Oregon is well-known for lush forests, picturesque rivers, moderate coastlines, and Oregonians that take great pride in land stewardship, ethical development, and natural aesthetics. There is a great deal of value in diversity, and with over 30 native species of conifers and 37 broadleaf species, there’s no shortage of tall trees in Oregon.
In fact, 47 percent of Oregon is covered in forests, making the boundaries between city and rural areas less distinct. It’s not uncommon for residential homes and properties to have large, majestic old trees. It’s widely accepted that well-placed, well-tended trees add tremendous value to a home by reducing heating and cooling costs, increasing property value, presenting numerous environmental benefits, and improving general beautification. So if you’re considering planting in your yard, here is a short list of tall trees.
1. Quaking Aspen
The quaking aspen gets its name from the visual effect of its leaves, as they appear to tremble in the breeze. These beauties have signature white bark and vibrant yellow leaves in fall, and they measure 40 to 65 feet tall at maturity. The quaking aspen has a rapid growth rate and can grow up to 24 inches per year, which can be fantastic if you’re looking to create an interesting visual screen with added noise abatement as soon as possible.
The quaking aspen does have an aggressive root system that can spread up to 90 feet laterally and 9 feet deep. This root system will often give rise to additional clones and can grow into an enormous biomass.
Fun fact, the world record for an organism with the largest mass is held by Pando, located south of the Wasatch Mountains in Utah. This stand of quaking aspen is made up of 47,000 tree trunks and covers 106 acres. A conservative estimate is that it weighs more than 13 million pounds.
Another feature to mention about the quaking aspen is its fire resistance. Quaking aspen will make an excellent firebreak and can be clustered in mass planting of 300 to 1,200 trees per acre, requiring little maintenance.
2. Black Cottonwood
Populus balsamifera ssp. trichocarpa
Black cottonwood is the largest American poplar and the largest hardwood tree in western North America. It reaches a maximum age of approximately 200 years old. Its signature features are thick black bark and white cottony fibers used for seed distribution. These trees can grow to 100 feet tall, making for a striking visual statement. When mass planted (up to 800 trees/acre), they can create a windbreak, a natural border, or an impressive highway screen. Also, black cottonwood is a great choice for conservation purposes because it’s a fast-growing tall tree with an aggressive root system.
Now, you wouldn’t want to plant these anywhere near a sidewalk, plumbing mains or drains, or your neighbor’s driveway because that could become a very costly problem. However, when these trees are planted with intention, they absolutely can help stabilize soil in wet, riparian areas. When used in an aquatic environment, the black cottonwood also provides shelter, stability, shade, and high nitrate uptake.
It’s important to note that when you’re considering the characteristics of a tree, you must also take into account the kind of maintenance you will need. Unless you have a long history in logging, it’s probably best to have a professional like Mr. Tree handle the regular maintenance and shaping of your black cottonwood.
3. Grand Fir
The grand fir is well-known in the Pacific Northwest as the preferred variety of Christmas tree, with its classic conical symmetry, dark green foliage, and thick, aromatic fragrance. This species has a plethora of valuable uses and a romantic Oregon history. The story is that the snub-trees on the south side of Mount Hood were grand firs, and during early settlement, wagon drivers would use rope secured to the trees in order to slow the dangerous descent. It’s said that some of the trees still bear the rope burns more than 150 years later.
The maximum height of the grand fir measures from 75 feet to 300 feet, with a moderate growth rate. They can be mass planted up to 800 trees per acre and will produce a marketable Christmas tree in 8 to 10 years. This native pine is gorgeous, lush, fragrant, and incredibly important to birds and wildlife. By planting and maintaining a grand fir, you could be providing respite from the rapidly diminishing roosts for pileated woodpeckers.
One more important benefit is fire resistance. Oregon has become acutely aware of how important fire resistance is in today’s changing climate conditions. There’s so much to love about 300 feet of grand fir.
4. Western Red Cedar
The western red cedar, also known as the giant arborvitae or western arborvitae, is of the cypress family and has a slow growth rate but a long life span. Ring reading to determine the age for a western red cedar is somewhat complicated by buttresses and complex growth patterns, but samples from Washington and British Columbia indicate that some trees live up to 1,460 years.
This species is shade tolerant and will make a good addition to a mixed stand. It can be mass planted up to 1,200 trees per acre. Cedar has long been valued by the native people of North America and represents a demarcation for some tribes and cultures. These trees were easy to process into medicinal treatments, building materials, baskets, rope, and even slow-burning matches. Environmentally, these trees are a major food source for deer, elk, and others.
5. Pacific Madrone
The Pacific madrone is a member of the heath family, an evergreen, that may have single or multiple trunks and crowns that are spread and round. These beauties will grow to about 90 feet tall. It’s not one of the tallest of the tall trees of Oregon but one of substantial importance. Although the madrone is generally unsuitable for construction material, the intricately colored bark has been used to make some beautiful veneers. The most notable benefits of this tree are as a habitat for birds and mammals, followed by their use in food and medicine.
Cedar waxwings, band-tailed pigeons, robins, woodpeckers, downy woodpeckers, mountain chickadees, and bluebirds are just a sampling of the bird variety that nest in a madrone. Mule deer, raccoons, and bears will eat the berries, and some will eat the leaves and bark. Interesting note: the green layer just below the outer skin of the bark is photosynthetic. One of the main conservation qualities of the madrone is erosion prevention due to a root system that spreads widely for this slow grower.
Tall trees in Oregon are a way of life.