Trees of Crater Lake

Crater Lake National Park is a place of beauty, and it usually has a lasting affect on the people who have visited or had the privilege of living there. While the lake is gorgeous and is what the park was named for, even that beauty is highlighted by the presence of the numerous trees growing in this mountain place of wonder.

The park is situated within a belt of forest that extends throughout the Cascade Mountains. Though the park isn’t one of the larger ones to be found in the Pacific Northwest, the number of trees and other plant species found within the park is truly astounding.

Ponderosa Pine

One of the most common trees at Crater Lake, and one that is definitely noticeable, is the Ponderosa. These trees can tower well over 100 feet (33 meters) from base to top. Many are over a dozen feet in diameter, not counting the thick layer of tough reddish-brown bark, arranged like a jigsaw puzzle. The bark and the long needles arranged in threes are major identifiers of this tree. A person coming in from the south boundary is likely to see this tree before they see any others in the park.

Lodgepole Pine

Also known as Jack Pine, Lodgepoles should not be confused with Coastal Pines, which are a subspecies with different growing traits. This pine is faster growing than a Ponderosa and is much smaller in girth and height. A Lodgepole Pine with a diameter of more than three feet or a height of over 60 feet is exceptional. They also tend to grow straight, rather than branching out like many pines. The needles are shorter than with the Ponderosa, and come in clusters of two.

Sugar Pine

These trees tend to grow taller than Jack Pines, but not quite as tall as the largest Ponderosas. They have a very sweet smell, which is probably the origin of the name. The cones grow quite long, sometimes over a foot in length, and they are quite pitchy with the sweet smelling resins.

Douglas Fir

Doug firs are not a true fir, hence the scientific name of Pseudotsuga menziesii. The bark is whitish, turning to brown as the tree grows and ages. The needles are shorter than with pines, but unlike true firs, they don’t grow from the bottom of the branch. At Crater Lake, specimens exceeding a hundred feet in height aren’t uncommon, though elsewhere in Oregon and Washington, they can grow much taller, almost as much so as the California Redwoods.

Noble Fir

While not tremendously numerous, noble firs leave an impression when full grown. They are tall and thick trees, and the cones tend to come apart as they fall from the top reaches of the tree. This tree is also quite aromatic. The cones are a good identifier.

Shasta Fir

Shasta fir are trees that have pockets of pitch on the trunks when they are young. As they grow older, the bark becomes thicker and turns brownish-red. The branches are numerous, often growing from the trunk nearly to the ground. Like many firs, they have a conical shape, tapering to a small top. At the park, they rarely grow in excess of 60 feet in height.

White Fir

While white fir usually doesn’t grow over 60-70 feet tall at the park, the trunk can be massive. These trees have a disagreeable odor to many people, when the wood is burned, and the heartwood often rots quickly once one has fallen. However, many animals build nests in this tree because of the softness of the wood.

Western Hemlock

This is a tree that is freshly fragrant, and the appearance is similar to that of a fir, though the needles tend to be more blunt and fatter,. The trees grow to around 60 feet tall in the park, and are partly responsible for the good smelling air found there. The bark is often whitish to brownish, and the tree can be mistaken for a Douglas fir.

Western Red Cedar

Cedars at Crater Lake seldom grow tall or thick. Still, they are quite fragrant. The green foliage is flattened and bract-like. This tree produces tiny cones like other cedars do.

Mountain Birch

In sheltered areas, birch trees grow well at the park. They are similar to paper birch in appearance, including the small cones and aroma of the tree, except that they turn brown as they age.

By no means are these the only trees found at Crater Lake National Park. They are simply among the most common trees found there. The park is truly astounding in regard to the plant and animal diversity found there.

Additional resources:

Crater Lake National Park
Friends of Crater Lake
US Forest Service, Winema-Fremont National Forest