Future Cloud-reachers

Fall is a terrific time to plant trees in the Puget Sound region. They will have all winter to get their roots established before the dry summer comes again. Planting in the fall is especially beneficial if summer watering won’t be possible.

Tadpole Haven carries a full range of lowland native plants, from forest-floor creepers to trees that someday, many years in the future, will have their tops in the clouds. Native trees join heaven and earth! What a legacy to leave!

Tall, cloud-touching evergreen conifer trees here in lowland Western Washington are very important participants in the water cycle. In the summer, they shade streams and lakes, keeping the water cool for trout, salmon and other freshwater creatures. In the winter, a large percentage of the water that falls on them from the sky stays in the canopy formed by their branches, never reaching the ground. This protects precious soil from being washed away by our copious rainfall and slows the flow of surface water, giving time for rain to percolate into the soil rather than washing toxins and nutrients into our streams and rivers. The trees then slowly release moisture back into the atmosphere. Tall evergreens are extremely important in creating a diverse ecology, whether in a small patch of woodland or in a large forest. They provide habitat for birds and animals that thrive high in the forest canopy. In recent years, scientists have identified temperate rain forests, dominated by conifers such as Western Hemlock (Tsuga heterophylla) and Sitka Spruce (Picea sitchensis), as important carbon sinks which keep carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere, thus slowing climate change.

Our state tree, the Western Hemlock, dominates the old second-growth forest near Tadpole Haven. You can see that, over time, the upper branches are creating a dense canopy. Though it is not the tallest evergreen tree west of the Cascades, this graceful fine-needled conifer grows nearly 200 feet tall. You can tell the Western Hemlock from the other conifers in the forest by looking at the top of the tree; if the tip of the leader bends over, it is a Hemlock. In the lifecycle of the forest, Western Hemlock is a bit of a latecomer, getting established once there is shade available to protect its seedlings. It will grow in wet to fairly dry sites, and thrives in moist woods. It is a good tree to plant in an area you are trying to restore to a naturally diverse, healthy habitat. It is best to plant it away from buildings, since it is more easily toppled by wind than our other native conifers.

Sitka Spruce is another tall conifer that tops out at about 200 feet; it can become quite a massive tree. My favorite way to identify Sitka Spruce is to gently grab a branch (gently!) to see if the needles are sharp. If they are, it is probably a Spruce. Sitka Spruce grows in moist to fairly wet soils, does fine in the sun, and can survive with little rainfall as long as there is fog to moisten its needles (it literally needs to touch the clouds!). It thrives in the forested wetland adjacent to the nursery, growing next to wet muck on hummocks that probably started out as Western Hemlock (!) nurse logs.

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