Idaho hosts more than 20 tree species
Hardwoods, softwoods, deciduous and evergreens
Idaho’s varied climate and topography hosts more than 20 tree species including hardwoods with broad leaves, softwoods with needles, deciduous trees that lose their leaves in the fall and evergreen trees that have leaves throughout the year and are always green.
Hardwoods found in Idaho are aspen; American dwarf birch, river birch, paper birch, Pacific Dogwood, bigtooth maple, grey, white and green alder, narrowleaf and black cottonwood, and white poplar."
Idaho is home to many conifers, including ponderosa pine, Douglas-fir, grand fir (white), western red cedar, lodgepole pine, western white pine, subalpine fir, whitebark pine, Englemann spruce, western hemlock, mountain hemlock, western larch (tamarack), alpine larch, pacific yew, juniper, and pinyon."
Softwoods of Idaho
With its lofty elevations, favorable climate, and four distinct seasons, Idaho is the perfect home for “softwood” trees. Softwoods have needles instead of the broad leaves found on hardwood trees such as cherry, walnut, and oak. Softwoods are also known as “conifers” or cone-bearing trees because they reproduce using seed containers called cones.
Softwood lumber is lightweight and flexible, yet strong and easy to saw, plane, and nail. These properties make it ideal for home construction, and its long, strong fibers make excellent paper products. People sometimes use the words “pine trees” when referring to softwoods. While the Idaho softwood forest contains some species of pine (ponderosa pine, lodgepole pine, and western white pine — Idaho’s state tree), it also is home to hemlock, western larch, western red cedar, Engelmann spruce, Douglas-fir, subalpine fir, and grand fir.
Major Commercial Softwood Species
Of the ten major softwood species, eight are extremely important for their commercial value. These species account for more than 85% of the timber volume of Idaho’s forestlands.
Named for the tall, slender lodgepoles used to make teepees, lodgepole pines still provide shelter as framing or finishing lumber in our homes. Large stands of lodgepole pine are a sure sign that a wildfire once burned the area -- lodgepole seeds are released from their cones by the heat of fire.
Western Hemlock is found in cool, moist, shady sites throughout central and northern Idaho. Its grain characteristics make it ideal for moulding, baseboards, window and door components, and stair railings. Hemlocks act as weather vanes in the forest, as their top-most branch bends away from the direction of the prevailing wind.
Unlike most conifers, the western larch loses its needles anually, bringing fall color to Idaho's evergreen forests. Also called the "tamarack," this species favors upper elevations with cool temperatures and moderate precipitation. Western larch's reddish-brown wood is tight-grained and very durable, making it ideal for plywood, flooring, and interior/exterior trim.
Idaho's state tree was decimated by blister rust disease that was brought over from France on ornamental shrubs in 1910. Thanks to forestry research, blister-rust-resistant white pines have been developed, and are being planted in Idaho's forests. The light, strong wood of the white pine is used to make window frames, paneling, shelving, and door frames. Learn more about Idaho's state tree here!
Despite its name, the Douglas-fir is not a true fir tree, but is more closely related to the hemlock. The exceptionally strong wood of this species has been used extensively for structural framing lumber. Also known as "red fir," this species often reaches heights of 100 to 130 feet.
Found in drier sites at middle to lower elevations, ponderosa pine often grows in exclusive, single-species stands. Its fire-resistant bark enables the ponderosa pine to survive while other species are burned out. The aromatic, light-yellow wood of the ponderosa pine is made into boards that are used for trim, shelving, and interior paneling.
Slow-growing, long-lived, and exceptionally resistant to decay, western redcedar is a shade loving species. Native Americans once used western redcedar wood to make baskets and clothing. Today, we use western redcedar in siding and other specialty lumber products.
Often called "white fir," grand fir grows prolifically in the mountainous regions of Idaho. Noted for its straight, even grain and long fibers, this species is used to product dimensional lumber and plywood.