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A tree at my house in Seattle, Washington, USA has these leaves. Can someone tell me what it is?
It looks similar to a Cotinus coggygria, which is a shrub that we call a Smokebush in the UK. But given your location, it could be Cotinus obovatus, known as American smoketree.
The leaves will start green and progressively change colour to deep reds in the autumn with sprays of pink-purple flowers in the summer that from a distance look like smoke, hence the name.
Here are some images I have found on the web.
I think this may be a Chokecherry. Prunus virginiana 'Canada Red'
Found this on a Washington nursery website so it would make sense that it would be planted in your region. I am inclined to think it is closer to this species than a smoke bush based off what I can see from the flower in the photograph.
Can someone identify this tree from the Pacific Northwest? - Biology
Pacific northwest trees are one of the most important resources to survival. They provide firewood, shelter, tools, food, medicine, wildlife habitat, and so much more to the ecosystem. If you know how to identify and use the trees in your local forest it will enhance your feelings of self-reliance and confidence in the outdoors. They are a great resource!
In this article I will share a few of the most common deciduous trees we see in the forests of western Washington and some of their survival, edible and medicinal uses. If you are interested in the common evergreen trees of Washington check out this great article: https://www.wildernesscollege.com/types-of-evergreen-trees.html .
Vine maple: Acer circinatum
This common maple is one of the most easily identified Pacific northwest trees by its opposite branching, maple-like leaves, and green bark. It is our most common “durable” wood that is strong in tension so it is ideal for a wide variety of rugged projects. At Alderleaf we use vine maple for bows, fish spears, trap parts, shelter construction and more. Native Americans used vine maple for bows, tool handles, love medicine, baskets, snow-shoes, house building, baby cradles, fish traps, acorn paddles, small boxes, oil containers, bowls, drinking containers, and salmon tongs. They also ate the sap and mixed the charcoal of vine maple with oil and used it as a black paint. If you want to learn more specifics about these Native American uses of Pacific northwest trees such as how to make a love potion, you will have to do some research… but it sure is interesting!
Black Cottonwood : Populus balsamifera ssp. trichocarpa
Generally, deciduous Pacific northwest trees that grow near water are great woods for friction fires. Black cottonwood is one of the best, especially the roots. If you find an overturned cottonwood and the roots are exposed, be sure to collect a few nice straight pieces for fireboards and spindles. Conveniently, the dry inner bark of cottonwood makes fantastic tinder. Black bears love to scrape off and eat fresh cottonwood bark in the spring so keep an eye out for their sign!
Cottonwood is brittle so it is not great for durable tools but it does have some very important medicinal qualities. A salve from the buds is a great pain reliever for arthritic joints, injuries, and tendinitis. The buds hold the most potent medicine and a tincture of them makes a great expectorant for congested chest colds.
You can make a salve from any part of these Pacific northwest trees – buds, leaves, or bark. It is great as a wound salve - reducing inflammation, encouraging healing, eradicating bacteria and tightening surrounding tissue.
Red Alder: Alnus rubra
Alder is one of the most common deciduous Pacific northwest trees. It has smooth bark and serrated leaves. It is a “pioneer” species which means it is one of the first to colonize a site that has been cleared or disturbed. This is one of the reasons we chose Alder for the name of Alderleaf Wilderness College! We strive to be a pioneer school that can help people become better stewards of the earth.
Alder is a member of the birch family which means it ROTS. It amazes me how fast birches decompose after they die. This benefits an ecosystem in a variety of ways. Unfortunately this also means Alder is a poor wood for tools or shelter building. It is however a decent friction fire wood and it is great for burning in campfires. Because of its abundance, we often cut live Alder and use it for quick survival purposes.
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Native Americans used Red Alder for many things. They took a decoction of the bark as a purgative, applied the sap to cuts, chewed staminate aments for sores, rubbed the rotten wood on the body to ease “aching bones”, chewed the catkins for diarrhea, ate the fresh cambium with oil in the spring, used the wood to smoke fish and meat, boiled the bark and used it as a red dye, used the wood for carved dishes and canoe bailers, used the roots to make baskets, masks and rattles, canoe paddles, and they used the bark to line pots for storing elderberries!
Cascara: Frangula purshiana
Cascara is a little less common than these other trees but we still encounter it quite frequently. It can be identified by its smooth waxy leaves, smooth bark and long curved twigs. It is commonly known as a strong laxative although I have never attempted to use it for this purpose. The berries are considered poisonous but bears love to eat them.
Native Americans were well aware of the medicinal properties in Cascara. An infusion of bark was taken as a strong laxative, a poultice of the bark was used for wounds, the fruit was considered poisonous, bark was chewed by children with worms, an infusion of the foliage, twigs and bark was taken as an emetic (to cause vomiting), the bark was mixed with crab apple bark to prevent the crab apple from constipating the user, an infusion of the spring bark was used as a disinfectant for cuts, wounds and sores, an infusion of the bark was taken for gonorrhea, and the wood was used to make implement handles – especially D-adze handles.
Bigleaf Maple: Acer macrophyllum
Bigleaf maple is one of our most common deciduous Pacific northwest trees in the forests of western Washington. They grow very large and are often covered in moss – a beautiful sight to see and a classic image of Washington. They have classic maple-like leaves, only bigger!
Bigleaf maple is a great friction fire wood. The straight shoots can be used for hand drill when dry and seasoned. Try them on a douglas fir fireboard. The shoots also make great arrows.
Native Americans used this tree for many things. An infusion of bark was taken for tuberculosis, sticky bud gum and oil was used as a hair tonic, sap was eaten dried and fresh, seeds were used for food, leaves were used in steaming pits to flavor meat, cambium was eaten in small quantities with oil, sap was boiled to make syrup, raw shoots were used for food, wood was used for house construction, it was considered good firewood, wood was used for canoe paddles, inner bark was used in spring for baskets, bark was used to make crude dresses, bark was used for rope and tumplines, and the leaves were made into mats and used to cover the layers of dried salmon that were stored in baskets for the winter.
I hope that was a helpful introduction to some of our most common deciduous trees. If you are interested in any of the Native American uses that I mentioned here please follow up with the sources I listed and do further research to find out more specifics on how they prepared the medicines and food. Good luck!
Knowing how to identify trees and knowing their uses is one of the most important survival skills we teach in our Wilderness Certification Program. For me, I don’t really know a plant until I’ve used it for something. That is why I love woodworking and survival skills. It connects me to the Pacific northwest trees because I get to know the different quirks of each species. If you are interested in learning more about the forest and these survival skills check out our course calendar.
Ethnobotany of Western Washington by Erna Gunther
Plants Used by the Indians of Mendocino County, CA by V.K. Chestnut
Plants Used by the Hoh and Quileute Indians by Albert B. Reagan
About the Author: Connor O'Malley is an experienced wilderness skills educator. He taught at Alderleaf for several years. Learn more about Connor O'Malley.
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Located in Snohomish County in the Seattle / Puget Sound Region of the Northwest
360-793-8709 · 18715 299th Ave SE, Monroe, WA 98272
Office Hours: 10am-4pm, Tuesdays & Thursdays, Pacific Standard Time
Knowing Your Location
In a sort of reverse Catch 22, knowing the environment you are in will help you identify trees, while at the same knowing your trees will give you a much better understanding of your environment.
Here in the United States, we’re primarily a temperate forest (though some classifications put parts of Florida in a tropical zone). From there we can break down the types of environments range from coastal to mountainous (referred to as montane), deserts to plains. The types of trees you’ll find in each area vary widely, while at the same time certain types of trees can live across many regions. Douglas-fir, for example, thrive from the Pacific Northwest to the Sierra Nevadas to the Rocky Mountains.
Juniper trees are prevalent throughout the southwestern deserts, their cones (seen here) referred to as berries. Photograph by Ken Bosma.
Pacific madrone is an important tree for the cultural heritage of the Pacific Northwest.
The fruits were sometimes dried, soaked, and prepared for food by indigenous communities (Moerman 1998). Communities along the Klamath River also used madrone berries as bait for steelhead fishing (Arno and Hammerly 2007). Leaves and bark were also used for medicinal properties such as cold remedy and stomach issues (Turner and Hebda 1990). Small utensils were also crafted from the somewhat bulbous roots (Arno and Hammerly 2007), but use of the wood was limited because of it tends to warp and check as it dries.
As referenced by Pojar and MacKinnon (1994), the late Chief Phillip Paul of the Saanich people shared that Pacific madrone was used by survivors of the Great Flood to anchor their canoe to the top of Mount Newton.
Please contact us if you have any suggestions/corrections for this webpage.
Arno SF, Hammerly RP. Northwest trees. Mountaineers 2007.
Moerman DE. Native American ethnobotany. Timber press 1998.
Pojar J, MacKinnon A, Alaback PB. Plants of coastal British Columbia. Lone Pine Publishing 1994.
Turner NJ, Hebda RJ. Contemporary use of bark for medicine by two Salishan native elders of southeast Vancouver Island, Canada. Journal of Ethnopharmacology. 1990 Apr 129(1):59-72.
Citizen scientists can help study, halt die-off of Pacific Northwest’s redcedarsWestern red cedars are among the largest and most iconic trees in Pacific Northwest forests. Scientists at WSU are seeking citizen help in understanding why more of these trees are dying back.
Washington State University scientists seek help from residents of the Pacific Northwest in tracing the worrying die-off of an iconic forest tree, the western redcedar.
A distinctive, useful, and beautiful giant, the western redcedar has historically provided Native American tribes with much of the materials for practical objects and culture. Valued for its natural beauty and soft, red timber, which resists decay and repels insects, redcedars can reach nearly 200 feet in height and live for more than a thousand years.
Western redcedars are found throughout the Northwest due to their tolerance for shade, flooding, and poor soils, thriving where other trees cannot.
Over the last few years, however, scientists have observed an increasing number of dead and dying trees. Mortality begins with dieback, in which the tops and branches die from the tips. Some specimens survive, but the condition can also kill.
Joseph Hulbert, postdoctoral fellow in WSU’s Department of Plant Pathology, founded the Forest Health Watch program to enlist citizen scientists in understanding and preventing dieback.
Researchers believe the problem is spurred by longer, hotter droughts in the region. But it’s unclear if precipitation, temperature, consecutive dry days, or other environmental factors are the main factor.
Joseph Hulbert, WSU Postdoctoral Fellow, founded Forest Health Watch.
Launched in 2020, Forest Health Watch seeks answers. Citizens help by logging and photographing sites where trees are healthy, dead or dying back. People can also identify sites and conditions where trees may be vulnerable, and watch for signs of disease or pests.
“Anyone can be a community scientist,” Hulbert said. “All you really need is a camera for this project.”
Hulbert launched the Western Redcedar Dieback Map on the iNaturalist citizen science website to allow citizens to easily log their sightings.
“Once we have a strong understanding of the areas where trees are vulnerable, we can begin to explore options for keeping trees healthy in those areas,” he said.
Citizen-aided discovery could ultimately help screen seed sources and tree genotypes to find varieties that can stand up to a hotter, drier climate. Hulbert also envisions future regional forest health projects with other species such as western hemlock or bigleaf maple, but his larger goal is a trained network of community scientists who are reliable observers of tree health.
Forest Health Watch allows citizen scientists to observe and report unhealthy western redcedars, as well as thriving trees.
Forest Health Watch was created as part of Hulbert’s postdoctoral fellowship through the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture’s Educational Workforce Development program. Additional partner organizations include the Washington State Department of Natural Resources, U.S. Forest Service, WSU and Oregon State University Extension, the Oregon Department of Forestry, and several other non-profits, tribes and municipalities. Additional partner organizations are welcomed to become involved and help guide the program.
“Western redcedar is a critical component of the cultural legacy and industrial heritage of the Pacific Northwest, and the dieback of this keystone species is a tragedy,” Hulbert said. “More information is urgently needed, and the contributions of community scientists are our best hope for finding a solution quickly. Together, we can learn how to keep these trees healthy for our communities and future generations.”
Is this a tree, or a bush or weed that grew to the size of a tree? It doesn't have an independent stump, so I wonder. I'm in the Pacific Northwest region of North America.
Leaves are opposite, serrated edges, grouped in 5-7 leaflets, lots of lenticels on the bark and stems, suckers like crazy, reddish tinge to new stems, tree like shrub.
I think this is a type of Sambucus racemosa (AKA Red Elderberry), several varieties of which grow in the PNW.
It can get to 20'. If it hasn't flowered yet where you are, it soon will, so you can verify then. You can also grab a piece of branch and cut it in half lengthwise. It's pithy, and it should look like this.
It can be thinned by selectively cutting canes or trunks down to the ground. It can be pruned hard and will put out new suckers within weeks. Nothing kills it, so prune away if you want to.
If it's not Red Elderberry it may be closely related so look for the flowers and any fruit to give further clues.
Unfortunately, many reports of dieback have been noted during the past few years, ranging from Oregon to British Columbia (see below).
These reports generally note trees with thinning crowns, flagging, yellowing or browning of foliage, dying tops and mortality.
There is a general consensus among land managers, federal and state natural resource agencies, and WSU Extension Forestry specialists that the driver of the dieback is abiotic. Given its extent throughout the region, it is likely linked with recent drought events, but the relationship has not been empirically tested.
We recommend reading Melissa J. Fischer’s Blog Post (DNR): Western Redcedar East of the Cascades: A Species in Decline? for a thorough discussion of the issue and potential drivers.
Reports of Dieback Concerns
- Portland Parks and Recreation, 2019. Urban Forest Health: western redcedar and drought, Urban Forestry, Tree Bark Number 1, August 2019.
- WSU Extension, 2018. Forester’s Notes – Western Redcedar, Washington State University, North Puget Sound Extension Forestry E-Newsletter, Volume 11, Number 2, July 2018.
- O’Neill E. 2019. ‘Dead tree after dead tree.’ The case of Washington’s dying foliage, KUOW, September 17, 2019.
- Vikander T. 2019. Western red cedars are dying of drought in Vancouver and scientists say it’s one more portent of climate change, The Star, Vancouver, June 13, 2019.
- Brend Y. 2019. Western red cedars die off as extended dry spells continue, say experts CBC News, May 14, 2019.
- Wilson C. 2018. Summer drought deals ‘devastating loss’ to western red cedar, B.C.’s official tree, Times Colonist, September 12, 2018.
- Fischer M. J. 2019. Western Redcedar East of the Cascades: A Species in Decline? Washington State Department of Natural Resources, Small Forest Landowner News, December 4, 2019.
- Rippey, C. 2018. Western redcedar die-off in Seattle Parks. Green Seattle Partnership, Restoration Resources, July 24, 2018.
- Pehling D. 2017. Sick looking Cedars? Washington State University, Gardening in Washington State Blog, October 16, 2017.
Did we miss any? Please contact us if you know additional reports or resources to add.
Red Alder (Alnus rubra)
This information was originally published in Hardwoods of the Pacific Northwest, S.S. Niemiec, G.R. Ahrens, S. Willits, and D.E. Hibbs. 1995. Research Contribution 8. Oregon State University, Forest Research Laboratory
Alders are members of the birch family (Betulaceae). Of the ten species of Alnus native to the United States, red alder is the only one that reaches commercial size and abundance. It is also the most common and important of the hardwoods in the Pacific Northwest.
Size, Longevity, and Form
Mature red alder trees are typically 70 to 120 ft in height (130 ft maximum) and 10 to 34 in. in diameter (70 in. maximum). Red alder are mature at 60 to 70 years they seldom survive beyond 100 years. In forest stands, red alder develops a clear (60 to 70 percent of total height), slightly tapered bole with a narrow, domelike crown. Open-grown trees form broadly conical crowns and highly tapered boles, often with large forks and branches. The root system of red alder is shallow and spreading where limited by poor drainage a deep-root system develops on soils with better drainage.
The range of red alder extends from southeastern Alaska (lat 60°N) to southern California (lat 34°N), generally within 125 miles of the ocean. Red alder is common at low elevations throughout the Coast and north Cascade ranges but is restricted to riparian areas or moist microsites farther south.
Historical inventories indicate that the abundance of red alder has increased about 20-fold since the 1920s, though this trend may be reversed by modern forest practices, which favor conifers. The current inventory of about 7.4 billion cubic feet of red alder comprises 60 percent of the total hardwood volume in the Northwest (Appendix 1, Table 1). The greatest volume occurs in the Puget Sound and Northwest Oregon subregions. A significant portion of the red alder resource is not available for harvest forest practices rules constrain timber management in riparian areas where red alder is most abundant. Also, very little red alder is sold from public lands, although substantial inventory occurs there.
Biology and Management
Tolerance, Crown Position
Red alder is intolerant of shade, and it must maintain a dominant or codominant canopy position. Trees of intermediate or suppressed-crown classes do not survive long. Both pure and mixed-species stands are predominantly even-aged. In mixed stands, red alder are usually grouped.
Red alder is a pioneer species that establishes rapidly in openings created by forest disturbance it commonly invades newly bared soils after landslides, logging, or fire. Red alder can maintain or improve soils via rapid input of organic matter and nitrogen. Its roots fix atmospheric nitrogen via symbiosis with the actinomycete, Frankia. Red alder does not reproduce in the absence of soil disturbance.
Red alder often occurs in mixture with other tree species. Common associates include Douglas-fir, western redcedar, western hemlock, grand fir, Sitka spruce, bigleaf maple, vine maple, black cottonwood, Pacific willow, and bitter cherry. Common shrubs and herbs associated with red alder are salmonberry, thimbleberry, red elderberry, devil’s-club, whortleberry, osoberry, evergreen blackberry, western swordfern, and hedge nettle.
Suitability and Productivity of Sites
The suitability of specific sites should be carefully assessed before red alder management is planned. Although red alder colonizes a wide variety of sites, many of those sites present high risks of tree mortality, persistent damage, or poor growth and are thus unsuitable for timber management. Good sites for red alder are generally found along streams, in moist bottomlands, and on lower slopes. Growth of red alder can also be quite good on upland sites (below 2000 ft) with adequate soil moisture and a favorable climate.
When representative red alder trees are present, site index should be estimated with either the 20-year base age (Harrington and Curtis 1985) or the 50-year base age (Worthington et al. 1960). Harrington’s 1986 study, “A method of site quality evaluation for red alder,” should be used for evaluating a site when there are no representative red alder present.
The typical climate in the range of red alder is mild and humid. Most precipitation occurs as rain in the winter summers are generally cool and dry. Better red alder sites receive occasional rain and frequent morning fog during the summer. Annual precipitation ranges from 16 to 220 in. (405 to 5600 mm) and temperatures range from -22 to 115° F (-30 to 46.1° C).
For red alder, risks of excessive mortality and damage from sunscald, heat, or drought are high on southerly aspects, particularly inland on steep slopes. Planted red alder seedlings are particularly susceptible. Near the coast, higher humidity and soil moisture provide more favorable conditions on any aspect. Good development of trees occurs where annual precipitation exceeds 40 in. or where roots have access to ground water. Red alder do poorly under droughty conditions, which may result from inadequate annual or seasonal precipitation, low moisture-holding capacity of the soil, or high evapotranspiration, together or singly.
Severe freezing or unseasonable frost hazards can greatly limit management of red alder. Local frost pockets and flat areas that accumulate cold air from large, cold-air drainages are poor sites for red alder. Both late spring and early fall frost can be disastrous to young plantations. Cumulative effects of periodic frosts produce poor quality stands.
Periodic exposure to high winds can greatly reduce stem quality and height growth of red alder. Areas exposed to periodic high winds (>50 mph) and coastal sites that are not protected from prevailing winds should be avoided.
Management of red alder should generally be restricted to elevations below 3000 ft at the southern end and 1000 ft at the northern end of red alder’s range.
Although red alder is found on a wide range of soils, the most productive stands occur on deep, well-drained loams and sandy loams derived from marine sediments or alluvium. There are also good red alder sites on soils of volcanic origin. Plentiful soil moisture during the growing season is necessary for good development of red alder. Excessive drought is produced by soils with low water-holding capacity including coarse-textured soils (sandy loams or sands) or soils with high rock fragment contents (>40 percent by volume). Coarse soils with consistent subsurface moisture (flood plains, riparian areas) are acceptable, although drought hazards are still high during stand establishment, particularly if competing vegetation is present.
Red alder tolerates poor drainage and occasional flooding during the growing season. Sites with very poor drainage or sites subject to prolonged flooding during any season are not suitable for management of red alder plantations.
Soils low in available phosphorus (P) greatly limit establishment and growth of red alder, although specific criteria for determining deficiency of P in soils have not been developed for red alder. Deficiency of P in red alder is indicated by foliar concentrations of less than 0.16 percent. Deficiency of soil nitrogen (N) is of lesser concern for red alder. Nitrogen fixation via red alder’s symbiotic association with Frankia can compensate for deficiencies in soil N.
Flowering & Fruiting
Trees reach sexual maturity as early as 3 to 4 years of age. Dominant trees in a stand usually begin to produce seed at 6 to 8 years of age. Red alder is monoecious, having separate male and female flowers on the same individual. Male catkins develop in clumps that hang down. In late winter, they elongate from 1 to 3 in. and turn from green to reddish-brown, releasing their pollen in late winter and early spring. Female flowers are borne in clumps of upright catkins, which later develop into cone-like strobiles that bear the seed. The “cones” begin to ripen in September or October, changing from green to yellow-green or brownish-green to brown.
The seeds are small, winged nutlets borne in pairs at the base of bracts within the strobiles. Seeds are very light (350,000 to 1,400,000 seeds/lb) and they can be carried long distances by the wind. Seed dispersal may begin in late September most seeds are released from late fall through winter. Seed should be collected from a local source to ensure that seedlings are adapted to conditions on the outplanting site. Cones should be collected from numerous trees of good growth and form that are well distributed within a stand. The quality and quantity of the cone crop should be assessed in July or August. Collection of cones may begin when the color of a cone has changed to about 50 percent yellow. Another test for crop maturity is to twist cones along the long axis. Seeds are ripe if the cone twists easily and the bracts separate.
After collection, cones should be airdried in paper or cloth bags. Care must be taken to provide adequate ventilation and prevent molding. When cones have dried, seed should be extracted via thrashing in a tumbler or by hand (for small lots). Yield may be increased by repeated wetting, redrying, and extracting. Extracted seeds are screened to remove large debris. Air column machines can be used to remove small trash and empty seed. For short-term storage, dry seed can be stored in sealed containers in the refrigerator with no loss in viability. Red alder seed may be stored for 5 to 10 years with little loss in viability when dried to less than 10 percent moisture content (MC) and stored in sealed containers in the freezer.
Regeneration from Seed
Dissemination of light red alder seed by the wind commonly produces widespread colonization on disturbed soils under a variety of conditions. Very little work has been done to develop methods of intentional regeneration of red alder from seed, however. Establishment from seed generally requires open conditions and bare mineral soil red alder seedlings become established on organic substrates only under very moist conditions. Excessive heating or drying of the soil surface at any time greatly limits establishment of red alder from seed.
High humidity and soil moisture near the coast or at the north end of red alder’s range provide favorable conditions on almost any aspect. In the interior Coast Range or Cascade foothills, establishment from seed is practically zero on southern aspects, and it may be limited to wet microsites and lower slopes on northern aspects.
Adequate distribution of seeds can be provided by well-distributed seed trees or a seed “wall” adjacent to the selected unit. Smaller clearings (less than 20 acres) with a seed source on at least two sides can regenerate well. Isolated seed trees left after harvest may not stand very long. Seed trees on the north side of a unit are preferable, since dispersal is accomplished primarily by drying north winds in the late fall and winter.
Conditions favorable for natural regeneration of red alder often produce an overabundance of seedlings (exceeding 100,000 stems per acre), and early precommercial thinning may be necessary to prevent stagnation or poor growth.
Regeneration from Vegetative Sprouts
Young red alder will sprout vigorously after cutting (coppicing). Coppices with rotations of 4 to 6 years have been managed successfully for a few rotations. Red alders more than 10 years old do not sprout well after cutting regenerating red alder by coppicing older stands is not feasible.
Red alder are not easily established from unrooted cuttings. Cuttings of greenwood from young trees can be rooted by dipping in indole-3-butyric acid and culturing in a warm, well-aerated medium. Tests of operational regeneration from rooted cuttings have been minimal.
Regeneration from Planting
Planting of seedlings allows greater flexibility in site selection and provides greater control over spacing and seed source compared to regeneration from seed. Vigorous, planted red alder seedlings will have an advantage over competing vegetation. Seedlings of good quality, planted on well-prepared sites can reach heights of 4 to 7 ft after the first growing season.
Plantations of red alder can be successfully established with a variety of seedling stocktypes, but many efforts have failed because of poor quality seedlings, extreme weather, and other hazards. Consistent success requires a careful evaluation of regeneration hazards, along with adequate seedling quality, and good site-preparation and planting practices. Red alder seedlings that will have the best survival rate, growth rate, and resistance to damage over a range of conditions are characterized as follows:
Height of 12 to 36 in. and basal diameter (caliper) of at least 0.16 in. (4 mm) Stocky, rather than tall and thin Healthy buds or branches along the entire length of the stem, particularly the basal portion Full, undamaged fibrous root systems Free of disease.
Site Preparation and Vegetative Management
Vigorous red alder seedlings can compete successfully with little or no site preparation when levels of competing vegetation are low to moderate. Moderate amounts of slash, debris, and vegetation shelter new seedlings and may also improve establishment. With high levels of competing vegetation, site preparation is required to achieve adequate stocking and good performance. Growth of red alder seedlings may be lower if the cover of competing vegetation exceeds 90 percent during the first year. Survival may be reduced by competition from 125 to 150 percent cover with overtopping in the first year.
Broadcast burning often provides adequate site preparation where levels of slash and/or shrub cover are high. Chemical site preparation may be most cost-effective for controlling both shrubby and herbaceous competitors. When a site has been heavily invaded by herbs, herbicide treatments just before planting can make the difference between success and failure of hardwoods.
When regeneration is directly from seed, site preparation should produce an even distribution of bare mineral soil. Mechanical scarification, broadcast burning, or piling and burning will do this in most situations. To prevent overabundant regeneration, one method is to minimize soil disturbance during harvest and then mechanically scalp evenly spaced spots throughout the unit. Closely spaced red alder seedlings (less than 9 ft) can effectively dominate a site within 2 to 4 years, thereafter, site-preparation treatments are unnecessary. Red alder at wider spacings (10 to 20 ft) are vulnerable to the prolonged effects of vegetative competition. At these wider spacings, maintenance of weed-free conditions after establishment can double to quadruple seedlings’ growth in comparison to unweeded trees.
Natural stands of red alder generally establish at high densities (10,000 to 100,000 stems per acre) intense competition causes rapid self-thinning and slow diameter growth. Management of lower initial densities (300 to 600 stems per acre) can increase diameter growth rates on crop trees 15 to 20 percent compared to unmanaged stands during the first 15 years. Continued thinning (pulpwood, fuelwood, precommercial thinning) can maintain diameter growth rates up to 30 percent higher than those in unmanaged stands, at least until age 25. Managed stands are expected to attain an average diameter of 12 in. by age 30 or before the average natural stand would take 45 years (SI50 = 100 ft).
Guidelines for management of stand density are provided by the density management diagram (Puettmann et al. 1993). Thinning must favor trees with good growth potential (dominant or codominant trees less than 15 to 20 years old). It is not worthwhile to thin older stands or to leave suppressed trees because the remaining trees will not have adequate capacity for growth response.
Some crowding is necessary to maintain dominance of red alder and to reduce branching, forking, and stem taper. The goal is to manage spacings that optimize growth while maintaining the benefits of crowding. Moderate crowding will induce lower branch mortality with minimal reductions in diameter growth. Relatively uniform spacing in managed stands will also improve stem form by producing straighter stems. Red alder grow towards the light clumpy spacing and large holes in the stand increase lean and sweep.
Initial spacings of 9 to 10 ft between trees should shade out lower branches 30 to 40 ft up the bole by ages 8 to 15 years. A subsequent thinning, combined with pruning of dead branches (many are broken off during thinning) will maintain diameter growth on a high-quality bole. Pruning of live branches may also increase wood quality, although little work has been done on this.
Because of red alder’s ability to improve soils via N-fixation and addition of organic matter, there is particular interest in managing red alder in mixture with conifers in order to maintain or improve site productivity. Management of mixtures can be difficult because of red alder’s rapid height growth and great sensitivity to competition. Under favorable moisture conditions, red alder will overtop and suppress conifers established at the same time. Low proportions of red alder may be difficult to maintain over the long term, because red alder must maintain codominance in order to thrive.
Strategies for managing mixtures include (1) delaying the establishment of red alder for at least 3 to 6 years, (2) maintaining a low proportion of red alder in the stand (10 to 20 percent by stem count) and, (3) managing mixtures in small patches of single species, similar to most natural mixtures.
Growth and Yield
On good sites, height growth may exceed 6 ft/year for the first five years, and trees may attain heights of 60 to 80 ft in 20 years. Mean annual production rates in young stands have been estimated at 6.8 dry tons per acre. Growth slows substantially after the juvenile stage, particularly on poor sites. Site index ranges from 33 to 82 ft for base age 20 years and 60 to 120 ft for base age 50.
Yield tables based on site index and stand basal area (Chambers 1983) are available for estimating volumes of red alder in natural stands. Maximum volume per acre for red alder typically occurs at age 50 to 70, ranging from 5000 to 7000 ft3 per acre. On very good sites, annual volume growth rates may average 300 ft3 per acre for the first 10 years and 200 ft3 per acre over 30 years.
Relatively little information is available on growth and yield in managed stands of red alder. Major gains in average stem diameter and stand basal area appear to be possible with management of spacing in young stands. Optimistic projections anticipate sawlog rotations of 30 to 35 years for managed stands compared to 45 to 50 years for natural stands.
Interactions with Wildlife
For wildlife, red alder provides an important deciduous component in the predominantly coniferous forests of the Northwest. Typically, shrub and herb vegetation under red alder is quite different from that of conifer-dominated areas. A variety of animals seem to prefer or depend on red alder for food or habitat. Maintenance of a red alder component can provide greater habitat diversity within or between conifer stands.
Browsing, antler rubbing, and trampling by deer and elk can cause serious problems in young plantations. Red alder are very sensitive to this damage effects on young trees include decreased growth, multiple stems, and poor stem form. Rapid growth and close spacings generally ensure that an adequate number of crop trees will escape serious damage. Risks of permanent damage are highest with plantations established at wide spacings (>12 ft). Areas of concentrated use by elk or deer should not be managed for red alder.
Both mountain beaver and fur beaver can cause substantial damage to seedlings. Planted seedlings may be the major food source for mountain beaver during the first years after burning or chemical site preparation. Preventative measures such as trapping should be considered if there is evidence of a significant mountain beaver population. Fur beaver can cause extensive mortality of saplings and trees up to 150 ft from streams.
Voles, mice, and other rodents often severely damage seedlings, particularly in grassy or marshy areas. Basal netting or tubing can protect seedlings from rodents.
Insects and Diseases
Young, undamaged red alder stands are fairly free of problems from insects and disease. Stem cankers are common in some young stands, although they seldom have significant impact except under stressful environments. Although red alder has long been perceived as highly susceptible to decay, some recent work shows that healthy, living trees are exceptionally resistant to decay after typical stem injuries.
Occasionally, serious outbreaks of defoliating insects can cause growth reductions in healthy stands and mortality in stressed stands. Tent caterpillars (Malacosoma disstria, M. californicum), red alder flea beetle (Altica ambiens), red alder woolly sawfly (Eriocampa ovata), striped red alder sawfly (Hemichroa crocea), and a leaf beetle (Pyrrhalta punctipennis) have all caused damage.
Major gains in growth and quality may be possible with selective breeding of red alder. This is because red alder has a large amount of genetic variation, early sexual maturity, frequent seed production, rapid growth, and the capability of vegetative propagation. Little effort has been made to establish breeding programs.
Harvesting and Utilization
Cruising and Harvesting
Both cubic-foot and board-foot volume tables have been developed to estimate volume in standing trees from DBH and total height. Standard log grades, adapted from eastern hardwood log grades, have been developed for red alder. Most pricing decisions, however, are based on log diameter, length, and grade specifications developed by the specific log buyer.
Harvesting and transport costs for red alder are often higher than those for softwoods, although no special logging equipment is required. Red alder typically has lower volumes per acre and smaller, shorter trees. Red alder has a high green-weight-to-volume ratio, and natural stands produce a high percentage of logs with sweep and crook, which reduces the amount of logs that can be loaded on a truck. Most logging takes place in the dryer months harvest volume declines in the rainy winter months because of road and site conditions.
Logs are generally scaled with Scribner log scale rules. Logs are also sold by weight or by the truckload. To prevent staining, red alder logs must be removed from the woods and processed within 6 to 8 weeks in the summer and 8 to 12 weeks in the winter.
Sawlogs usually have a minimum small-end diameter of 6 in. smaller logs are chipped for pulp. Lumber is graded under special National Hardwood Lumber Association (NHLA) rules for red alder grades include Selects and Better, No. 1 Shop, No. 2 Shop, No. 3 Shop, and Frame. Unlike the standard NHLA grading rules, these grades are generally based on the best face of the piece, whereas the other NHLA rules are based on the poorer face. Grades can be applied to rough, surfaced, green, or dry lumber in practice, lumber is usually dried and surfaced before grading. A considerable volume of the low-grade material is sawn into 1 X 4, 1 X 6, and 2 X 4 for making pallets.
Recent studies show that the cubic volume of red alder that is recoverable as lumber ranges from 30 percent in small diameter logs to 50 percent in larger logs. Grade recovery also varies by log size or log grade e.g., 85 percent of the surface-dried lumber produced from 7-in. logs was pallet material, but 75 percent of the surface-dried lumber from 20-in. logs was No. 1 Shop and Select. An earlier study conducted with NHLA standard grades (rather than the modified red alder and maple grades) showed that the average green lumber grade recovery from alder logs was lower than that of other eastern and western hardwoods for a given log grade (Appendix 1, Table 2). For a given log diameter, grade recovery from butt logs is much higher than that for logs higher in the tree.
Most of the high-grade lumber is used for furniture, cabinets, and turned products. Lumber prices have remained high and are competitive with prices for eastern hardwoods. Red alder lumber is marketed internationally, with strong markets in the Pacific Rim countries and in Europe, especially Italy and Germany.
Red alder is peeled into veneer for both low-grade core stock and high-grade face material. Veneer logs are an increasingly important market that is competitive with sawlogs. Red alder is also widely used for pulp, both domestically and overseas, but staining and fiber deterioration are a problem in storing pulp chips for more than a few months. An evaluation of red alder as a raw material for structural panels, such as oriented strand board, found no problems in producing flakes, bonding with resins, or meeting structural design values.
The wood of red alder is evenly textured with a subdued grain pattern, and is of moderate weight and hardness. Red alder is a light-colored or white wood when it is freshly sawn, but with exposure to air, the wood darkens and changes to a light brown hue with a reddish tint. There is no color distinction between heartwood and sapwood.
The growth rings are distinct, delineated by either a whitish or brownish line at the outer margin. The pores are uniformly distributed within a growth ring (diffuse porous). Rays are present and of two types, narrow (simple) and broad (aggregate). Both the pores and the rays are indistinct to the naked eye. The wood is without any characteristic taste or odor.
Red alder weighs about 46 lb/ft3 when green and 28 lb/ft3 when dried to 12 percent MC. The average specific gravity is 0.37 for green and 0.43 for ovendry.
Because of its moderate specific gravity, red alder is not an exceptionally strong wood. In many applications this will be apparent as indentations on the surface of the wood. In furniture applications, it may be necessary to redesign joints and the sizes of structural parts to compensate for the often slightly lower strength values of red alder. Red alder holds nails well and does not readily split when nails are driven into it. Lower grades of red alder perform adequately as pallet material. See Appendix 1, Table 3 for average mechanical properties for small, clear specimens.
Drying and Shrinkage
Red alder lumber 5/4 and thinner is one of the easiest North American wood species to dry. Establishing and maintaining uniform color requires special handling and storage of logs and freshly cut lumber, and specially developed dry-kiln schedules. Variable coloration is due to the oxidation of extractives present in the wood. Colors may range from yellow to deep red and may be mottled.
Kiln-drying the lumber as soon as possible after sawing prevents mottling. Steaming the kiln charge at different temperatures for different lengths of time will result in different colored wood (from white to dark red) this technique allows the kiln operator to select the desired final color. See the table below for a standard kiln schedule. Other schedules are available for either lighter or darker final coloring of the wood.
Shrinkage values for green to ovendry wood based on original green sizes are low and average 4.4 percent in the radial direction and 7.3 percent tangentially. The green MC of the wood averaged 98 percent (ovendry basis).
Red alder has an excellent reputation for machining. Due to the moderate specific gravity and the even texture of the wood, high throughput of material is possible. Quality surfaces can be obtained if sharp cutting edges are used. Some tear-out is possible during planing and shaping if tooling becomes dull or if feed rates are excessive. Red alder sands well without scratching and with a minimum of fuzzing. Its turning characteristics are similar to those of black cherry.
The ease of gluing red alder is well known in the industry. It bonds well and there are no unusual problems when conditions are moderately well controlled.
Because of its uniform, small pore structure and the consistency of color, red alder is a preferred wood for finishing. It accepts a variety of stain types and has been successfully substituted for other woods when properly colored stains are applied.
Red alder is a non-durable wood when subjected to conditions that are favorable to decay. We recommend that it be rapidly processed into lumber after harvest to prevent staining and decay. A reddish-purple stain develops in solid-piled lumber that has not been dried or treated with anti-stain chemicals. In-ground tests indicate that untreated, peeled round posts will decay and fail in 3 years on average, while split posts will last only 5 years.
Uses for red alder include face veneer, furniture, cabinets, paneling, edge-glued panels, core-stock and cross-bands in plywood, millwork, doors, pallets, woodenware and novelties, chips for waferboard, pulpwood, and firewood.
AGER, A.A., P.E. HEILMAN, and R.F. STETTLER. 1993. Genetic variation in red alder (Alnus rubra) in relation to native climate and geography. Canadian Journal of Forest Research 23:1930-1939.
AHRENS, G.R., A. DOBKOWSKI, and D.E. HIBBS. 1992. Red alder: guidelines for successful regeneration. Forest Research Laboratory, Oregon State University, Corvallis. Special Publication 24. 11 p.
ATTERBURY, T. 1978. Alder characteristics as they affect utilization. P. 71-81 in Utilization and Management of Alder. D.G. Briggs, D.S. DeBell, and W.A. Atkinson, compils. USDA Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Forest and Range Experiment Station, Portland, Oregon. General Technical Report PNW-70.
BRIGGS, D.G., D.S. DeBELL, and W.A. ATKINSON, compilers. 1978. Utilization and management of alder. USDA Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Research Station, Portland, Oregon. General Technical Report PNW 70. 379 p.
CHAMBERS, C.J. 1983. Empirical yield tables for predominantly alder stands in western Washington. Washington Department of Natural Resources, Olympia, Washington. DNR Report N. 31. 70 p.
CLEAVES, D.A. 1992. Marketing alder and other hardwoods. Oregon State University Extension Service, Corvallis, Oregon. Extension Circular 1377. 8 p.
CURTIS, R.O, D. BRUCE, and C. VanCOEVERING. 1968. Volume and taper tables for red alder. USDA Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Forest and Range Experiment Station, Portland, Oregon. Research Paper PNW-56. 35 p.
DeBELL, D.E. Unpublished data. USDA Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Research Station, Olympia, Washington.
FEDDERN, E.T. 1978. Harvesting of red alder. P. 61-70 in Utilization and Management of Alder. D.G. Briggs, D.S. DeBell, and W.A. Atkinson, compils. USDA Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Research Station, Portland, Oregon. General Technical Report PNW-70.
GEDNEY, D.R. 1990. Red alder harvesting opportunities in western Oregon. USDA Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Research Station, Portland, Oregon. Resource Bulletin PNW-RB-173. 22 p.
HAEUSSLER, S., and J.C. TAPPEINER II. 1993. Effect of the light environment on seed germination of red alder (Alnus rubra). Canadian Journal of Forest Research 23:1487-1491.
HARRINGTON, C.A. 1986. A method of site quality evaluation for red alder. USDA Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Research Station, Portland, Oregon. General Technical Report PNW-192. 22 p.
HARRINGTON, C.A. 1990. Red alder. P. 116-123 in Silvics of North America. Volume 2, Hardwoods. R.M. Burns and B.H. Honkala, coords. USDA Forest Service, Washington, D.C. Agriculture Handbook 654.
HARRINGTON, C.A., and R.O. CURTIS. 1985. Height growth and site index curves for red alder. USDA Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Research Station, Portland, Oregon. Research Paper PNW-358. 12 p.
HIBBS, D.E., and A.A. AGER. 1989. Red alder: guidelines for seed collection, storage, and handling. Forest Research Laboratory, Oregon State University, Corvallis, Oregon. Special Publication 18. 6 p.
HIBBS, D.E., D.S. DeBELL, and R. TARRANT, editors. 1994. The Biology and Management of Red Alder. Oregon State University Press, Corvallis. 256 p.
HIBBS, D.E., W.H. EMMINGHAM, and M.C. BONDI. 1989. Thinning red alder: effects of method and spacing. Forest Science 35:16-35.
JOHNSON, H.M., E.J. HANZLIK, and W.H GIBBONS. 1926. Red alder of the Pacific Northwest: its utilization, with notes on growth and management. USDA, Washington, D.C. Department Bulletin 1437.
KOZLIK, C.J. 1987. Presteaming to minimize mottling in partially air-dried red alder lumber. Forest Research Laboratory, Oregon State University, Corvallis. Research Note 80. 6 p.
LENEY, L., A. JACKSON, and H.D. ERICKSON. 1978. Properties of red alder (Alnus rubra Bong.) and its comparison to other hardwoods. P. 25-33 in Utilization and Management of Alder. D.G. Briggs, D.S. DeBell, and W.A. Atkinson, compils. USDA Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Forest and Range Experiment Station, Portland, Oregon. General Technical Report PNW-70.
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Join us for an inspiring and fun immersion into the wild world of our remarkable forests, the native trees that grow in them, the wood they provide, and their connections to your life and work. Through this webinar you’ll learn about:
- The unique and surprising traits and needs of more than several native tree species—including the roles they play in the forests’ ecology
- The distinctive characteristics of the wood that comes from these trees and the roles each play in our daily lives
- The impact your tree and wood-related choices have—and can have—on forests, near and far
- Ways that you and fellow forest owners can strengthen your connections to local forests and have a positive impact on them.
Pacific Madrone (Arbutus menziesii)
This information was originally published in Hardwoods of the Pacific Northwest, S.S. Niemiec, G.R. Ahrens, S. Willits, and D.E. Hibbs. 1995. Research Contribution 8. Oregon State University, Forest Research Laboratory
Pacific madrone is one of the largest of about 14 species of Arbutus in the world, and one of the two Arbutus species in North America. Pacific madrone is a broadleaved evergreen tree and a member of the heath family (Ericaceae). It is distinguished by its smooth trunk, orange-red deciduous bark, white flowers, and red berries.
Size, Longevity, and Form
Pacific madrones attain heights of 80 to 125 ft and diameters of 24 to 48 in. The largest trees may be as much as 400 years old ages of 200 to 250 years have been counted. Pacific madrone can develop a clear, straight bole under good conditions in forest stands, particularly in canyons and dense stands. Open-grown individuals and trees growing on lower quality sites often have multiple stems, which originate from sprouts or root burls that often are J-shaped and forked. The tree may become shrubby on poor sites. Pacific madrone generally develops a deep and spreading system of lateral roots, often in association with large root burls. Seedlings have a tap root.
Pacific madrone is found from San Diego (lat 33° N) to eastern Vancouver Island (lat 51° N). In Oregon and Washington, it is restricted to the Coast Range and the west slopes of the Cascade ranges. In California, it is also found in the Coast Range, throughout much of the Klamath Mountains, and in some areas west of the Sierra Nevada.
Pacific madrone is the most common abundant hardwood in the Siskiyou Mountains and interior coast ranges of the Southwest subregion of Oregon. This is the only subregion of Oregon that has a substantial inventory of Pacific madrone timber (Appendix 1, Table 1). Much of the Pacific madrone in Oregon is on federal lands, although volume estimates are not readily available. Pacific madrone is the second-most abundant hardwood in northern California. In Washington, it is common in the Puget Sound and Olympic subregions.
Biology and Management
Tolerance, Crown Position
Pacific madrone most commonly occurs as a codominant or intermediate tree in a canopy of mixed-hardwood species that often have some overstory of conifers. Pacific madrone is intermediate in tolerance. Tolerance appears to be lower for older trees and for trees at the northern end of the range. Seedlings establish best in partial shade, and young trees can survive in fairly dense shade. Top light is required for good growth older trees may require top light to survive. Pacific madrone will grow toward openings, leaning as much as 15 to 20 degrees.
Pacific madrone can be subclimax or climax in successional status a substantial component of madrone is often maintained by periodic fires in the southern and central parts of its range. Although the thin-barked stems are easily killed by fire, Pacific madrone often dominates post-fire vegetation via vigorous regeneration of sprouts. It can also persist as a component of the mixed Douglas-fir/tanoak/Pacific madrone forest type.
In the heart of its range, Pacific madrone is a major component of a widespread mixed-evergreen forest, which is characterized by an overstory of Douglas-fir and a secondary canopy of mixed hardwoods. Understory vegetation is often sparse under mature stands containing Pacific madrone. Pacific madrone is a common associate in a variety of other major cover types in the region.
Common tree species associated with Pacific madrone include Douglas-fir, ponderosa pine, sugar pine, white fir, western hemlock, tanoak, Oregon white oak, California black oak, giant chinkapin, bigleaf maple, bitter cherry, and California-laurel. Small trees commonly associated with Pacific madrone include vine maple, black hawthorn, red osier dogwood, willow, hazel, and red elderberry. Numerous shrub associates include manzanitas, Oregon-grape, ceanothus, salal, oceanspray, poison-oak, gooseberry, wood rose, snowberry, huckleberry, and thimbleberry.
Suitability and Productivity of Sites
Pacific madrone is particularly suited for warm, dry sites in the Northwest, especially on south and west aspects. Many of these sites may be marginal for production of other tree species, particularly in the absence of intensive vegetation management. On such sites, Pacific madrone’s ability to maintain forest cover and produce usable wood becomes an important asset, one that may be improved with management. Relatively good growth and stem quality can be produced on better sites, although species such as Douglas-fir and tanoak are also more competitive on these sites. There are no established guides or site-index curves for estimating the productivity of a site for Pacific madrone. A site with good potential for growth of Pacific madrone is indicated by site trees with the following characteristics:
- Top height on mature trees of 80 to 100 ft
- Rapid juvenile height growth of 1 to 3 ft per year
- Sustained height growth from age 15 to 30 of 1 to 2 ft per year
- Continuing diameter growth on mature trees.
Pacific madrone prefers a climate characterized by mild, wet winters and dry, cool summers. Within its range, annual precipitation varies from 25 to 118 in. and average temperatures range from 36° F in January to 77° F in July.
Pacific madrone tolerates warm, dry conditions better than most tree species in the Northwest. It is one of the most drought-tolerant trees in the region and it has superior ability to extract water from soil or rock. Its roots can penetrate up to 12 ft in fractured bedrock, giving it access to substantial moisture unavailable to shallow-rooted species. Established and resprouting Pacific madrone are thus able to maintain relatively good growth on shallow, rocky soils where it may be difficult for seedlings of any species to establish and grow.
Pacific madrone is relatively sensitive to cold and snow. Its broad, evergreen leaves and brittle branches are vulnerable to breakage from heavy wet snow. Foliar damage and die-back are commonly observed after severe freezing or unseasonable frost. At the northern end of its range, Pacific madrone is one of the least frost-resistant tree species.
Pacific madrones are relatively windfirm because of their deep, spreading root systems.
At the southern end of its range, Pacific madrone is found from 2000 to 4260 ft in elevation. In the north, it ranges from sea level to 3000 ft.
Towards the southern and middle part of its range, Pacific madrone grows on soils derived from a wide variety of parent materials. In the north, it is usually found on soils derived from glacial sands and gravels or hard glacial till. It is often found on rocky soils and on soils with low moisture retention. Pacific madrone is generally restricted to soils with good internal drainage it will not tolerate poor soil drainage or flooding.
Flowering & Fruiting
Pacific madrone produces seed as early as 3 to 5 years of age. Trees begin flowering in early spring, from mid-March to May, depending on the elevation. The blossoms are dense, drooping clusters (terminal panicles) of small, white, urn-shaped flowers. The fruit is a berry (0.3 to 0.5 in.), which ripens in the fall, turning from yellow-green to bright red or reddish-orange.
Berries number from 630 to 1130/lb and contain an average of about 20 seeds per berry. Seeds are small, numbering from 197,000 to 320,000/lb. The berries are fleshy and relatively heavy the seed are thus dispersed by gravity or by animals. The berries are eaten by many birds and mammals.
To obtain seeds, berries should be collected soon after they ripen in the fall. The following methods have been suggested for treatment of berries and seeds (Jane Smith, USDA Forest Service, PNW Station, Corvallis, Oregon). Berries can be dried at room temperature and stored at 34°F (4°C) for at least 2 years. Seeds should be separated from the pulp of fresh or dried berries. To extract seeds from dried berries, berries can be soaked in water (overnight) and blended in cold water in a blender at low speed for 3 to 10 minutes. Moist stratification for at least 4 to 6 weeks at 1 to 2°C may improve germination.
Regeneration from Seed
In the northern parts of its range, Pacific madrone usually produces seed every year. Very good crops may occur as frequently as every 2 years, while very light seed crops may occur only once in 10 years. At the southern end of its range, good seed crops may occur as infrequently as once every 10 years. Seeds usually germinate in the first year after ripening. Natural rates of survival are often very low (0 to 10 percent) after seedling emergence because of drought, fungi, or predation.
Seedlings of Pacific madrone establish naturally in disturbed soils along roads, near uprooted trees, or in partially open forests. Bare mineral soil provides the best seedbed very few seedlings establish in undisturbed litter. Seedlings also need partial shade to establish. Early growth of seedlings under natural conditions is slow (2 to 4 in. per year).
Regeneration from Vegetative Sprouts
Most reproduction of Pacific madrone arises from sprouts after fire or cutting. Death of the main stem stimulates profuse sprouting (up to 300 sprouts per parent), which originate from dormant buds near the root collar. These sprouts provide reliable regeneration and have rapid growth potential, which is due to carbohydrate reserves and soil access provided by pre-existing roots. Sprouts may grow as much as 5 ft in height the first year and attain an average height of 10 ft after 3 years. To produce vigorous, high-quality sprouts, stumps should be cut low to the ground (<8 in.), with a slight angle to the stump surface. Pacific madrone sprouts in partial or shelterwood cuttings have relatively poor growth and quality. Moderate to large clearings with little competitive vegetation produce the best growth of sprouts.
Regeneration from Planting
Little effort has been made to regenerate Pacific madrone from planted seedlings. Commercial seedling production methods have not been developed, although good quality seedlings have been produced for some research applications. Mortality rates have been high in field transplantings to date.
Site Preparation and Vegetative Management
Little site preparation is necessary for establishing stands of sprout origin. Regeneration and growth may be enhanced by burning or mechanically removing slash that shades Pacific madrone stumps. Rapid growth of sprout clumps makes Pacific madrone a superior competitor in the new stand. Control of competing herbs and shrubs can greatly improve the growth of young sprouts.
Site-preparation treatments that produce bare mineral soil while leaving some partial shade (debris, vegetation) may be best for promoting establishment and growth of Pacific madrone seedlings.
The growth and quality of Pacific madrone stands may be greatly improved through management. Diameter growth of madrone is responsive to increased growing space within or between sprout clumps.
Sprouts should be thinned after dominant stems have emerged, at 5 to 10 years. Thinning should select well-formed, dominant stems that originate near the ground and are evenly distributed around the stump. One early thinning is probably adequate for production of firewood, which may be done in 15- to 20-year rotations. A second thinning (yielding firewood) may be beneficial if sawtimber production is desired.
Thinning in older existing stands can increase diameter growth on residual trees by 2 to 5 times. Pacific madrone stands (pure or mixed) are often quite dense, and sometimes stagnant, with little or no diameter growth. Periodic thinning may be necessary to avoid stagnation and maintain stand growth.
Selective harvesting or dense shelterwoods are not recommended for management of Pacific madrone sprouts. Uneven-aged management may be feasible over a large area, with clearing in patches larger than 0.2 acres. Thinning will be necessary within patches or sprout clumps.
Pacific madrone typically occurs as a component or patch within mixed stands. Management of mixed stands is complex, and may require periodic treatments to maintain growth of diverse components. Pacific madrone stump sprouts may need to be controlled or thinned to avoid early suppression of associated conifer seedlings. Later treatments may be needed to maintain growth of Pacific madrone, particularly on better sites where conifer species are superior competitors.
Growth and Yield
Most natural Pacific madrone stands originate from sprouts. Dense sprout regeneration grows rapidly under open conditions. By age 10, the average height of sprouts may reach 15 to 22 ft and stand basal area may reach 100 ft2 per acre on a good site. Typical mature trees (50 to 70 years old) are 50 to 80 ft tall and 10 to 20 in. in diameter. Diameter growth in natural stands is relatively slow, averaging 12 to 15 rings per in.
Mature stands or patches may attain basal areas of 140 to 200 ft2 per acre. The best stands of Pacific madrone may exceed 4000 ft3 per acre over several acres. Average stand volume of Pacific madrone forest types in California is 1705 ft3 per acre.
There are few examples of growth and yield from managed stands. One test with 45-year-old Pacific madrone on a poor site suggested that thinning in dense, stagnant stands can greatly increase diameter growth (as much as 5 times) while maintaining or even increasing total annual volume growth per acre (33 to 37 ft) after removal of up to 65 percent of the stand basal area. Another study of Pacific madrone in mixed hardwood stands in northern California showed annual growth rates of 85 ft3 per acre among all species combined, after removal of 40 to 50 percent of the original stand basal area.
Interactions with Wildlife
Pacific madrone berries are an important food for many birds and mammals. The berries are a particularly significant component in the diet of doves and pigeons during the fall. Deer eat the berries and also browse young shoots. Damage caused by animals is relatively minor on Pacific madrone. Live trees with rotten heartwood provide excellent habitat for cavity-nesting birds. Pacific madrones in mixed-conifer forests provide a middle canopy story, an important element in forest structural diversity.
Insects and Diseases
Significant mortality and damage is caused by a fungus commonly known as “madrone canker” (asexual stage, Fusicoccum aesculi sexual stage Botryosphaeria dothidea). The canker causes a dieback of branches from the tip, and cankers may spread to the bole and kill the tree. The bark of dead branches becomes blackened, somewhat resembling fire damage. The disease reproduces from spores in the outer bark, which are spread by insects and, possibly, rain and wind.
A basal canker, Phytophthora cactorum, also has significant impact. The annosus root rot, Heterobasidium annosum, has potential to cause serious damage.
Insects such as defoliators, wood borers, and bark beetles are common but cause only minor damage.
No natural varieties or hybrids of Pacific madrone are recognized, although there may be some horticultural cultivars.
Harvesting and Utilization
Cruising and Harvesting
Diameter at breast height and total height of Pacific madrone can be used in tables or equations to estimate total tree volume in cubic feet and sawlog volume. Tests of the eastern hardwood grades have found no difference in value between log grades for this species, but have found a significant relation between log diameter and value. Stump burls offer an additional harvesting and management option for Pacific madrone.
Sawlogs usually have a minimum small-end diameter of 10 in. smaller logs are chipped for pulp. The percentage of No. 1 Common and Better green lumber recovered from Pacific madrone logs compares favorably with the grade recovery from eastern oaks (Appendix 1, Table 2). Pacific madrone burls are highly prized and valued for their appearance, and are used in novelty items such as tables and clocks.
Pacific madrone is a hard, heavy wood with a fine grain and little texture. The sapwood is white or cream-colored with a pinkish tinge the heartwood is a light reddish-brown. The wood is without any characteristic odor or taste. Pacific madrone wood is diffuse porous the pores are nearly uniform, numerous, and minute. With a hand lens, the growth rings are barely visible. The rays range from barely visible to readily visible.
Pacific madrone weighs about 60 lb/ft3 when green and 45 lb/ft3 at 12 percent MC. The average specific gravity is 0.58 for green volume and 0.69 for ovendry.
Pacific madrone wood has good strength properties. For most of its common applications (e.g., flooring or furniture), its resistance to indentation and abrasion is a plus. Pacific madrone has exceptional resistance to breakage, making it suitable for joinery. Because of its hardness, nailing is difficult and splitting is likely unless the wood is prebored. See Appendix 1, Table 3 for average mechanical properties for small, clear specimens.
Drying and Shrinkage
Pacific madrone requires special care during drying because of its wetwood, which can contribute to collapse. Green MC for this wood ranges from 68 to 93 percent. Its shrinkage values are considerably higher than for most other woods, which may result in increased drying degrade from warp. The radial shrinkage (green to ovendry) is 5.4 percent and the tangential shrinkage is 11.9 percent. For comparison, the respective values for alder are 4.4 percent and 7.3 percent, and for white oak are 4.2 percent and 9.0 percent. Lumber cut in a quartersawn pattern will minimize some of the high shrink/warp potential otherwise, careful design consideration is a must. Because the tree does not always grow straight, tension wood sometimes forms, which will contribute to nonuniform shrinkage. Presteaming the kiln charge and stickering at a closer interval has been used successfully to control warp. (See the tables below for the appropriate kiln schedules).
Prior to kiln drying, Pacific madrone can develop a chemical oxidative stain that appears as blue or purple streaking in the wood. It does not show on rough-sawn surfaces of the wood and is apparent only after planing. To minimize staining, madrone should be dried as soon as possible after sawmilling, and tight stacking of wet lumber should be avoided.
Of all the hardwoods of the Pacific Northwest, Pacific madrone ranks highest (fewest machining defects) for planing, shaping, boring, and turning. Because of its high density, it should not be processed too fast (overfeed). It is recommended that saws and other tooling have a hook angle of 20° and a sharpness angle of 55° for optimum performance. As with other fine-grain, hard woods such as birch or maple, surface scratching (cross-grain or swirls) during sanding can be a problem with Pacific madrone.
Pacific madrone bonds well there are no unusual problems with this wood when gluing conditions are moderately well controlled. Careful curing/drying of glue joints is required to prevent sunken gluelines from subsequent machining.
Pacific madrone finishes well, without the need to fill the grain it colors best with dyes or transparent stains. Heavily pigmented stains tend to be muddy in appearance. Pacific madrone can be successfully ebonized.
Pacific madrone is a nondurable species that is susceptible to wood decay. Untreated wood posts in ground contact have an average service life of 6 years. Mold and oxidative staining are moderate problems.
Pacific madrone is used for furniture, flooring, turnings, paneling, veneer for hardwood plywood faces and core stock, pulpwood, and firewood.