Summer weather is here. Time for a road trip!
We have all played the “license plate game” whereby occupants in the car on a long road trip keep track of how many out of state license plates they see. This game is enjoyed by all, but mostly children and grandchildren, so why not make it a forestry game with trees?
Here in Washington and the rest of the Pacific Northwest from western Montana to the Pacific Ocean and from British Columbia to central California we enjoy a whole host of wonderful native trees. You know them, from ponderosa pine and western larch to the east, Douglas-fir and western hemlock to the west, Alaska yellow cedar in the north, alder and birches near our rivers and streams, and big redwoods, sequoias, and sugar pines in California.
Why not make it a game? Who can identify the most tree species from common to rare along our highways? Are you aware that forestry students start learning tree species by looking at the leaves, needles, and cones, but in practice they quickly identify trees by their crown-shape, stature, and bark characteristics. Why not learn to recognize and identify trees by these characteristics?
Caution: If you play this game, get off the interstate! It is really hard to look at trees going 70 mph with a behemoth 18-wheeler pushing you along.
My personal favorite Washington route for tree touring is State Route 20, from Discovery Bay on the Olympic Peninsula to Newport near the Idaho border, 440 miles of great scenery and tree watching.
Other excellent routes are: US Route 2 from Everett to Newport; US Route 12 from Aberdeen to Clarkston; US Route 101, highlighting the Olympic Peninsula, via a meandering course from the Astoria Bridge to Olympia; US Route 97 from the international border near Oroville south to Maryhill; and last but not the least, State Route 14 from Vancouver to Plymouth. Of course any paved or gravel road in our national forests is sublime as well.
Happy travels watching the trees this summer!
Generalized locations of predominant tree species in Washington state (Click the table to download)
Need a bit more help?
Washington State University Extension has excellent free or inexpensive publications and other resources to help you get started. Listed below are a few publications easily accessible from the web.
Trees of Washington by Milton M. Moser & Knut Lunnum. This venerable classic is still available from WSU and has been since 1951. Over 19,000 copies have been sold and many more downloaded from the web.
Native Trees of Western Washington by Kevin Zobrist. A contemporary (2014) book illustrated by wonderful color photographs.
Eastern Washington Tree Identification and Silvics – Online Module by Carol Mack. This educational module provides an introduction to native trees in eastern Washington forests.
A Guide to Washington State’s Urban Tree Canopy by Charles A. Brun, Catherine Daniels, & Tim Kohlhauf. This guide book lists many introduced and native species found in our cities and towns. It’s included here for folks who will spend their summer near home.
By Donald Hanley, Extension Forester Emeritus, Washington State University