Tree identification: a tale of two trees

The tutor shares a confusing identification experience.

In the woods where I walk, an old Sitka spruce always dominates the forest right around it. A large Sitka spruce is easy to spot by its scaly bark, rather than the vertical furrows other local evergreens have. Furthermore, Sitka spruce bark has a different color from other trees; Audubon describes it as “purplish brown.”

A few months ago, out for a walk with my kids, I decided to show them a Sitka spruce, including its cones. Next to a big Sitka spruce trunk lay many cones, but they were small (maybe 2cm long), nearly spherical, and dark brown. I recognized the cones, but knew they weren’t Sitka spruce ones.

Twenty feet away lay light-brown cones, around 8cm long and 2cm wide, with a honeycomb pattern on them. I immediately knew they must be Sitka cones; later, the guide confirmed it. On the other hand, the smaller cones I’d found right beside the Sitka spruce trunk were western hemlock ones.

The pattern repeated itself around other big Sitka spruce trees: western hemlock cones closely surrounding the trunk, with Sitka cones further out.

In these woods, the Sitka spruce are so big, they drop their cones well away from the trunk. Growing close to each Sitka spruce tree, however, you’ll find western hemlock whose cones fall around the Sitka trunk.

I’ll be sharing more about my tree observations in future posts:)


Pojar, Jim and Andy MacKinnon. Plants of Coastal British Columbia. Vancouver:
   BC Ministry of Forests and Lone Pine Publishing, 1994.

Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Trees. New York: Alfred A. Knopf,   1980.

Jack of Oracle Tutoring by Jack and Diane, Campbell River, BC.

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