Trees that naturally grow in and around Whitehorse
There are only three families of trees represented in the southwest Yukon.
Sounds easy enough? It isn't, so don’t feel bad if you can’t see the trees for the forest.
The willow family (Salicaceae): willow and poplar
The birch family (Betulaceae): alder and birch
The pine family (Pinaceae): fir, spruce and pine
Note that I haven’t included tamarack (larch) because this tree doesn't occur naturally in the southwestern Yukon and neither do cedar and hemlock; they are coastal trees.
Willows (Salix) are extremely plentiful, with approximately 45 species found in the Yukon. Some willow species are as small as my pinky toe and around 10 species can become "tree" size. Still, these large willows are still considered shrubs because they have several main stems arising at or near the ground.
Mature balsam poplar (Populus balsamifera) have bark that is rough all the way up. When they are young, I recognize them by their thicker twigs and bigger buds, which contains the fragrant balsam resin. They also have a more uniform shape, with the tree crown coming to a nice pointed top. Black cottonwood is another subspecies of Populus balsamifera, it is not very common here.
Trembling aspen (Populus tremuloides) is our most beloved poplar; aspen are present almost everywhere in the Yukon. Aspen trees can be recognized by their light coloured, smooth-yet-dusty bark, which only becomes dark and furrowed at maturity. A whole stand of aspen can be one clone. Yet aspen are not uniform. Although they may be mostly tall and straight, their branches are at odd angles, which gives each tree its individual shape.
Speckled alder (Alnus incana), which is also called grey alder, is a shrub – just like big willows. This alder can reach a height of five metres. Its cute little cones will help you tell an alder from a willow. There are two kinds of alders around here, the other is too small to be called a tree. This one has speckles on its bark.
Alaska paper birch (Betula neoalaskana) is not very common around Whitehorse, but you might find them when you walk on the north side of a hill or mountain. I recognize the tops of birches from afar by their reddish colour and the denser, more intricate, lace-like look of their crown. Often surrounded by alders, which I had to climb through to take a photo of the beautiful white paper bark.
The subalpine fir (Abies lasiocarpa) is the Yukon’s territorial tree. Subalpine fir grows, as its name indicates, halfway up the mountain. To me, it can still look like a spruce, but its colour is more bluish. Fir bark is definitely distinguishable because it is smooth and has blisters that are fun to pop.
A forest of Lodgepole pine (Pinus contorta) is recognizable by its yellowish green colour and rounded tree tops. Up close, you can see how pines have long needles in pairs of two.
White spruce (Picea glauca) is our main spruce. It is abundant and it is the one with short prickly needles. A spruce forest is recognized by its blue green colour and the trees are spires that point straight up at the heavens.
I won’t add the black spruce (Picea mariana) here because in all my wanderings I haven't been able to positively identify one. The spruce that grow in and around Whitehorse are usually white spruce.
Location of trees
Krummholz is a scientific term that refers to a clump of stunted trees or a single stunted tree. These are the trees that you will find above treeline, where trees are not supposed to grow anymore. Of all trees, these dwarf specimens are my favourite.
My second favourite trees are those that grow just below treeline. Spruce trees often stand singular here and can become very large and seemingly reach their full potential. I call them brides. Trembling aspen grow smaller here, not unlike krummholz, but just below the treeline, they make forests full of odd shaped trees that look like gnomes to me. And pines are totally beautiful here; their grandeur fully displayed.
I also love dead trees. Not only do they look amazing – like skeletons or totem poles – but also they give us warmth by the way of firewood.
And then there are Christmas trees.