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The City of Portland, Oregon

Portland Parks & Recreation

Healthy Parks, Healthy Portland

Phone: 503-823-7529

1120 SW Fifth Avenue, Portland, OR 97204

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Tree Team Spotlight: Concordia Tree Team Adopts Trees at Meek School

Concordia Tree Team plants trees in 2010.A class at Meek School helps to plant trees.

Eight years ago, a Learning Landscape arboretum was created at Alliance High School at Meek in the Concordia neighborhood of NE Portland. The Concordia Arboretum came about when a small group of Neighborhood Tree Stewards, known as the Concordia Tree Team, partnered with several groups. These groups included: Portland Parks and Recreation (PP&R) Urban Forestry, Friends of Trees and Meek School. The partnership aimed to turn a treeless, empty field into a place where trees from around the world could help students learn about botany. PP&R Urban Forestry played an important role in agreeing to establish the new trees by watering them for two summers after planting.

As important as those first two years of summer watering were, experience has shown that three-year-old trees in the open, sunny, wind-exposed field were subject to drying out and dying in Oregon's dry summers. Past planting attempts in the area had left only two struggling survivors-a ginkgo and an oak. Determined that this planting would survive to provide the long-term benefits of mature trees, the Concordia Tree Team made summer watering of the trees at Meek its top priority.

Initially members carried containers of water to the trees from their cars, but soon got agreement from the school to use the school’s water taps and store hoses in a locked area. Weekly from June on, a core group of tree stewards faithfully dragged out the hoses and watered all the trees three years and older. This task takes about 1.5-2 hours.

An oak tree on the Meek campus.Bald cypress at Meek School.

The result has been that of over two dozen trees planted in stages at the school, none that were watered by the tree stewards has died of drought! Beyond merely surviving, the ample weekly watering has allowed the trees to grow during dry months when lack of water typically shuts down or slows most Oregon tree growth. Many trees have put on a foot or more of growth each summer, especially those from summer-rainfall climates. Even normally slow growers, such as umbrella pine (Sciadopitys verticillata), have shown healthy growth for their species. Some of the trees planted as one or two-gallon sizes have reached six feet or taller in just a few summers. The photo below shows a Google street view of the campus in 2015, five years after many of the trees were planted.

2015 Google street view of Meek.Once a blistering hot space in full sun, now the Meek campus has enough tree cover that small pools of shade provide a place for the many visitors to the area to cool off. Pet owners and parents stand in the shade of these young trees on hot days watching their dogs or children playing.

The tree stewards credit the success of an eight-year watering commitment to holding monthly face-to-face meetings, and continual group emails where people commit to different weeks. People often water together, helping to make it a social occasion rather than a chore. The donation of more hoses by individual tree stewards has also meant that most trees can now be reached by hose. This eliminated the time-consuming need to fill and transport heavy water containers. Only about six trees on the perimeter of the school still need water carried to them. The 2018 Google aerial view below shows the location of the trees.

2018 Google aerial view of the Meek campus.With much of Oregon again officially in drought this summer, the lesson from Concordia is that for the initial investment in planting trees to pay off, most newly planted trees should be watered their first several summers. The results are lush, healthy, faster-growing trees. In turn, these trees will help keep people cool as summers grow hotter. 

Californians in Oregon: How do sequoias and redwoods do in Portland?

Spoiler alert: These forest giants adapt well to the city

Native to California, giant sequoias (Sequoiadendron giganteum) and coast redwoods (Sequoia sempervirens) are both large-form conifers also easily found in Portland’s urban forest. With common names that can be used interchangeably, the two are often confused or thought to be the same tree and they share many similarities. Both are notorious for their longevity, have thick, reddish bark that serves as a natural defense against wildfires, and are iconic symbols of the western U.S.

Along with the dawn redwood (Metasequoia glyptostroboides), giant sequoias and coast redwoods make up the Sequoioideae family. All three trees are known for their longevity, impressive size, egg-shaped cones, and reddish bark.

Giant sequoias have blue-green, awl-shaped needles arranged spirally along the shoot. Cones are 1.5-2.5 inches long, with dense woody scales. The bark of sequoias is light reddish-brown, with a soft, spongy texture. The trunk of the giant sequoia is massive and can reach upwards of 30 ft in diameter. By volume, giant sequoias are the largest trees on the planet.

The blue-green foliage of the giant sequoia is distinctive, as are the awl-shaped needles

Coast redwoods also have cones that are made of woody seed scales and are egg-shaped; however, their cones are only half an inch to an inch long. The needles of the coast redwood are two-ranked, meaning they are arranged horizontally in pairs along a central shoot, similar to firs, and are a dark, glossy green. The bark of the redwood is much darker in color than that of the giant sequoia. Coast redwoods are the tallest trees on the planet, reaching over 300 ft tall along the northern California coastline. Although they are massive trees, redwoods don’t grow to the same diameters as sequoias in habitat. Both species can live to be over 2,000 years old.

Redwoods have alternately-arranged needles that lay flat. Cones are small.

Giant sequoias have a very small natural range, limited to the western flanks of the Sierra Nevada. Growing in Kings Canyon, Yosemite, and Sequoia National Parks, these giants are accustomed to hot, dry summers and are shrouded in heavy snow pack during the winters.

Coast redwoods also have a limited natural range and are found alongside the Pacific Coast in northern California and southern Oregon. Redwoods are the tallest trees in the world and grow cloaked in fog that rolls through their canopies as warm air masses are cooled by the Pacific Ocean. With rainy winters and warm summers tempered by constant moisture from marine fog, redwoods have an incredibly long growing season, aided by their ability to pull moisture from the air.

With native ranges that encompass habitats totally different from the Mediterranean-climate of the Willamette Valley, how do sequoias and coast redwoods fare in Portland? Portland does not have the elevation or snowpack that the Sierra do, or coastal fog to the extent that is seen along the northern California coast, where champion redwoods thrive. Despite this, we’re finding that redwoods and sequoias do well in the city. Almost 500 sequoias and redwoods have been inventoried by the tree inventory project and 93% were rated as being in good or fair condition. These trees thrive in our urban forest, and as large-form evergreens, they provide us with enormous public health and environmental benefits. A mature giant sequoia in Portland can store over 6 tons of carbon and scrub pounds of pollutants from the air annually.

As our average summer temperatures continue to rise and summer drought conditions stretch longer each year, we need to plant trees that are resilient to these conditions. Sequoias and redwoods are well-adapted to survive our dry summers as long as they can reap the benefits of the rains in the winter. Their longevity gives them a permanent place in our urban landscape; Portland’s established sequoias and redwoods have the potential to outlive every human resident in the city.

Want to check out some of Portland’s sequoias and redwoods? Check out the Tree Inventory map. Want to see the biggest and best? Seven sequoias and four coast redwoods are recognized as Heritage Trees. In Laurelhurst Park, the walking path along SE Oak St features all three members of the Sequoioideae family – dawn redwood, giant sequoia, and coast redwood.

The Tree Inventory Project is a partnership with volunteers to map, measure, and identify Portland’s trees. Join us in a park near you!

Park Profile: Columbia Park

North Portland's historic oasis

Columbia Park stands in the heart of North Portland at the intersection of the Portsmouth, University Park, Kenton, and Arbor Lodge neighborhoods. At just over 35 acres, Columbia Park houses mature Douglas-firs and lindens, sports fields, and a historic cottage, serving as an important shared community space for North Portlanders.

Initially a woodlot owned by the City of Albina, Columbia Park was intended to be developed as Albina’s first park. However, it wasn’t until 1891 when Albina, East Portland, and Portland consolidated into one city that Portland’s novel park system began developing Columbia Park into the park we know today. Over the next century, this woodlot would transform into a city park which reflected the needs and desires of the local community.

As Portland’s park department developed in the early 1900s, so did Columbia Park. In 1908, Emanuel Tillman Mische, a landscape architect at the famed Olmstead Bros. firm, was appointed Park superintendent and oversaw the construction of Columbia Park. He intended for the park to remain rural and informal and trimmed interior Douglas-firs for views while letting others grow low branches, a practice that is often avoided by park planners. In 1909, the head gardener for Washington Park, G.H. Hoch, oversaw design plans for Columbia Park inspired by a famous park in Berlin, Germany.

The 1910 plan for Columbia Park included many elements seen today

This initial park design included a large central lawn for sports, a separate lawn for children, sandboxes, wading pools, and a music court where the swimming pool is now located. Under Mische’s direction these plans were realized on the ground and additional fountains, comfort stations, a playground, and fences were all built and new trees were planted.

Young lindens in 1920, many of which can still be found in the park nearly 100 years later

As the local rivers became too polluted to swim in safely, Portland Parks and Recreation began building pools in parks. Columbia Park pool was originally built as an outdoor pool in 1927 and was converted to indoor use in 1975.  In addition to providing a safer place to swim, the pool played a role in the desegregation of Portland’s public spaces. North Portland has historically been home to many of Portland’s communities of color and beginning in the 1960s the Columbia Pool served as a primary public space where all of Portland’s residents could recreate together.

Columbia Park pool, 1935

Built in 1940, the Columbia Cottage has been used as a field house for the Columbia Park caretaker, dance hall, community policing headquarters and even a National Guard command center. In 1989, when the city planned to build a parking lot for the pool, members of the neighborhood came together to save the cottage. The community succeeded in conserving the cottage and formed the Friends of Columbia Park, which now operates and cares for the Columbia Cottage.

This summer, Urban Forestry is partnering with Friends of Columbia Park to conduct a Park Tree Inventory at the park. Over the course of two inventory workdays, volunteers and tree enthusiasts will come together to map, measure, and identify every tree in Columbia Park. In addition to providing necessary data to continue maintaining the park’s trees, the inventory will add a snapshot to Columbia Park's already rich history.

What: Columbia Park Tree Inventories
Where: Columbia Park, N Lombard Street and Woolsey Avenue
When: Saturday, August 11, and August 25, 8:30am - noon

Register Here

Learn more about the Tree Inventory Project at our website  and register to inventory trees in parks across the city. 

The Ongoing Puzzle of Portland’s 3-Needled Pines

Park Tree Inventory volunteers find at least 4 different species!

It’s easy to look at the numerous large pines with needles reaching 10 inches in length across the city and call them all ponderosa pine. It is, after all, the most widely distributed pine in North America and native to the Willamette Valley. But look closely and you’ll start to see differences in the needles, bark, and cones. Ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa) looks very similar to Jeffrey pine (Pinus jeffreyi), with just slight differences between their cones. Two similar looking trees, Coulter pine (Pinus coulteri) and gray pine (Pinus sabiniana), are both rare in Portland, hiding in plain sight until their impressively large cones fall. So how do we determine the difference between these closely related trees? We look at every clue possible, consult with the experts, and sometimes we still have to say “we don’t know”. This is the nature of tree identification – a constant puzzle that can sometimes leave one more confused than enlightened.

In Portland’s urban forest, ponderosa pines are by far the most common of the 3-needled pines. Their needles are 6-10 inches long and crowd the end of branches. In early spring, the male pollen cones are maroon. Closed pine cones are prickly to the touch due to the armor on the seed scales. Cones mature over 2 growing seasons and open in the fall of the second summer. When open, cones are still prickly to the touch, as the prickle on the seed scales points out. The size of cones varies, but they range between 3-6 inches long. In older trees, bark is a yellow-cinnamon color and plated, with dark furrows. In younger trees, bark is gray-red , with smaller plates. Sniff it on a hot day and see if you can smell freshly baked cookies -some say the scent of the bark smells sweet, like butterscotch or vanilla.

The bark of the Ponderosa (left) can be distinctive but this trait varies and is usually only found on older trees. Notice the prickly seed scales on closed and open Ponderosa cones (right). 

Jeffrey pine is very closely related to ponderosa pine and the two hybridize readily where their ranges overlap in southern Oregon. The needles of the Jeffrey pine are 6-11 inches long, and cones are 4-8 inches long. The differences between ponderosa and Jeffrey pine are small and hard to see; even with close observation, making a clear distinction between the species is a challenge. Jeffrey pine has yellow pollen cones, and when cones are open, the prickle on the seed scale curves inward towards the cone. Open cones aren’t prickly to hold the way that ponderosa pine cones are, thus the mnemonic “Gentle Jeffrey” and “Prickly ponderosa”. Just to confuse us, Jeffrey pine bark can also carry a sweet smell similar to that of ponderosa pine. Jeffrey pine is fairly uncommon in Portland, but perhaps there are more hiding in our parks than we think. Earlier this summer, volunteers with the Tree Inventory Project measured 3 Jeffrey pines in Gabriel Park.


Left: Ponderosa cone, with prickles curving out and away from seed scales. Right: Jeffrey cone, with prickles curving back towards the interior of the cone.

Gray Pine and Coulter Pine--Don't Forget Your Hardhat!

Gray pine (Pinus sabiniana) and coulter pine (Pinus coulteri) are two less common 3-needled pines in Portland, and they too can be difficult to distinguish from each other. Both have needles that are 6-10 inches long and both bear impressively large cones.

Gray pine tends to be a multi-stemmed tree with a round, open crown. The needles of the gray pine are soft, with a noticeable gray tinge to them. Another common name for this tree is ghost pine because of the light appearance of the foliage. The cones of the gray pine are very large and stout, with heavily armored seed scales. They can be up to 10 inches long and are usually covered in fragrant pitch. Mature cones protect seeds, and the seeds of the gray pine are very large for the genus. Shake a cone and see if anything falls out! 

Gray pine cones are large, with big seed scales that are tipped with long, sharp prickles. Foliage is light gray-blue in color, noticeable at a distance.

Coulter pine rarely exceeds 80 ft in height and tends to have a more conical shape to its crown. Needles are also 6-10 inches long but lack the gray-blue coloration of gray pine. Coulter pines are notorious for their large cones; by weight, these are the largest cones in the genus. Cones can range 8-16 inches long and are heavily armored with large prickles similarly to gray pine cones, but coulter pine cones are heavier and can weigh up to 10 pounds!

Coulter pine cones can be highly variable in size

Like many of their relatives, gray and Coulter pines each show a wide range of variability in their cones, even on the same tree! Coulter pine cones tend to be longer, with a lighter coloration. Gray pine cones tend to be stout and darker brown, but without a side-by-side comparison of two specimens from trees with a confirmed ID, identification by cone alone is a challenge.

The Tree Inventory Project has measured a handful of pines bearing extraordinarily large cones this summer, in Berrydale Park and in Peninsula Park. The identification of these trees is still up for debate! Want to check out two confirmed specimens? Heritage tree #181 is a Coulter pine in the right-of-way at 5352 SE 37th Ave. Heritage Tree #239 is a gray pine in the right-of-way at 4074 N Massachusetts Ave.

Curious about what other oddities and lookalikes are hiding in plain sight in our urban forest? Join the Tree Inventory Project as we map, measure, and identify the trees of Columbia Park, Lincoln Park, Laurelhurst Park, Fernhill Park, and more! Register for workdays on the Inventory website.

Park Profile: Lincoln Park

Hazelwood's hidden gem

Lincoln Park occupies 7 acres located in the Hazelwood Neighborhood in SE Portland. Today the park is filled with recreational opportunities and gathering spaces for the surrounding community. However, prior to 1945 the character of the neighborhood was very different; it was primarily made up of rural farms and a few timber plots. The name Hazelwood is thought to be related to the prolific amount of hazelnut trees that had voluntarily grown in the area. It wasn’t until 1993 when the city annexed the area that Lincoln Park was transformed into today’s vibrant park.

This year the Park Tree Inventory will come to Lincoln Park. Volunteers from around the Portland area will spend the morning taking measurements, mapping, and identifying the trees. Organized in partnership with Lincoln Park's local invasive species pulling group, the tree inventory will provide the city and the neighborhood with a clearer picture of how the trees within Lincoln Park contribute to the health and character of the area.

What: Lincoln Park Tree Inventory
Where: Lincoln Park, SE 135th and Mill St.
When: Saturday, August 4th, 8:30am - noon

Register Here

Learn more about the Tree Inventory Project at our website  and register to inventory trees in parks across the city.