Back in late June, I was in a panic over getting in shape to hike up to the Mt St Helens summit, by our permit date, July 2. Saturday June 22 was a rare, quiet early morning hike in the Columbia River Gorge with just the dog and my camera. I chose Angel’s Rest as my first warm up hike – I only had the morning, and didn’t want to drive far. Only 1450 feet elevation gain and less than 5 miles out and back. Not difficult at all, but at least I gave myself an easy success to build on. Although it was a warm day, I started early and enjoyed perfect conditions. I took some photos of tree species I encountered on my hike.
As is typical for the north-facing Oregon side Columbia Gorge hikes, the lower trail goes through an overstory dominated by Douglas fir, Pseudotsuga menziesii, a species which needs no introduction around here.
Bigleaf maple, Acer macrophyllum, is the most common deciduous tree species in this section.
Bigleaf maple leaves can reach up to a foot in diameter, the largest leaves of any North American maple.
Up above the Douglas fir zone, this windswept Oregon white oak, Quercus garryana, stands overlooking the Columbia.
Lots of baby oak seedlings and saplings line the trail too.
Quaking aspen, Populus tremuloides, is one of my favorite natives. I love the way the leaves are held facing every which way, revealing the pale underside of some and the darker upper surface of others. Auditorily as well as visually active, the leaves move against each other with a constant patter I find reassuring, maybe due to my upbringing in a large and noisy family.
The view from Angel’s Rest was gorgeous.
I should have taken some better shots but I was preoccupied. I hadn’t turned off my cell phone, but in this case I was thrilled to have my hike interrupted with happy news — the arrival of our family’s newest angel, my baby nephew Ryden Wren, born that morning in Grants Pass. His parents both biologists and lovers of the natural world, this little guy will be out hiking as soon as he’s big enough to ride in the baby pack.
(You can tell my brother is already a pro at burping baby by the stain on his shoulder — good job, Papa!)
OK, a few more trees. At the top we have western serviceberry, Amelanchier alnifolia. This member of the rose family occurs in an upright tree form, or as a thicket-forming shrub.
Ripening fruit of the western serviceberry will eventually become dark blue. I’ve never tried the berries. Reportedly sweet-tasting, they are a valuable food source for wildlife.
Red alder, Alnus rubra, is the other dominant thicket-forming woody plant at the top of the rocky bluff. Alder trees shade the upper part of the trail below the bluff as well. Shown below are the female catkins which become woody and cone-like, releasing seeds in autumn and winter. The long, narrow male catkins appear in early spring.
On June 27, I hiked up to Devil’s Rest, located very close to the first hike, this time a 7 mile round trip with a 2400 foot elevation gain. Tree-wise, this hike starts out much the same but includes a couple different species. I loved this hike, even though the endpoint offered no view. The waterfalls were a plus.
But I think my favorite things were watching turkey vultures soaring below me, and hearing the barely audible, deep, booming blue grouse call in the quiet woods.
Because the trail crosses streams, western redcedar, Thuja plicata, were common on this hike.
Even when lacking foliage on the lower limbs, western redcedar is still easily identified by it’s red fibrous bark, shed in long strips.
The highest section of this hike is dominated by a conifer, western hemlock, Tsuga heterophylla.
The pale new growth is striking, and accentuates the form of the drooping branch tips. As shown above, the lead shoot also nods. The needle leaves are flat and generally two-ranked, meaning they are held in a single plane in two opposite directions, vs the needle leaves of Douglas fir, which are spirally arranged, imagine a bottle brush. The specific epithet refers to varying needle length: hetero – different, phylla – leaf.
So there you have it, a basic survey of some of our most common western Oregon native trees. I need to go into more detail on each of them, but at least we have an introduction to some of our most familiar friends.