The History behind D.C.’s Cherry Blossoms

by American Forests

By Austa Somvichian-Clausen, Communications Intern

In anticipation of this year’s quickly approaching cherry blossom festival in our nation’s capital, Washington D.C., let’s take a look at a brief history of how these iconic trees made it here to the States and what we can expect from this year’s festival.

Looking back in time at the origins of cherry blossom festivals, the Japanese have been putting on celebrations for the symbolic blossoms for thousands of years, called hanami. In Japan, the cherry blossom, or sakura, symbolizes the cycle of life, death and rebirth. They have been used as symbols for everything from predicting successful harvests of rice to giving the World War II kamikaze pilots courage for their one-way missions.

Chiran high school girls are waving farewell with cherry blossom branches to a taking-off kamikaze pilot.

Chiran high school girls are waving farewell with cherry blossom branches to a taking-off kamikaze pilot. Credit: Hayakawa (早川) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

It wasn’t until 1910, that 2,000 cherry trees were donated to Washington, D.C. in the name of the city of Tokyo and planted along the Potomac River. Unfortunately, those trees were found by arborists to be infested with bugs and nematodes and were ordered to be burned to prevent an infestation and protect American growers.

Trucks near Cherry blossom trees, Washington, D.C., 1940.

Trucks near Cherry blossom trees, Washington, D.C., 1940. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Fortunately, a second, larger donation of 12 varieties of 3,020 trees made its way to Washington in 1912, the most common variety being Somei-Yoshino. Besides the 1,800 Somei-Yoshino trees, the second most abundant is Kwan-zan and followed by Ichiyo. The Somei-Yoshino variety of cherry blossom tree was cultivated during the Edo Period in Tokyo and is by far the most numerous cherry tree in Japan. Somei Yoshino trees come with slightly pink — almost white — 5-petaled blossoms. The Kwan-zan is known for its stunning pink color and double flower. The Ichiyo has about 20 light pink petals per blossom. It is among the most common late flowering cherry varieties encountered in Japan’s parks and gardens.

Somei-Yoshino cherry blossoms.

Somei-Yoshino cherry blossoms. Credit: Takashi .M via Flickr.

This gift of trees from Japan was meant to honor the burgeoning relationship between the two nations and to symbolize the renewal of spring and the ephemeral nature of life. The first cherry blossom festival took place in 1935, but an interruption in the annual celebrations soon ensued in 1941, when four cherry trees were cut down shortly after the Japanese invaded Pearl Harbor. Officials started to refer to the trees as “Oriental” trees to prevent future incidents. Today, people throughout the country, and even those abroad, travel to Washington to catch a glimpse of the beautiful blossoms, which only last for about four to ten days.

Cherry blossoms surrounding the Tidal Basin.

Cherry blossoms surrounding the Tidal Basin.

This year’s peak bloom period is predicted to be earlier than the historical average of April 5, and we are told to expect the best days to see the blooming trees are on March 23-24. The reason for this early blooming period is because we are in a period of warmer ocean-atmosphere temperatures along the central and east-central Equatorial Pacific, a.k.a. El-Niño.

If you plan on joining in on the cherry blossom festivities this month, whether you’re just visiting or are a resident of the District — it is well-known that one of the best spots to see the cherry blossoms is along the Tidal Basin and at the Jefferson Memorial. It is worth noting, however, that there are plenty of lesser-known spots that may offer a less hectic viewing experience. The National Arboretum boasts 76 varieties of cherry trees and 446 acres to roam around on. Other spots include Meadowlark Botanic Garden in Northern Virginia, as well as Stanton Park and local spots like Foxhall Village.

Seeing the cherry blossoms in bloom is a special experience in and of itself, but it can mean even more now that we’re equipped with knowledge about the history and significance of these special trees.

Cherry blossoms at the National Arboretum.

Cherry blossoms at the National Arboretum. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Impressive Green Roofs around the World

by American Forests

By Austa Somvichian-Clausen, Communications Intern

A green roof — or living roof — can be defined as the roof of a building that is partially or completely covered with vegetation and a growing medium, planted over a waterproofing membrane.

Green roofs have a number of benefits such as providing habitat for birds, absorbing airborne pollutants, drastically reducing sewer overflow by retaining rainwater and reducing the urban heat island effect whereby high concentrations of concrete buildings and asphalt increase air temperature.

In the United States, cities like Washington, D.C., Chicago, Philadelphia and New York City now offer financial incentives for installing green roofs. Installations have almost doubled since 2008, and now more than 17.5 million square feet of roofs across the country are considered “green.”

Besides the benefits that green roofs provide for the environment, they also offer aesthetic benefits. Adding a green roof to any building can significantly add to its aesthetic appeal. Take a look at this short list of a few of the more notable and beautiful green roofs around the world.

Museé du Quai Branlys Vertical Garden – Paris, France

Designed and planted by French botanist Dr. Patrick Blanc, the 650-foot-long and 40-foot high Musée du quai Branly greenwall is one of Blanc’s most famous vertical gardens, and one of the most highly photographed in the world. Facing the River Seine with a park and small streets in between, the micro-climate creates a good environment for a large variety of plants.

A reason to celebrate:

Thanks to a French law that passed last March, rooftops on new buildings in commercial zones across France must either be partially covered in plants or solar panels. The law was approved by French Parliament and was actually scaled back from initial proposals by environmental groups asking for green roofs to cover the entire rooftop surface of all new buildings. Similar green roof bylaws exist in various cities around the world, including Tokyo, Toronto, Copenhagen and Zurich.

Museé du Quai Branlys Vertical Garden

Credit: Inhabitat via Flickr.

The California Academy of Sciences Living Roof – San Francisco, Calif., United States

One of the most well-known green roofs we have today is located at the Academy of Sciences (CAS) in San Francisco, Calif. Weather stations on the  green roof monitor wind, rain and changes in temperature to help inform the building’s automated systems and skylights, which helps keep the interior piazza cool and comfortable, and natural light streaming to the exhibits below.

According to the CAS website: “Edged by solar panels, the roof’s seven hills are lined with 50,000 porous, biodegradable vegetation trays made from tree sap and coconut husks. An estimated 1.7 million plants fill the trays, their roots interlocking to create an extraordinary oasis for birds, insects, people, and other creatures.” The Academy is also the world’s first Double Platinum LEED-certified museum, and the largest Double Platinum building on the planet.

The California Academy of Sciences Living Roof

Credit: Jeanne Marie Tokunaga via Flickr.

The Vancouver Convention Centre – Vancouver, BC, Canada

The Vancouver Convention Centre’s West building is home to a six-acre living roof — the largest in Canada and the largest non-industrial living roof in North America. The sprawling green roof features more than 400,000 indigenous plant and grasses and is designed to act as an insulator, reducing heat gains in the summer and heat losses in the winter. The underside of the roof is lined with beautiful Douglas fir slats, a locally harvested material.

A unique feature of the roof is the four beehives where they keep European honey bees. The bees help pollinate the plants on the living roof while supplying honey for the kitchen.

The Vancouver Convention Centre

Credit: Patsy Wooters via Flickr.

The Nanyang Technological University – Singapore

The key feature of the university’s School of Art Design and Media is its picturesque green roof that slopes almost at a 45-degree angle. The sunken, almond shaped courtyard is formed by the space in between the building’s two main arms and is beautifully reflected from the interior high performance, double-glazed glass curtain wall facades. The green roof doubles as a scenic outdoor communal space and a way to keep ambient temperature low and reduce heat in the daytime. In addition, the reflective pond in the central courtyard provides a cool visual respite  and helps to cool the center space.

The roof turf consists of a combination of two grasses, Zoysia matrella and Ophiopogon. Under the grass roof are four layers of interrelated matter, which include crushed volcanic rocks, pumice and washed sand (for the grass to root), as well as a moisture retention mat. The turfgrass remains green and healthy year round via an automatic sprinkler system using harvested rainwater.

The Nanyang Technological University

Credit: Kelvin Chen via Flickr.

The Global Change Institute at the University of Queensland – Brisbane, Australia

Located in the sub-tropical climate of Brisbane, the University of Queensland (UQ)is committed to incorporating sustainability into every aspect of its campus. The 5-story Global Change Institute is the first educational Living Building Challenge-registered project in Queensland, and the UQ’s landmark zero-carbon, 6-star Green Star rated collaborative hub generates more energy than it consumes.

The building features a sun-shading system that tracks the sun and protects the glass louvers, which create natural ventilation. The air flows across occupied office spaces to the central atrium, which acts as the building’s lungs, discharging warm air through its thermal chimney. An onsite greywater system, bush tucker garden, bio-retention basin and greenwalls enhance the building’s green features.

Check out the Global Change Institute’s site to check out more of the building’s cool features.

The Global Change Institute at the University of Queensland


ACROS Fukuoka Prefectural International Hall – Fukuoka City, Japan

Pioneering green architect Emilio Ambasz transposed a nearly 100,000-square-meter park in the city center onto 15 stepped terraces of the ACROS Fukuoka Prefectural International Hall. The design for ACROS Fukuoka proposes a powerful new solution for a common urban problem: reconciling a developer’s desire for profitable use of a site with the public’s need for open green space. The plan for Fukuoka fulfills both needs in one structure by creating an innovative agro-urban model.

ACROS Fukuoka Prefectural International Hall


Chicago City Hall Green Roof – Chicago, Ill., United States

Chicago’s most famous rooftop garden sits atop City Hall. First planted in 2000, the City Hall rooftop garden was conceived as a demonstration project to test the benefits of green roofs and how they affect temperature and air quality. The garden consists of 20,000 plants of more than 150 species, including shrubs, vines and two trees. The plants were selected for their ability to thrive in the conditions on the roof, which is exposed to the sun and can be windy and arid. Most are prairie plants native to the Chicago region.

The City Hall rooftop garden improves air quality, conserves energy, reduces stormwater runoff and helps lessen the urban heat island effect. The garden’s plants reflect heat, provide shade and help cool the surrounding air through evapotranspiration.

Chicago City Hall Green Roof

Credit: Joe Wolf via Flickr.

Forest Digest – Week of March 7, 2016

by American Forests

Find out the latest in forestry news in this week’s Forest Digest!

lake and forest

Credit: Chuck Fazio.

  • Fossil of oldest pine tree discoveredBBC
    Scientists believe they have discovered the fossil of a 140-million-year-old pine tree, the oldest currently known, in Nova Scotia, Canada.
  • NASA to 3D map the world’s forests using space lasersGrist
    Using satellites and lasers, NASA is working on an initiative to create a 3D map of the planet’s forests in order to more accurately determine forest carbon sequestration estimates, including how much carbon would be released from removing a forest and how much would be sequestered it a new one was replanted in its place.
  • Indonesia Can Now Track Forest Carbon With 95 Percent Certainty, But Peat Proves ProblematicHuffington Post
    Indonesia, which recently surpassed Brazil as the deforestation capital of the world, has plans for a national carbon accounting system that will track “carbon flux” with nearly 95% accuracy by 2018; however, the threat of peat, and the levels of carbon dioxide and methane it releases, could be a serious problem.
  • US forests struggle as drought and climate change bite —
    New research by a professor and his colleagues from Duke University reveals that drought and the impacts of climate change are posing a stronger threat to almost all forests across the continental U.S. than previously thought.

9 Animals That Use Forests as Camouflage

by American Forests

By Shandra Furtado, Communications Intern

Forests provide habitats for 80 percent of land-dwelling animals! But, for some species, they provide more than just a home — they provide a means of camouflage, which is useful for all kinds of daily needs. Here are nine different species that are particularly cunning in the forest camo:

1. Uroplatus phantasticus (Leaf-tailed gecko)

Native to Madagascar, the leaf-tailed gecko has mastered its disguise within the leaves. When in the presence of predators, the gecko is even able to flatten its body against a tree to hide its shadow, becoming virtually invisible.

Leaf-tailed gecko

Credit: Daniela via Flickr.

2. Tropidoderus Childrenii (Children’s Stick Insect)

Children’s Stick Insects are very hard to detect within the foliage of gum and eucalyptus trees in Australia. They look so much like gum leaves, that other stick insects often mistake them for food in crowded situations, especially in captivity.

Children's Stick Insect

Credit: Graham Wise via Flickr.

3. Phyllocrania paradoxa (Ghost Mantis)

The Ghost Mantis mimics withered leaves with a dark body covered in leaf-like decorations that helps it hide among fallen leaves in its native habitat of Madagascar and Africa.

Ghost mantis

4. Caligo eurilochus (Owl Butterfly)

The clever markings on the owl butterfly are an adaptation known as Batesian mimicry, which fools small bird predators into thinking they are owl eyes, a predator that many small birds are conditioned to steer clear of.

owl butterfly

Credit: Anna Hesser via Flickr.

5. Bubo virginianus (Great Horned Owl)

The Horned Owl is the perfect camouflage inspiration for the owl butterfly, as the owl itself is a master of the art form. Patterns on the owl’s feathers help them blend into tree bark seamlessly. Also known as the Tiger Owl, the owl stalks its prey from high branches at night, remaining undetectable.

Great Horned Owl

Credit: Aron Maizlish via Flickr.

6. Epimecis hortaria (Tulip-Tree Beauty Moth)

Native to North America, the brown and ivory colors on the moth make it nearly impossible to spot when resting and flattened against tree bark.

Tulip-tree moth

Credit: Kerry Wixted via Flickr.

7. Oxybelis aeneus (Brown Vine Snake)

The Brown Vine Snake disguises itself as a branch or vine as it waits for unsuspecting prey to cross its path. This snake can be found across South America, through Mexico and into south central Arizona. They’re found in trees or low shrubs.

Brown vine snake.

Credit: Natalie McNear via Flickr.

8. Panthera pardus (Leopard)

The leopard’s spots help it blend into tree bark and leaves making it difficult to spot from below. Using the element of surprise to its advantage, the leopard will pounce from its hiding spot in the tree when it eyes prey. The leopard is so strong that it can even pull its prey back into the tree, keeping it out of the way from hyenas and other scavengers.


Credit: David Schenfeld via Flickr.

9. Bradypus tridactylus (Three-toed sloth)

The three-toed sloth is so slow that algae is able to grow on its coat, helping it blend in with trees. It also spends most of its lifetime suspended in the canopy where they eat, sleep and even give birth. The only defense mechanism the sloth has is its claws; however, its slow movement and camouflage make them very difficult for predators to spot.

three-toes sloth

Credit: Martha de Jong-Lantink via Flickr.

Big Tree Madness Back for Year Four by Popular Demand

by Ashlan Bonnell

Are you ready to ruuuuuuummmmmbbbbllllleeee!? Big Tree Madness is back for its fourth year, and we couldn’t be more excited. Anticipation has been building all year, but in case you’re new to the series — or just need a little refresher — here’s a quick breakdown before the tournament begins.

To sweeten the pot a bit this year, and to rack up even more votes than years past, we’re excited to share that the winning statewill receive a brand new TruPulse 360B laser from LaserTech! So, who’s made it to this year’s Sweet 16? Let’s take a look…

From the East, we have:

Maryland, Shagbark hickory New Hampshire, pitch pine New York, northern red oak New Jersey, sweetgum

The four Champions from the South region:

Texas, Mexican pinyon pine North Carolina, Eastern hemlock Tennessee, September elm Florida, South Florida slash pine

Representing the Midwest:

Missouri, white basswood Michigan, black maple Ohio, Peachleaf willow Nebraska, eastern cottonwood

And last, but not least, our Champions from the West:

Hawaii, Koa California, western juniper Utah, Rocky Mountain white fir Oregon, Incense-cedar

And, there it is, folks — this year’s Big Tree Madness bracket! So, how can you participate? Vote, vote vote!

All voting will take place via American Forests’ Facebook page, so if you aren’t following us yet, do so now. You will have 24 hours to vote on each match-up every weekday with voting starting at 10:00 am EST and ending at 9:59 am EST the next day. We will have one match-up per day starting on March 15, ending with the championship on April 4 — the same day as the men’s NCAA basketball final. The Ultimate Champion Tree will be announced the next day.

We will announce the winner of every match-up on Facebook, so you can keep track at home or with the bracket on our website. Ultimately, the winner of Big Tree Madness is in your hands so stand behind your favorite school, your home state, the coolest big tree or the best species. Mark your calendars and tune into the battle of big trees — and don’t forget to tell your friends!

Big Tree Madness is part of the American Forests National Big Tree Program. American Forests thanks the program’s premier sponsor, The Davey Tree Expert Company.

Forest Digest – Week of February 29, 2016

by American Forests

Find out the latest in forestry news in this week’s Forest Digest!
Kids in tree

Escape to Alaska: A Glass Train Ride through the Alaskan Wilderness

by American Forests

By Shandra Furtado, Communications Intern

DenaliThis summer American Forests and its partners will be hosting a six-day Alaskan excursion in Denali National Park. The trip offers a great juxtaposition of adventurous and relaxing activities, from backcountry hikes to lounging in the lodge’s exclusive spa.

Even the last day of the trip doesn’t denote the end of the adventure, as we will be embarking on a glass train ride back to Anchorage with stunning views along the way.

On the Alaska Railroad Deluxe Dome Car service, large curved glass windows that run the length of the car give passengers 360-degree views of the surrounding wildlife. There is also a second level outdoor viewing platform, which is said to be the only one of its kind in the world. This is a great place to enjoy a cocktail and revel in the fresh air and scenery. Be sure to keep an eye out for wildlife throughout the trip, especially for commonly spotted animals such as dall sheep, bears, moose, eagles, beavers, wolves and swans. An on-train tour narration is provided over a PA system by host guides.

glass train ride

Credit: oklanica via Flickr.

Right after leaving Denali National Park, we will go through Broad Pass, the highest point on the Alaskan railroad. You will be surrounded by a beautiful panoramic view of the Alaska Range Mountains and the evergreen forests that surround the pass. The summer deciduous trees will be in full bloom, giving a colorful contrast to the snowcapped mountains in the background.

Before approaching Talkeetna, we’ll cross the 918-foot Hurricane Gulch Bridge, which towers almost 300 feet above the creek below. The view of the bridge alone is breathtaking, but the view from the bridge is even better. It’s considered one of the route’s best photo opportunities, so be sure to have your camera ready.

On a clear day, you are able to see Mt. Denali, North America’s tallest mountain, for most of the train ride. Recently changed back from being Mt. McKinley by efforts to preserve the native name, the original name “Denali” is based on a native Koyukon Athabascan verb meaning “high” or “tall.” Around three hours from the end of the trip, we will be approaching some of the most spectacular views of Mt. Denali. If the weather is good, the train will slow to allow passengers to take photos. Once we arrive in Anchorage a few hours later, you will be able to get transportation to the airport or your hotel for the evening.

Don’t miss out on this unique opportunity to experience Alaska’s wildlife and learn about the native history of the area. Sign up for the trip today!

7 Everyday Items Made from Trees

by American Forests

By Austa Somvichian-Clausen, Communications Intern

We all know that trees supply us with some amazing resources, from the material resources — like wood which we use to create anything from furniture and wooden cabins, to printer paper and coffee cup sleeves — to the health, both mental and physical, and environmental resources and benefits provided by forests. But, trees actually provide us with many more useful everyday items than what you may realize. Some of these are products most people wouldn’t think originated from trees, which only further exemplifies the value of preserving our trees and forests!

1. Wine Corks

While opening up a bottle of pinot grigio or cabernet, have you ever stopped to think about where the cork comes from? Well, wine corks are actually made from the bark of the cork oak tree, which can be found mainly in Portugal and Spain. The tree bark is harvested every nine years as to not harm the tree since the cork bark regrows.

The cork bark planks are then boiled to soften and clean them. Next, the planks are cut into workable pieces, and then corks are punched out either by hand, or by machine. These are considered high-grade corks, and the remainder of the plank will be ground up to make granules which can then be glued together to make agglomerate cork.

Cork oak bark.

Cork oak bark.

2. Natural Aspirin and Acne Medication

Willow bark, also known as “nature’s aspirin,” contains a precursor to aspirin, which essentially provides the same benefits as the tablet. Early incarnations of aspirin were made by boiling the bark of the white willow tree. Medicines made from the willow tree and other salicylate-rich plants appear in Egyptian pharonic pharmacology papyri as early as the second millennium BC.

Willow bark extract can also be found in cosmetics and personal care products due to its astringent, anti-inflammatory and soothing properties. It contains salicylic acid, a BHA that is a natural exfoliant used in acne treatments because of its abilities to help the skin shed dead cells while clearing pores.


Aspirin tablets.

3. Sponges

There are now sponges made from renewable plant-based materials such as cotton fiber and wood pulp. These sponges are fully biodegradable and the manufacturing process to make them releases fewer environmental toxins than their plastic counterparts.

Sponges made from trees.

Sponges made from trees.

4. Chewing Gum

For centuries, the ancient Greeks chewed on mastic gum, or the resin contained in the bark of the mastic tree. Grecian women especially liked chewing on the gum to clean their teeth and sweeten their breath.

The gum that we chew on nowadays evolved from a chicle-based gum introduced to the United States in the early 1860s. Chicle is derived from the juice of the sapodilla tree that grows in the rain forests of Central America.

Sapodilla gum.

Sapodilla tree.

5. Carnauba Wax

Carnauba wax comes from the leaves of the palm Copernicia prunifera, a plant that is native to, and grown only in, parts of northeastern Brazil. The wax is obtained from the leaves of the palm by collecting and drying them and then beating them in order to loosen the wax.

Most people know that carnauba wax is used regularly in automobile waxes, but it is also commonly used to produce shoe polishes, dental floss, food products — such as candy coating — and floor and furniture waxes and polishes. Carnauba wax is hypoallergenic and, therefore, also used in cosmetics like lipstick, eyeliner, mascara, eyeshadow, foundation, deodorant and many more.

Carnauba trees.

Copernicia prunifera.

6. Henna Dye

The leaves from the henna tree have been used for thousands of year to create beauty products such as hair dye and henna paste, which is used to create beautiful henna tattoos. The leaves are dried, crushed and then mixed with liquids, like water, lemon juice or tea, to create a paste before being applied to the skin to create a temporary tattoo.

These tattoos have adorned women’s bodies as a part of social and holiday celebrations since the late Bronze Age in the eastern Mediterranean. Bridal Mehndi is also a common practice in Pakistan, Northern Libya and India.

Henna tattoo.

Henna tattoo.

7. Rubber

Many people don’t realize that commonly used materials, such as rubber, come from trees. Rubber is sourced from the rubber tree through tapping the tree for its sap, which is known as latex. The rubber tree, which is native to the rainforests of the Amazon, can be tapped for latex once it reaches approximately six years of age.

Tapping into trees for rubber.

Tapping into trees for rubber.


Forest Digest – Week of February 22, 2016

by American Forests

Find out the latest in forestry news in this week’s Forest Digest!

Tropical Forest

Credit: Mathias Rodriguez via Flickr.

  • 3D ‘cyberforests’ created to predict effects of climate changeEconomic Times
    A new study published in the journal Royal Society Open Science reveals a 3D-model computer simulation of forests that will help scientists predict the effects of climate change and other related concerns, including drought and wildfires, on actual living forests.
  • New insights into the seasonality of Amazon’s evergreen forests — National Science Foundation
    In this Q&A learn about new research being conducted into the individual details of tropical evergreen forests, revealing the seasonality of the Amazon rain forest.
  • House Republicans seek to open up national forests to mining and loggingThe Guardian
    Just following the recent takeover of an Oregon wildlife refuge, Congress is considering two different bills which would potentially loosen federal authority and allow states to release tracts of public land for mining, logging and other commercial operations.
  • How Forest Loss Is Leading To a Rise in Human DiseaseYale Environment 360
    Additional research provides evidence of the impact of the felling of tropical forests on the increase and spread of diseases, such as malaria and dengue, via mosquitos as well as diseases spread by primates and other animals due to forest clearing.

Escape to Alaska: Sprucing Things Up in the Backcountry

by American Forests

By Austa Somvichian-Clausen, Communications Intern

White spruce trees lining wonder lake.

White spruce trees lining wonder lake.

This July, American Forests is gearing up for an adventurous trip into the heart of Denali National Park in Alaska. Before we embark on our journey, let’s take some time to get to know some of the native vegetation that those traveling with us will get the chance to see, such as the white spruce (Picea glauca). The white spruce is native to the northern temperate and boreal forests in North America. It grows abundantly in Denali National Park, and we’ll get the chance to see a generous amount of these beautiful trees because they line Wonder Lake — a secluded Alaskan gem hidden deep in the park and revered for its views of Mount Denali and excellent wildlife spotting.

The white spruce is a member of the pine family that found its roots in central Alaska and across to east and southern Canada. It has now spread its limbs southward into the northernmost U.S. border states such as Montana, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine. It is an extremely durable tree species and has been described as a “plastic” species because of its ability to repopulate areas at the end of glaciation. The white spruce can live under highly variable conditions; it grows on a wide variety of soils and has well-developed moss layers that significantly affect the mineral soil.

Known by a variety of names, such as the Canadian spruce, skunk spruce, cat spruce, Black Hills spruce, western white spruce, Alberta white spruce and Porsild spruce, the white spruce gained some of its nicknames because of the strong odor given off by broken needles. If you’re trying to spot one while in Denali, they can be identified by their needles which are a beautiful blue-green color, with white lines lining all sides, and gray-brown bark with white inner bark. White spruces usually live around an impressive 250-300 years and can grow to over three feet in diameter and sometimes more than 100 feet tall.

white spruce foliage.Many useful products can be created from white spruce trees, such as wood fiber and lumber products, and it is known for being one of the most important commercial species in the boreal forest. Historically, the white spruce tree was useful in providing shelter for Native American and white settlers of the northern forest and was the most important species utilized by natives of interior Alaska. Alaskan natives used the wood for fuel and other parts of the tree for uses such as covering summer dwellings, lashing birchbark baskets and canoes and even collecting the resin and extracts from boiled needles for medicinal purposes.

White spruce trees aren’t just helpful to people though — they are eaten occasionally by moose and hares, provide housing for red squirrels and spruce grouse which also consume parts of the tree. They also help our environment by playing a pivotal role in maintaining soil stability and watershed values for recreation. Not only will the white spruce be a beautiful addition to the vast array of plants and animals we will encounter on our trip to Alaska, but it’s also invaluable to the ecosystems that we will be visiting there. Want to experience the white spruce yourself? Join us on this exclusive adventure by registering online!