tiny as it is less than an inch long. These trees are fast growers, however because the canopy is at such heights here in the old growth forest, it may take hundreds of years to reach the canopy. When these particular trees die they play a large roll in the ecosystem when decomposing. They provide nutrients and a stable place for other trees to get strong foundation.
The second one that we want to bring to your attention is the famous Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii). You may recognize this beauty from your own living room at Christmas time. If the environmental factors are the right condition these trees can live over a thousand years. One easy way to identify these trees are from the bark. They can have a brown to grey bark with ruts in them up to 8 inches deep. These ruts and bark are all vertical and run up and down the trunk. Another thing to notice is they don’t make very good climbing trees. The reason for that is that the branches don’t start near the bottom. You may have trouble reaching the first branch due to it being so high on the trunk. The cones on the ground near a Douglas-fir is also a tell tale sign of its identity. They have a three-pronged bract sticking out from the round scales. This three-pronged bract may look kind of like a long tail gerbil with both legs. This is a unique characteristic of only the Douglas-fir.