Evergreen trees abound in Washington State as a major natural resource providing both beauty and industry to the state. The many evergreen species that call Washington home vary in shape, color, texture, cone characteristics and, in some cases, colorful berry fruits. But all stay green year round and work well in your landscape as windbreaks and decorative screens. Evergreens are so prevalent in Washington State that they have become inextricably linked with the state's collective identity.
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The Evergreen State
Firs, hemlocks, pines and many other evergreen trees grow within the boundaries of Washington State, giving many regions an eternally green landscape. This has given rise to the nickname "Evergreen State," coined by C.T. Conover, a pioneer Seattle realtor and historian. The evergreen forests of Washington provide raw resources for the lumber industry, producing lumber, pulp, paper and other wood products.
Before 1946, Washington did not have a state tree. The Portland Oregonian newspaper taunted the state for not having a state tree and audaciously chose one for it -- the western hemlock (Tsuga heterophylla). Washington newspapers retaliated by making their own choice -- the western red cedar (Thuja plicata). George Adams, a state representative from Mason County made a case to the legislature in favor of the western hemlock, saying it would become "the backbone of this state's forest industry." His argument was convincing, and in 1947 the western hemlock officially became the symbol of the state of Washington.
The Olympic Peninsula Rain Forest
Large, coniferous evergreen trees are the distinguishing feature of the landscape in the temperate rain forest of the Olympic Peninsula, the only rain forest on the mainland United States and one of the rainiest places in the world. Evergreen trees that thrive in the moist climate of western Washington's rain forest, coastal regions and lowlands include western hemlock, Sitka spruce (Picea sitchensis) and Pacific yew (Taxus brevifolia). Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) and western red cedar also commonly grow in this temperate rain forest, although you can find them in all geographical regions of Washington, as well.
Evergreen trees provide birds and wildlife with excellent shelter and a source of food. Evergreens whose branches grow near the ground offer insulation against cold winds and other elements of weather. Birds that build their nests in evergreen trees include eagles, robins and herons. Herons prefer nest sites high in the tallest trees. Small ground creatures such as squirrels and chipmunks can also find shelter and food among the evergreens.
The Cascade mountain range divides Washington state into two very different climate zones. West of the Cascades, the climate pattern is cool, wet winters with moderate summers. East of the Cascades is a drier desert and farmland region with hotter summer temperatures. The approximately 25 evergreen species that grow in Washington state each have preferred growing conditions though some, such as the Douglas fir and Western red cedar, grow in all regions. Sitka spruce (Picea Sitchensis), lodgepole pine (Pinus contorta var. latifolia) and Pacific yew (Taxus brevifolia) dot the landscape of the coastal areas, lowlands and Olympic Peninsula. The western hemlock grows there, too, as well as in the mountain regions, along with mountain hemlock (Tsuga mertensiana). The Ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa), prefers the drier soils of eastern Washington.
Evergreens provide the raw material for many everyday products. Besides lumber for building materials and a variety of paper products, Douglas firs are popular as Christmas trees. Many caskets are made of western red cedar; musical instruments, of Sitka spruce; and furniture, of red alder. From the Pacific yew come archery bows and cancer medications. Historically, the Northwest Native Americans used red cedar wood to build harpoons, baskets, mats, homes, canoes and totem poles.