Tahoe Trees

Tim Hauserman

Whether it is winter, spring, summer or fall, all you got ta do is look around you and you will see beautiful trees at Lake Tahoe. They are all over the place, and waiting for you to say hi, but in order to have a proper introduction, you need to know their names.

With two notable exceptions, Tahoe area trees choose to live in fairly narrow bands of elevation. At lake level, the dominant trees are white firs and Jeffrey pines. White firs have short, dark green needles in bunches and non-descript grey bark. They are perhaps Tahoe’s most prolific tree. Jeffrey pines have long, lighter green needles in groups of three with large, round cones. Also common, but not as ubiquitous, near the lake, are the large red barked incense cedar, and the majestic Sugar Pines, which spout those impossibly long and narrow cones that every tourist that comes to Tahoe goes goo goo ga ga over.

Above 7000 feet, the white firs are replaced by their larger, cousins the red firs, which look similar except for reddish bark and more tightly packed fir bundles. Next up the altitude ladder come two of my favorites: The dark green Mountain Hemlock, which sports needles from just above the ground to the top of the tree, which often gently tips over like a wizards hat. Hemlocks prefer tons of snow and north facing slopes, so you will find them at downhill ski resorts. Another tree which prefers lots of snow, is the magnificent western white pine, whose narrow cones look like a miniature version of the sugar pine cone. Also high up, find the gnarled, ancient specimens of juniper with red flaky bark tucked in amongst the rocks. Note their small blue berries, which when scratched and sniffed give off the aroma of gin. Finally, the top of the altitude pyramid is the Whitebark Pine, which can be found at the top of the ridges above 9000 feet. Look for needles in groups of five and a light colored bark. Often this will be the habitat of the bawdy Clark Nutcracker, whose range is closely tied to the Whitebark Pine.

Two other very common Tahoe area trees are found over a wide range of elevations. The soft white barked, aspen trees grow anywhere they can find a steady supply of water, and their quaking leaves give the Sierra it’s biggest splash of fall colors. Then there is the lodgepole, which seems to grow anywhere and everywhere. They have greenish brown needles in groups of two, with small rounded cones and bark that looks like corn flakes.