Above: Looking up at a Western redcedar, which could be 600 years old or more. Right: The rotting stump of an ancient tree is marked with holes created by insects living within the wood. Photos by Maya Walters.
grow in the cool, moist climate of North America's west coast -- Washington State, Oregon, British Columbia. Natural, un-logged
temperate rainforests are referred to as "old-growth" forests, since the trees are both ancient and very large. These trees are primarily
giant conifers -- Sitka spruce, Western hemlock, Western redcedar, Douglas-fir. Many are over 500 years old. There are always some
younger trees in old growth forests as well.
|While conifers are dominant, it is possible to find certain broad-leaved trees, such as bigleaf maple. In the damp habitat of the temperate rainforest, mosses and ferns thrive, giving the forest a lush appearance more commonly thought of in association with tropical forests. Birds are abundant, but may be hard to see if they remain in the forest canopy, since the trees can reach over 200 feet tall. The holes created by pileated woodpeckers are a common sight on the trunks of trees.|
The giant coniferous trees of the temperate
rainforest are supported by high levels of precipitation. Trees often grow to six or eight feet in diameter, and the lowest branches are fifty
feet off the ground. These forests are just remnants of the vast coniferous forests that covered a much greater area millions of years ago.
Temperate rainforests, for all their lush appearance, lack the diversity of plant and animal species that is found in a tropical rainforest. In these temperate areas, there are usually only two or three species of conifers that are especially abundant, with a handful of others scattered throughout, and a few broad-leaved species in more open, sunny areas.
Three Western redcedars rise high above a human observer. Photo by Maya Walters.
|While the temperate rainforest appears similar anywhere in its limited range, there are different tree species in different areas. For example, the Sitka spruce is one of the most abundant trees near the coast, but its range extends only 30 miles inland. This is because it needs a lot of moisture from the fog that often blankets coastal regions. Past this distance from the ocean, other species dominate the temperate rain forest. The wood of the Sitka spruce is valued for pulp and for this reason has been planted in commercial plantations far from its natural habitat of North America's west coast.||
The cones of the Sitka spruce tree are an especially important food source to crossbills and other birds. Its foliage, however, does not make a pleasant meal for any animals, since the needles are unusually sharp and prickly. The deer and elk which inhabit the temperate rainforest during the winter prefer to feed on the softer needles of Western hemlock and Western redcedar. These two conifers are very shade-tolerant, and grow very large, living for over 400 years. The wood of the Western redcedar is resistant to decay and is often used for shingles, boats, and other products that will be exposed to the weather.
Above: The temperate rainforests are moist enough that mosses and fungi often grow on the trunks of trees. Below: branches of the Western redcedar. Photos courtesy Al Walters.
[water] [forests through time] [coniferous forests] [deforestation & overcutting] [fungi] [broadleaf forests] [tropical forests] [woodpeckers] [biodiversity] [wood & forest products] [birds] [seeds]
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