West Lowland Forest Ecosystem
Western Red Cedar (Thuja plicata) photographed by Marcia Rivers Smith. Copyright 2004. All rights reserved.
Land of the tall trees describes the forests we have grown to love in western Washington. This is, by far, the largest ecosystem west of the Cascade Mountains and extends in elevation from sea level to about 2500 feet. Wet mild winters enable the evergreen conifers characteristic of this vegetation type to grow to magnificent proportions. Douglas fir, western hemlock and western red cedar are the evergreens which give Washington its name as the Evergreen State and which characterize our western lowland forests. In the shade of these forests grow many species uniquely adapted to filtered light. On drier forest sites one will find an abundance of salal while sword ferns may dominate slightly moister forest sites. In either case, both salal and sword ferns are shade tolerant and adapted to the dry summers of western Washington. In the midst of the tangle of the understory grow shade tolerant wild flowers such as trilliums, vanilla leaf, false solomon’s seal and the little foam flower. Large leaves for harvesting the minimal light and white flowers are common. Douglas fir dominated forests commonly have an abundance of ocean spray along the forest edges, in burned over areas. Elegant arches of creamy flowers give this shrub its common name.
Within this extensive vegetation zone are some unique plant communities. The coastal rainforest with its super abundant rain fall, old growth forest stands, and Garry Oak woodland prairies in scattered patches and larger openings in southwest Washington.