To the Conifers

The Russian Wilderness protects a mountainscape of granitic peaks, glacial cirques, and therichest forest in the Klamath Mountains. Here the intrepid tree lover can find 18 species of conifers in a single square mile of backcountry, a high tally for such a focused area. Geographic, geologic, and climatic factors combine in this land of jagged ridges and forested lake basins, creating an environment that allows this marvelous diversity to exist. As the climate of the region has changed over the millennia, distributions and ranges of tree species have shifted, generally moving north with cooler conditions in the wake of retreating glaciers and ice sheets. But here in the Russians, elevation and weather can sustain an assemblage of conifers that is tough to rival.

A hike in February yielded up-close encounters with 13 species, and distant sightings of two others based on the word of one who had been there before. On this hike, we brought those distant two into the fold, climbing the ridge that divides the basins of Big Duck Lake and Sugar Lake in achieving the elevation needed to encounter these trees. The final list for our 6.5 mile round-trip exploration was made of these species:

  1. Douglas Fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii)
  2. Ponderosa Pine (Pinus ponderosa)
  3. Incense Cedar (Calocedrus decurrens)
  4. Engelmann Spruce (Picea engelmannii)
  5. Sugar Pine (Pinus lambertiana)
  6. White Fir (Abies concolor)
  7. Shasta Red Fir (Abies magnifica)
  8. Brewer's Spruce (Picea breweriana)
  9. Pacific Yew (Taxus brevifolia)
  10. Western White Pine (Pinus monticola)
  11. Lodgepole Pine (Pinus contorta)
  12. Mountain Hemlock (Tsuga mertensiana)
  13. Jeffrey Pine (Pinues jeffreyi)
  14. Whitebark Pine (Pinus albicaulis)
  15. Subalpine Fir (Abies lasiocarpa)

Sugar Lake

We took the trail to sugar lake, admired the still waters and the newts that swim in them, then scaled the ridge to the north for views and those two elusive species (Whitebark Pine and Subalpine Fir). Had we done more exploring, we could have added Foxtail Pine (Pinus balfouriana) to our list, but it went unseen along with both Common Juniper (Juniperus communis) and Western Juniper (Juniperus occidentalis). In hindsight though, I think I may have seen Common Juniper on the slopes as we climbed to the divide. All the more reason to go back and look again.

on the divide above Sugar Lake

on the divide above Sugar Lake

Chaney Swiney

Bend, Oregon

Naturalist, Photographer, Cartographer