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5 Favorite Deciduous Trees of the Pacific Northwest

The Pacific Northwest is arguably one of the most beautiful regions in the United States. It has an abundance of breath-taking mountains and old-growth forests dominated by large, tall trees that help combat global warming. Quite a number of these trees are what we call deciduous trees.

Simply put, deciduous trees are broad-leaved trees that shed their leaves once they have matured or come to the end of a growing season. This usually happens during the dry season (right before winter), when the trees get less water and sunlight (and hence less energy) to drive photosynthesis. Some examples of these trees include the popular oak and maple trees.

The deciduous trees of the Pacific Northwest are known not only for their beauty, particularly in autumn, but also for the important role they play in maintaining ecological balance. Whether your interest in these trees is fueled by aesthetic or environmental reasons, here are five deciduous trees of the Pacific Northwest that you absolutely need to know about.

1. Pacific Willow

The Pacific willow, also called the red willow and scientifically known as Salix lasiandra, is one of the most popular deciduous trees of the Pacific Northwest. It grows at an average height of 3 feet per year and can reach up to 45 feet at maturity. The tree requires large amounts of water for proper growth, so it is commonly found along streams and on wetlands. Because it sucks up a great deal of water, landowners and managers use it as a natural measure for stream-bank stabilization.

The leaves of this majestic tree are long and thin with brilliant yellow buds that bloom in early spring and fall off right after. Apart from their aesthetic value, the leaves and twigs also serve as browse (food) for deer and beavers.

The many uses and benefits of the pacific willow easily make it one of the top deciduous trees of the Pacific Northwest. If you own a medium-sized yard, the pacific willow will fit quite nicely in your backyard.

2. Oregon Ash

Belonging to the olive family (Oleaceae), the Oregon ash (Fraxinus latifolia) is another common deciduous tree of the Pacific Northwest. For the first 60 to 100 years of its life, the Oregon ash grows at a moderately rapid rate and reaches an average height of 75 feet at maturity. After this “youth phase,” the tree will experience much slower growth. If in favorable conditions, the Oregon ash can live up to about 250 years.

This beautiful tree thrives in wet areas. It can be grown in almost any kind of soil, as long as there is a high water table, and it is actually often grown to help revegetate and restore degraded wetlands.

The Oregon ash, like most deciduous trees, really comes to life in the fall season when its seed clusters and light green flowers are produced. The tree bears a type of fruit that is known as a samara, which is a one-seeded fruit with a wing-like casing that helps it spin and travel faster with the wind to cover more ground. If you have lots of kids in your neighborhood, this is probably one of the best trees you can plant. Besides the helicopter-like seeds that everyone recognizes, the Oregon ash is also known to attract lots of butterflies.

3. Quaking Aspen

The quaking or trembling aspen earned its rather dramatic name from the way its light, flat leaves quiver in the slightest of breezes. Its scientific name is Populus tremuloides, and it belongs to the willow family (Salicaceae). This tree is relatively easy and inexpensive to grow and maintain. It grows pretty quickly in soils with high water content and a soil pH of 5.5 to 8.0. High-elevation grasslands are also favored since it is a sun-loving tree.

If you’re looking to brighten up your yard, the quaking aspen is a perfect choice. Its deep green leaves begin to turn a beautiful golden-yellow color as fall approaches, making it look like a flaming tree. Some leaves even turn red or orange. The tree is also known for its smooth, white bark and slender branches.

In a controlled environment, the aspen maintains a medium height of about 30 feet so you can plant a bunch of them without creating a mini forest in your yard. In the wild, however, the tree can reach a height of 70 feet. Quaking aspens have a unique life span because they grow in clones and mainly reproduce asexually. The clones never really die (naturally) since new stems are sprouted and linked to the same root system. However, individual aspen stems can live up to 150 years.

4. Black Cottonwood

Also known as Populus balsamifera, black cottonwood is a large and fast-growing deciduous tree that dominates flooded areas. It can achieve a height of 150 feet or more and a width of 30 feet, in about 100 years and can live up to 300 years.

The tree is well-known for its fluffy, cottony seeds, hence the name cottonwood. During spring, these little fuzz balls can be seen floating down from the tall balsam-bearing trees, almost mimicking a light snow shower. While this makes a pretty sight, it is generally advised to plant these trees in larger yards where they can grow without restrictions, rather than in gardens. As mentioned earlier, black cottonwood trees have a fast growth rate so they can quickly overwhelm your garden.

Another thing the black cottonwood is known for is its fragrant resin (balsam), which is stored in the tree’s large buds. The scent is richer and sweeter at the beginning of spring, and it is easily one of the finest natural fragrances. The resin also has analgesic properties and is even referred to as the “Balm of Gilead.”

5. Red Alder

Red Alder (Alnus rubra) is a hardwood belonging to the birch family (Betulaceae). It grows to a maximum height of 130 feet and a diameter of 70 inches. The tree is fast-growing but has a relatively short life span. Even with proper care, it rarely lives beyond 100 years.

Red alders have thin, gray (or whitish) bark and coarse, oval-shaped leaves that remain green until they are shed. The “red” comes from the inner bark, which turns rusty red when cut and exposed to air. Native Americans used this bark to make red dye for their baskets and fishnets. The bark was also traditionally used to treat skin irritations.

This tree is very important in forest restoration because of its nitrogen-fixing ability. It helps enrich degraded land and also fights off pathogens that hurt conifers. While it may not be the most vibrant tree, it is a lovely tree to plant in your yard, especially since it attracts birds and butterflies.

So there you have it, five favorite deciduous trees of the Pacific Northwest picked out by certified arborists at Vernon Imel Tree Service. If you need any help planting these trees, or just need more information about them, feel free to contact the experts at Vernon Imel.