Trees find ways to thrive where you would not expect them to

Englemann spruce
Record-sized specimens of Engelmann spruce can occur where cold air drainages allow them to grow at elevations normally below their ranges. Photo: Robert Van Pelt/DNR.

Trees have a number of ways to take advantage of the local environment to thrive, even in locations that might appear inhospitable. Engelmann spruce and subalpine fir, for example, do not tolerate warm temperatures very well, which is one reason they are seen more often growing at higher elevations. Yet some of the very largest specimens of these trees are found in temperate valley bottoms that would normally be too hot or dry for them. Why? The answer is that Engelmann spruce and subalpine fir also tolerate very wet conditions, such as wetlands and ponds found in lower elevations. In steep mountainous areas, these trees also take advantage of cold air drainages — areas where dense cold air from higher ground flows downhill into a valley. An additional factor is that the smaller snowpack at lower elevation can extend the growing season for these trees.

Read more about identifying old trees and what helps them grow in the DNR publication, Identifying Old Trees and Forests in Eastern Washington by Robert Van Pelt, a free online book packed with illustrations and photos.

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