Mountain Hemlock Zone or Subalpine fir Zone*
As elevation increases, temperatures cool and more moisture falls as snow during the long winters; growing seasons get shorter and the subalpine zone takes over. Pacific silver fir grows here as well as in the Montane Zone, and in the western portion of the park may be prevalent. The presence of mountain hemlock, subalpine fir, or Alaska yellow-cedar groves assure you that this is the subalpine zone. The lower portion of the subalpine zone consists of continuous forest, but in the upper part of this zone the forest thins out. Delightful subalpine meadows graced with wildflowers and glacial lakes often intermingle with stands of firs. Subalpine fir is especially well adapted to the heavy snows and cold temperatures experienced here. Its spire-like shape sheds snow. It also extends its lower branches under the snow, often putting down roots where they touch the ground. When the snow melts the trees may be surrounded by skirt-like arrangements of longer, lower branches. Common shrubs within this zone include Alaska huckleberry, oval-leaf huckleberry, blue-leaf huckleberry, white rhododendron, mountain ash, and red heather. Herbs include five-leaved bramble, trailing bramble, avalanche lily, queen's cup, beargrass, and pyrola. In eastern portions of Olympic, summer heat dries out the soils, limiting the growth of mountain hemlock trees. There, the subalpine fir and Lodgepole pine dominate drier sun-facing slopes.

Photo List

Associated Plants
Subalpine fir
Pacific silver fir
Sitka columbine
Western pasqueflower
Pink mountain heather
Magenta paintbrush
Elephant head's pedicularis
Avalanche lily
Nodding onion
Associated Animals

Chestnut-backed Chickadee
Gray Jay
Dark-eyed Junco
Blue Grouse
Olympic marmot
Black bear
Roosevelt elk
Columbia black-tailed deer
Mountain goat


*Biologists name plant communities and life zones after a community's dominant species. In the dry northeastern Olympic's, mountain hemlock (Tsuga mertensiana) is primarily found in moist pockets and on north-facing slopes. Otherwise, the dominant tree species is subalpine fir (Abies lasiocarpa). Most biologists consider Olympic's northeastern drier subalpine communities to be classified in the Abies Lasiocarpa Zone.

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