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Giant Trees in Washington

By Marci Degman ; Updated September 21, 2017
Rain forest on a clear day.
forest image by rese3282 from Fotolia.com

Five of the largest conifers in the world can be found in the temperate rain forests of Washington state. A sixth conifer there is classified as the largest of its kind in the United States. The Quinault Rain Forest is located in western Washington where coastal fog emits a continuous supply of moisture to conifer needles. The consistent rain there also keeps the roots hydrated well. The area where these legendary trees are located is called "Valley of the Giants."

Sitka Spruce

Stiff sturdy needles of a spruce tree.
spruce image by mzolna from Fotolia.com

The largest sitka spruce (Picea sitchensis) in the world resides in Washington. It is 191 feet tall and nearly 58 feet around. Spruces are pyramidal trees with very stiff, medium-green needles. The cones start out smooth and develop a lacy appearance as they open. Spruce trees are tidy, uniform-looking conifers. Sitka spruce trees can easily live 500 years. It is a timber tree, but the wood is prized for specialty crafts such as the building of guitars and violins.

Washington Cedar Trees

False cedar with immature cones.
conifer in flower image by Alison Bowden from Fotolia.com

Washington is home to the largest Western red cedar (Thuja plicata) in the world. It is 174 feet tall and 63 feet around. Western red cedar is not a true cedar but is considered a giant arborvitae. Washington also is home to the largest yellow cedar (Chamaecyparis nootkatensis). It is not a true cedar either, as it is considered to be a false cypress. Both are beautiful trees with graceful, scale-like foliage and small decorative cones. Both trees were very important to the Native American people who used the wood for canoes, totem poles and long houses, and the bark was used for baskets and roofing.

Washington Hemlocks

Hemlock in winter.
schneebedeckter tannenzweig image by Daniel Fuhr from Fotolia.com

Two of the largest hemlocks can be found in the Quinault rain forest of Washington state. The largest Western hemlock (Tsuga heterophylla) in the United States is 172 feet tall and nearly 28 inches around. Western hemlock has soft, light-green needles. The branches have a slightly weeping habit. The largest mountain hemlock (Tsuga mertensiana) is found in the same region but at higher elevations. Mountain hemlock has denser, more upright branches and deep-green foliage. Hemlock wood is used for lumber and wood products.

Douglas Fir

The stately douglas fir is one of the largest conifers.
sunshine through fir tree image by Petro Feketa from Fotolia.com

The largest tree in the Quinault rain forest is a 302 foot tall douglas fir (Psuedotsuga menziesii). This tree is nearly 40 feet around. Douglas fir is not a true fir, and its name means "false hemlock." Douglas fir is actually in the pine family. This tree has soft, medium-green needles and bears 3-inch cones that are important food for a myriad of wildlife. This is an adaptable tree that can be found outside of the rain forest in many different habitats. It is an important commercial tree. The wood is used for lumber, and the smaller trees are grown for the Christmas tree industry.


About the Author


Marci Degman has been a landscape designer and horticulture writer since 1997. She has an Associate of Applied Science in landscape technology and landscape design from Portland Community College. Degman writes a newspaper column for the "Hillsboro Argus" and radio tips for KUIK. Her teaching experience for Portland Community College has set the pace for her to write online instructional articles.