While the redwoods are the most impressive trees around us, they’re are definitely not alone. We also have several giant (4-6 foot d.b.h.) Douglas firs, and hardwoods like tanoak, California-laurel, and bigleaf maples along the creeks. Our neighborhood also has some Pacific Madrones but none grow in our yard (yet).
The Douglas firs (Pseudotsuga menziesii) are distributed throughout the forest in our area of the mountain and grow as tall and as wide as many of the large redwoods. Where the redwoods have a sprawling lateral root network and almost never fall from winds, the Doug firs rely on a strong tap root and it seems every year during the winter storms, another one or two fall in our neighborhood.
The tanoak (Notholithocarpus densiflorus) are evergreen hardwoods that are pretty quickly vanishing in our yard and our neighborhood. Between the droughts and sudden oak death, a pathogen wiping out oaks and tanoaks across the Pacific northwest, about half of our tanoaks have died in the decade we’ve been living here.
California-laurel (Umbellularia californica) sometimes called California bay, are an evergreen hardwood that can grow quite tall in our area as they seek sunlight among the giant redwoods and Doug firs. Their leaves are oblong and smell and taste very similar to bay leaves, only a bit stronger. You can cook with them in place of bay leaves but you’ll want to half the number your recipe calls for because of their strength. Unfortunately, these trees are carriers for Phytophthora ramorum, the water mold that causes sudden oak death. They don’t seem to suffer much from it but it builds up on their leaves and washes onto the oaks and tanoaks during the winter rains.
The bigleaf maples (Acer macrophyllum) are a deciduous hardwood that line the major creek flowing at the edge of our yard and are spread throughout our neighborhood. They’re called bigleaf maples because they have, you guessed it, really big leaves, the largest of any maple. I’ve measured some at over a foot across. Our maples turn golden in the fall and provide a few months of nice contrast to the otherwise green forest.
We don’t have any Pacific madrones (Arbutus menziesii) in our yard but I want to plant some. Madrones are amazing evergreen hardwoods with beautiful red/orange bark that peels away like paper to reveal silvery green underneath. In spring, the trees fill with clusters of small bell-like white flowers. The leaves are dark and waxy and though many drop in summer and fall, the trees remain green throughout the year.
Our redwood forest is actually home to a variety of trees and we appreciate all of them. I’m sad about the tanoaks and I’m worried about the Doug firs falling on our home during winter storms, but we’re in no hurry to be rid of any of them, except maybe one or two irregular tall and skinny Doug firs that are leaning conspicuously towards the house.