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Bookshelf: Native trees focus of new book

Mar 6th, 2015 | Category: Community

If you’ve ever wanted a photographic guide book full of information about native trees in Western Washington, here it is. Written by Kevin Zobrist, WSU Extension Forestry Associate Professor, Native Trees of Western Washington treats the reader to descriptions, uses and facts about 32 species of trees in our northwest corner. We asked him to share some thoughts about the book and the research process, and following is what he had to say.


Tell us about the inspiration behind writing this book. When did you get started?Native Trees web

When I started with WSU Extension, I was coming from a more forestry research and analysis-based forestry position and I discovered when I started working with landowners in the field that my tree ID skills weren’t as good as I would like, especially for the minor species. At the same time, they needed me to do some classes on native trees, so I set out to learn as much as I could. I also needed a lot of good photos for class presentations, so I began to amass a photo library. I had previously published a photo guide type of book about national parks, and I thought something similar would be good for native trees, since we really didn’t have a good photo-based book. WSU’s existing native tree publication only had line art. I probably got started in earnest on the book about four years ago.


What do you enjoy most about trees, and how long have you been studying / admiring them?

I like everything about trees –how they look, how they function, and their ecological role. I love being in the woods. Admiration has been a lifelong endeavor. I started studying them when I got into forestry my senior year of high school.


You profile 32 species in your book and photographed each one. How long did that process take and how much ground did you cover? 

I started working on photos for the purpose of this book about four years ago. I had started to collect photos a couple years before that. And even though the book is out, I’m still not done – I’m always looking for better shots of better specimens for future printings. My photos come from throughout western WA from up in the Cascades and Olympics to the coast, and from the San Juans all the way down to the Columbia Gorge.


Were there any species that were especially challenging to find or exciting to record?

Whitebark pine is a high-elevation species that was a little hard to find since it is not nearly as prevalent as other high-elevation species. I got lucky and was visiting Sunrise at Mount Rainier and the parking lot is surrounded by them. Engelmann spruce is also not terribly prevalent west of the Cascade crest, but I found one by accident when I spotted one along the road. The hardest species to find that’s in the book was golden chinkapin. It is quite rare in western Washington. It occurs on the west side of Hood Canal, but I could never find them there. I ended up finding them along the Columbia Gorge thanks to a tip from a colleague. It was pretty exciting once I finally found them! One species I still haven’t found is white alder, which supposedly occurs in rare instances west of Mt. Rainier in Pierce and Thurston counties, but I’ve never found it nor have I found anyone in the forestry community who has seen it. So I’m still investigating that one.

Kevin Zobrist / COURTESY PHOTO

Kevin Zobrist / COURTESY PHOTO


Can you share some of the things you learned during this book process that surprised you?

I learned a ton of things that I didn’t know. For instance, I learned that golden chinkapin occurs in Washington. I also learned that what was thought to be a rare westside occurrence of Rocky Mountain juniper was actually identified in 2007 as a completely separate species called seaside juniper. I learned that some trees, like Pacific yew and black cottonwood, have separate male and female individuals. I learned that noble fir only grows south of Snoqualmie Pass. I learned how trees move water up the stem. I learned many other things in the process, those are just a few that come to mind at the moment. I’m still learning about trees – it’s a lifelong endeavor, and there are still mysteries in science and nature.


What are some of your favorites species? Why?

My favorite is whitebark pine. I think it is a beautiful tree that occurs in beautiful locations. I love the purple cones and the ecological role it plays. I also really like Pacific yew and Pacific dogwood, both because of their beauty and also because their relative scarcity compared to other species makes finding them special.


You have the day off. What’s your perfect way to spend it outside? Where are you headed and what are you bringing to eat?

Most certainly in one of our three national parks (North Cascades, Olympic, Mount Rainier) you can find most all of our species there in intact ecosystems and stunningly beautiful surroundings. I hardly ever bring something to eat – I like to stop at unique roadside restaurants I find along the way. A good steak, chicken, or salmon dinner is the best way to end a long day of hiking and photographing.


What are you up to next?

I don’t know, and that’s the best part!


Upcoming events

Kevin Zobrist will speak about his book Native Trees of Western Washington at the Anacortes Library on April 15. Copies will be available. He will also appear at the Adopt-A-Stream event in Everett on May 7 ( The book is also available on Amazon. He can be reached for future events or questions at


Published in the March 2015 issue of Grow Northwest

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