Identify Common Trees in Alberta and British Columbia

Western Canada is home to some of the most beautiful forests in the world. In a region blessed with so many species of trees, you could easily get swept up in the majesty of the landscape without ever knowing the name of a single tree species.

Appreciate the beauty of Alberta and British Columbia on a deeper level by learning to identify some of the more popular trees in the area.

Balsam Poplar
The straight-trunked balsam poplar grows in both Alberta and British Columbia. This hardy, fast growing tree reaches heights up to 25 m.

The leaves sport a shiny, dark green colour on top and a pale green bottom. The leaves may be oval- or wedge-shaped. You can identify the bark by its smooth, yellow-grey colour when it is young. It transitions to a dark grey colour with deep grooves as it ages.

Big Leaf Maple
The big leaf maple, or broadleaf maple, grows in the southwest corner of British Columbia. As the largest, fastest growing maple in Canada, the big leaf reaches heights up to 36 m.

You can identify the big leaf maple, unsurprisingly, by its large leaves. These thick leaves are typically 15-30 cm across. They feature five to seven pointy lobes. On the top, the leaves exhibit a shiny, dark green colour. The bottom has a paler colour. In the fall, the leaves turn yellow then brown. If you pick a leaf and break it, the broken end will bleed a milky, sticky juice.

Lodgepole Pine
Although the lodgepole pine calls both Alberta and British Columbia its home, Alberta claims it as their official tree. This slender tree grows to about 30 m. They have the ability to grow in both wet and dry environments.

The needles on the lodgepole pine cluster in pairs of two. These yellow-green needles reach lengths of 2.5-7.5 cm.

The cones on the lodgepole remain on the tree for many years, and they stay closed unless exposed to extreme heat. The cones come in both cylindrical and egg-shaped form and are 2-4 cm long. The scales feature sharp prickles on the end.

Tamarack Larch
The Tamarack Larch, found in both Alberta and British Columbia, grow slowly. Although in ideal situations it can grow up to 25 m tall, most trees only reach heights between 15 and 18 metres.

The three-sided, blue-green leaves grow in clusters of 15 to 25 needles on the red-brown, scaly bark. In the fall, the needles turn yellow and fall to the ground like leaves.

The round, small seed cones stay closed on the tree. When flowering, the cones exhibit a red colour that gradually turns to brown as the cones mature. Look for small, winged scales on the cones.

Western Hemlock
The western hemlock, found along the coast of British Columbia, grows an average of 30-50 m. This tree features droopy new growth near the top of the tree and feathery foliage covering the down-sloped branches. A narrow crown tops the western hemlock.

The flat needles cover the twigs that shoot off the main branches of the tree. The needles are widely spaced and yellow-green on the top with a white underside. As the needles grow old, they turn brown.

The small cones range from 1.5-2.5 cm. They start off green but turn brown as they age. The cones often hang from the end of small branches and twigs.

Western Red Cedar
The western red cedar claimed the title of British Columbia's provincial tree on February 18, 1988. You can recognize the tree by its drooping branches that turn up at the tip and the cones that bend backward on the branches. The western red cedar boasts a large trunk base and grows up to 60 m tall.

The needles extend into a fern-like pattern and overlap each other. The needles/leaves of western cedar trees exude a strong aroma. The egg-shaped seed cones measure approximately 1 cm long and feature several pairs of small scales.

So, the next time you take in a grandiose view in the great outdoors, try to identify the different types of trees that surround you. You may find it makes your view more enjoyable.