Alaska Trees and Shrubs / Edition 2

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Alaska Trees and Shrubs has been the definitive work on the woody plants of Alaska for more than three decades. This new, completely revised second edition provides updated information on habitat, as well as detailed descriptions of every tree or shrub species in the state. New distribution maps reflect the latest survey data, while the keys, glossary, and appendix on non-native plants make this the most useful guide to Alaska trees and shrubs ever published.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781889963860
  • Publisher: University of Alaska Press
  • Publication date: 1/1/2007
  • Edition description: 2
  • Edition number: 2
  • Pages: 370
  • Sales rank: 685,821
  • Product dimensions: 6.48 (w) x 9.14 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Leslie A Viereck retired as principal plant ecologist from the U.S. Forest Service’s Institute of Northern Forestry in Fairbanks in 1996. Since then he has been an emeritus scientist with the Boreal Ecology Cooperative Research Unit (BECRU) at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

He also holds an Affiliate Professor of Forest Ecology position in the School of Natural Resources and Agricultural Sciences (SNRAS) at UAF, as well as research associate appointments with the Institute of Arctic Biology and the University of Alaska Museum of the North.

Elbert L. Little, Jr., died in 2004 after a distinguished career as senior scientist and chief dendrologist with the U.S. Forest Service in Washington, D.C. He was an authority on both North American and tropical trees. Among his more than twenty books on trees are the five-volume Atlas of United States Trees (1981) and the popular Audubon Field Guide to North American Trees. Dr. Little was coauthor of the 1950 edition of the Pocket Guide to Alaska Trees and made several extended field trips to Alaska during the preparation of Alaska Trees and Shrubs.

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Table of Contents




Vegetation of Alaska

Keys for Identification

Map of National Forests, Parks, adn Wildlife Refuges

Map of Alaska Vegetation Types

Color Plates

Species Accoutns

     Yew Family (Taxaceae)

     Pine Family (Pinaceae)

     Cypress Family (Cupressaceae)

     Willow Family (Salicaceae)

     Bayberry Family (Myricaceae)

     Birch Family (Betulaceae)

     Mistletoe Family (Loranthaceae)

     Gooseberry Family (Grossulariaceae)

     Rose Family (Rosaceae)

     Maple Family (Aceraceae)

     Elaeagnus Family (Elaeagnaceae)

     Ginseng Family (Araliaceae)

     Dogwood Family (Cornaceae)

     Crowberry Family (Empetraceae)

     Pyrola Family (Pyrolaceae)

     Heather Family (Ericaceae)

     Diapensia Family (Diapensiaceae)

     Honey Suckle Family (Caprifoliaceae)

     Composite Family (Compositae)

Appendix: Non-Native Trees and Shrubs

Glossary of Botanical Terms'Works Cited and Suggested Reading

Index of Common and Scientific Names


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First Chapter

Alaska Trees and Shrubs

By Leslie A. Viereck Elbert L. Little, Jr.

University of Alaska Press

Copyright © 2007 University of Alaska Press
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-889963-86-0

Chapter One

Yew Family


The gymnosperms-seed plants with seeds partly exposed, not enclosed in fruits-are represented in Alaska by three families of conifers or softwoods: yew (taxaceae), pine (Pinaceae), and cypress (cupressaceae). The Alaska examples are evergreen (excluding Larix, which is deciduous) trees and shrubs with narrow or small leaves resembling needles or scales. Pacific yew (Taxus brevifolia), the Alaska member of the yew family, is characterized by brown seeds borne singly in a scarlet, juicy, cup-like or berry-like disk; by the flat, pointed, nonresinous needles in two rows; and by the twisted leafstalks extending down the twig.

1 Pacific Yew Taxus brevifolia nutt. Other name: Western yew

Small tree or large shrub of extreme southeast Alaska, up to 6 to 9 m tall, with straight conical trunk 5 to 15 cm or rarely 30 cm in diameter at breast height, with open crown or horizontal or drooping branches.

Leaves needle-like in two rows, 12 to 20 mm long, flat, slightly curved, stiff or soft, abruptly pointed but not prickly, shiny yellow-green above, pale green beneath, not resinous. Petioles yellow, extending down the slender twigs, twisting to produce an even, comb-like arrangement of needles. Bark Purplish-brown, thin, scaly, ridged, and fluted. Wood Bright red with thin, light yellow sapwood, fine-textured, heavy, hard, and elastic. Seeds Pollen on male trees, seeds on female trees. Seeds single, 1 cm long, brown, exposed at apex but partly surrounded by a thick, scarlet, juicy, cup-like disk or "berry."

Habitat Rare and local in extreme southeast Alaska, near sea level on poor sites, and in canyons. It is scattered in the understory of the coastal forest with Western red cedar, Western and mountain hemlocks, and Sitka spruce. The irregular distribution may be related to dispersal of the seeds by birds. Growth is slow.

Distribution Pacific yew has been found in Alaska only on a few islands near Ketchikan: Annette, dog, cat, Mary, Bold, and Gravina islands; the southern end of Prince of Wales island north to Kasaan island in Kasaan Bay. Probably rare in nearby areas. Pacific coast region from Alaska and British Columbia south through western Washington to central California. East in mountains of southeastern British Columbia to northern Idaho and northwestern Montana.

Uses The strong, durable wood can be used for poles, bows, canoe paddles, and cabinetwork; however, in Alaska the trees are too scarce to be commercially important. The plants serve as ornamentals. The seeds are poisonous when eaten, causing vomiting and diarrhea and inflammation of urinary ducts and the uterus. Yew foliage is poisonous to browsing livestock, but the juicy scarlet "berries" around the seeds are not.

Pine Family


Conifers, or softwoods, are eco nomically the most important group of trees in Alaska. Many have tall, straight trunks and narrow crowns, except where dwarfed near the northern and altitudinal limits of tree growth. These narrow-leaf evergreens make up nearly all the trees of the coastal forests of southeast Alaska and most of the timber of interior forests. They furnish nearly all the state's lumber, pulp wood, building logs, and other wood products.

These cone-bearing trees are resinous softwoods with needle-like or scale-like evergreen leaves with seeds exposed in woody cones. Pollen is borne in small male cones on the same plant.

The pine family is well represented in Alaska by five genera and nine species of trees with narrow, mostly long, needlelike leaves. The cones have many cone-scales, each bearing two long-winged seeds at the base. Characteristics of the five genera and names of their Alaska species are summarized here for ready identification.

Pine (Pinus), one species, lodge pole pine (P. contorta), with two subspecies. Two needles in a relatively long and stiff bundle or cluster with sheath at base. Cones with many prickly cone-scales.

Tamarack or Alaska larch (Larix) is the only Alaska conifer to shed its leaves in fall and be leafless in winter. There is one species, L. laricina, with slender, flexible needles borne twelve to twenty in a cluster on short, stout spur twigs (or singly on leading twigs).

Spruce (Picea), three species: black, white, and Sitka spruce. Needles sharp-pointed and stiff, either four-angled or flattened and slightly keeled, extending out on all sides of twig. There is no leafstalk, but each leaf is attached on a small peg-like projection of the twig. Older twigs without needles are rough because of these projections. Cut branches of spruce and hemlock shed their needles promptly upon drying. The cones hang down. When preparing specimens, immersion of freshly cut twigs in boiling water for a few minutes before pressing reduces shedding of needles.

Hemlock (Tsuga), two species, Western and mountain hemlock. Needles short, blunt, soft and not stiff, flat or slightly keeled, with short leafstalks, spreading in two rows or curving upward. As in spruce, older twigs are slightly rough from the peg-like projections. Cones hang down.

Fir (Abies), two species, Pacific silver fir and subalpine fir. Needles flat and without leafstalks, often spreading in two rows or curving up ward. Older twigs smooth with round leaf scars. Cones upright in highest branches of narrow, pointed crowns. Because the cone scales fall from the axis at maturity, intact, old cones are not found on or under the trees.

2 Lodgepole Pine Pinus contorta Dougl. Ex Loudon

Other names: Scrub pine, tamarack pine

After the general description and range for this species are notes for the two subspecies in Alaska. Small to large, resinous, evergreen tree of southeast Alaska, 6 to 23 m tall, 20 to 81 cm trunk diameter, with crown rounded and spreading or narrow and pointed.

Leaves Leaves (or needles) two in a bundle with sheath at base, 2.5 to 6 cm long, relatively long and stiff, often twisted; yellow-green to dark green with whitish lines (stomata).

Twigs Stout, orange when young, becoming gray-brown and rough.

Buds Winter buds short-pointed, of many narrow, red-brown scales. Bark Gray to dark brown; scaly, thin or becoming thick.

Wood Resinous, coarse textured, straight grained (scrubby trees have spiral grain), moderately soft and lightweight. Heartwood light yellow to yellow-brown; sapwood narrow and whitish.

Cones One to few, almost stalkless, egg-shaped, one-sided, 3 to 5 cm long; light yellow-brown, with many prickly cone-scales, maturing in two years, persistent, opening or remaining closed many years.

Seeds Brown, about 1.5 cm long including the long, broad wing.

Distribution This species has a broad range from southeast Alaska northeast through central Yukon and southwestern northwest territories, south along coast and in the mountains of British Columbia to California, Utah, and Colorado.

Uses Alaska's only native species of pine is unimportant for lumber because of its small size and limited occurrence. The wood is used for poles and fuel. The sweet, orange-flavored sap served native Alaskans as a delicacy, fresh or dried. In the vicinity of Fairbanks, the inland taxon (Pinus contorta subsp. latifolia) has been introduced as a fast-growing, hardy shade tree.

Key to the subspecies of Alaska pines

Cones pointing backward, opening at maturity; generally low, spreading tree of muskegs in coastal forests 2a shore pine (Pinus contorta subsp. contorta) Cones pointing outward, remaining closed many years; tree often tall and narrow; of inner fjord forests at head of Lynn Canal (Skag way to Haines). 2b lodgepole pine (Pinus contorta subsp. latifolia)

2a Shore Pine Pinus contorta Dougl. Ex Loudon subsp. contorta

Other names: Beach pine, lodgepole pine, scrub pine, tamarack pine

Shore pine, the common pine through southeast Alaska, is often a low, spreading or scrubby tree, 6 to 12 m tall, 20 to 30 cm trunk diameter. However, it sometimes becomes 23 m tall and 45 to 81 cm in diameter.

Cones Point backward on twig, open at maturity in October-November but remain attached.

Habitat The dwarf, coastal form is common in open muskegs of peat moss and on benches near lakes. Intolerant of shade, it grows in open stands as a scrub pine, straight when young but gnarled in age, with large branches extending al most to the ground. On the poorest sites, often like a prostrate shrub. Best developed and largest in the better-drained borders between muskeg and hemlock or hemlock-red cedar stands. Occasionally the trees are pioneers after infrequent fires or logging or on outwash sand and gravel.

Distribution This coastal subspecies ranges throughout southeast Alaska northwest to Yakutat. Pacific coast from southeast Alaska through western British Columbia to north western California.

2b Lodgepole Pine Pinus contorta dougl. Ex Loudon subsp. latifolia (Engelm ex S. Watson) critchf. Other name: Rocky Mountain lodgepole pine

This mostly tall subspecies with narrow crown be comes 15 to 23 m tall and 20 to 30 cm in trunk diameter in Alaska and somewhat larger to the south.

This inland subspecies differs from shore pine in being generally a taller tree with narrow crown and thinner, scaly bark; in having slightly longer needles and in having slightly larger, heavier, closed cones that point outward on the twig rather than backward.

Cones Hard, heavy, pointing outward, remaining closed many years, releasing seeds after forest fires. In Alaska some cones open at maturity.

Habitat Forms stands in mixed forest with Sitka spruce, Western paper birch, and subalpine fir, and in inner fjords down to sea level.

Distribution This subspecies crosses the coast Range from Canada into Alaska only in the vicinity of Skagway and Haines, at the head of Lynn canal. North in Yukon territory along the Yukon River and tributaries near Dawson to within about 80 km of the Alaska border. East to southwestern northwest territories. South through British Columbia and western Alberta; in Rocky Mountains to Utah and Colorado.

3 Tamarack Larix laricina (Du Roi) K. Koch

Other names: Alaska larch, eastern larch, hackmatack; Larix alaskensis W. F. Wight, Larix laricina var. alaskensis (W. F. Wight) Raup

Small to medium-sized deciduous tree 9 to 18 m tall, with straight, tapering trunk 10 to 25 cm in diameter, occasion ally to 24 m tall and 33 cm in diameter; horizontal branches extending nearly to ground; thin, pointed crown.

Leaves Needle-like and deciduous, in crowded clusters of twelve to twenty on short, stout spur twigs or single on leading twigs, 1 to 2.5 cm long, very narrow, slender, and flexible, three-angled, blue-green, turning yellow before falling in early autumn.

Twigs Long, stout, dull tan, hairless, with many short, stout spur twigs to 6 mm long, bearing crowded, raised leaf scars, becoming blackish and rough. Buds Winter buds small, round, about 2 mm long, covered by many short-pointed, overlapping scales.

Bark Dark gray, smooth, thin, becoming scaly and exposing brown beneath.

Wood Light brown, hard, heavy, elastic.

Cones curved upright on short stalks along horizontal twigs, rounded, 1 to 1.5 cm long, dark brown, composed of about twenty rounded, finely toothed cone-scales, opening in early autumn and remaining attached in winter.

Seeds Light brown, 12 mm long including the long, broad wing.

Habitat Tamarack is scattered in muskegs and various moist soils of the Interior in open stands with paper birch, black spruce, alders, and willows. Occasionally forms dense stands on floodplains with black and white spruce. Where it does occur naturally on upland, well-drained sites, its growth rate may be equal to that of white spruce; one stand in the Tanana River valley has produced trees 33 cm in diameter in a century.

Distribution Interior Alaska tamarack is restricted to drainages between the Brooks Range to the north and the Alaska Range to the south. Locally abundant along the Tanana River but scattered along the Yukon and Kuskokwim rivers and up the Koyukuk River to Allakaket; does not reach the northern limit of trees. West to the Unala kleet River, which drains into nor ton Sound, and southwest to Aniak on the lower Kuskokwim River. Broad gaps separate the Alaska trees from the main range in Yukon territory eastward, except for scattered locations near circle and the Alaska-Yukon border. East across the Yukon and Northwest territories, and Nunavut along the northern limit of trees to Hudson Bay, Labrador, and Newfoundland. Southeast from northeastern British Columbia through central Canada to Minnesota, Illinois, and the northeastern United States.

Uses The durable, strong wood is used for poles, railroad ties, and fenceposts.



Spruce trees have short, needle-like leaves spreading on all sides of twig, mostly four-sided or slightly flattened, sharp-pointed and stiff, shed ding promptly upon drying. Twigs become rough from peg-like bases of leaves; cones hang down.

Key to the Alaska spruces

1 Leaves needle-like, flattened but slightly keeled, with two whitish bands on lower surface . . . . . . . 6 Sitka spruce (Picea sitchensis) Leaves needle-like, four-angled, with whitish bands on all sides [??] 2

2 Twigs hairy; leaves less than 1.2 cm long, resinous; cones egg-shaped or nearly round, less than 2.5 cm long, curved downward on short stalks, remaining on tree 4 black spruce (Picea mariana) Twigs hairless; leaves more than 1 .2 cm long with skunk-like odor when crushed; cones cylindric, 3 to 6 cm long, falling at maturity 5 white spruce (Picea glauca)

4 Black Spruce Picea mariana (Mill.) B.S.P.

Other names: Bog spruce, swamp spruce

evergreen, resinous tree of interior forests, typically 4.5 to 9 m tall and 7.5 to 15 cm in trunk diameter, with narrow, pointed crown. Often a shrub 3 m or less in height. Sometimes a medium-sized tree up to 15 to 18 m tall and 23 cm in trunk diameter; the maximum height measured is 22 m. The branches are short, sparse, and often slightly drooping at ends.


Excerpted from Alaska Trees and Shrubs by Leslie A. Viereck Elbert L. Little, Jr. Copyright © 2007 by University of Alaska Press. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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