Unit 6 - Forest Regions

Lesson 6: Flora of Banff's Montane Forest

Flora is the plant life of a particular region, generally the native plant life. One way to tell if you are in the montane forest, is to look at the trees in the area; the plants and trees must be able to survive cold temperatures and large snowdrifts. 
The direction the slope of the mountain faces, can determine the type of tree living there.  The southern facing slopes get more sun and you will find forests of ponderosa pines and aspens.  The northern facing slopes are cooler and the forests are thicker with trees such as the lodgepole pine and Douglas fir.  In wetter areas, white spruce and balsam poplar may also be found.


The Lodgepole pine is a tall, slender pine with little taper and a straight trunk. It can grow to 30 metres or more in height. It has a thin bark which is yellowish-brown and somewhat scaly.
This is the most common and abundant tree in the Rocky Mountains and foothill regions. It occurs on the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains where it frequently forms dense even-aged stands as the result of fire. In areas adjacent to jack pine, the two species integrate.
The leaves are needle-like, in bundles of two, produced in dense clusters towards the ends of the branches 2.5 - 7.5 centimeters long and a yellowish-green color.
Pollen cones (male) are borne in small terminal clusters; seed cones (female) are conical-shaped, woody and closed or sealed. They are usually straight, pointed backwards towards the base of the branches, a yellowish-brown color, and often borne in clusters, 2.5 - 5.0 centimeters long.  It has thickened scales and a sharp spine at the tip of each scale. Its seeds are winged.
Lodgepole pine wood is moderately light, soft to moderately hard and white to yellowish brown in color. It is used for lumber and plywood as well as pulp.  Lumber is used mainly in general construction; other uses include furniture, siding, flooring, and panels.  After pressure treatment with preservatives, lodgepole pine makes excellent railway ties, utility poles, and mine timbers.
Lodgepole Pine

Aspen Poplar

This poplar grows up to 30 metres in height. At first, its bark is smooth, greenish-white, becoming rough and dark grey with age. The terminal bud is sharp and pointed; all buds are dark brown.
With widespread distribution throughout Alberta, it is especially important in the northern-central part of the province where it is the dominant species in the "boreal mixedwood" forest, being eventually succeeded by white spruce.
The leaves alternate on the stem and are a simple oval shape, sharp-pointed, with fine-rounded teeth, 4.0 - 7.5 centimetres long, borne on long slender stalks. They are dark green above, pale below. The leaf-stems are flattened causing fluttering in the wind. 

The Aspen Poplar flowers are small and inconspicuous in dense catkins which form before leaves develop in Spring.
The Aspen has a greenish capsule, containing many small hairy seeds.
The whitish-to-cream coloured wood of the Aspen Poplar is short fibred and relatively low in strength.  It is used mainly for pulp products such as books, newsprint, and fine printing paper. Aspen wood is especially good for panel products such as oriented strandboard and waferboard.  The lumber is light in weight and is used for furniture, boxes, and crates, core stock in plywood, and wall panels.

The Douglas Fir is a large tree, up to 25 metres high, with a massive trunk and somewhat drooping branches. Bark on the young trees is smooth and reddish brown, becoming 10 to 15 centimetres thick and deeply fissured on old trees.
This fir is found on the east slopes of the Rockies from Jasper Park to Waterton and in the Porcupine Hills.
The Douglas Fir leaves are needle-like, somewhat flattened, 2-3 centimetres long, tapering at the base to a very short stalk. They are bright blue-green above and pale green beneath.
The pollen cones (male) are bright red; seed cones (female) are drooping, a reddish-brown, 5-9 centimetres long. The seeds are broadly winged.

The reddish-brown wood of the Douglas fir is moderately heavy, hard, and strong.  It is used primarily for lumber for building construction.  Other uses may include railway ties, boxes, and crates; it also makes good Christmas trees.

Douglas Fir