Sitka Spruce
Sitka spruce, formally known as Picea sitchensis, is also referred to as the coast spruce or the tidewater spruce because of its geographic distribution in the Northwest’s cool, moist, maritime climate, which includes Alaska, where it was first discovered.

Sitka spruces love moisture, and they’re tough, too, withstanding the heavy winds and rains common in the Northwest. If they blow over, they often serve as nurse logs while they decay, nourishing seedlings as they grow.

One of the most famous Sitka spruces in Oregon – the Giant Spruce of Cape Perpetua – started out being nourished by a nurse log at the Cape Perpetua Scenic Area, just three miles south of Yachats.

An Oregon Heritage Tree since 2007, the Giant Spruce of Cape Perpetua stands near Cape Creek and is easy to get to by following a one-mile trail through old-growth forest that’s lush with ferns in the understory. (Note: As of Nov. 2021, after heavy rains, an alternative route to the tree is marked through the Cape Perpetua Campground because of hazardous slide potential along the mid-section of the trail.)

This giant tree is about 600 years old, growing over the centuries to its current height of about 185 feet. With a circumference measuring about 40 feet, it is a massive testament to the passage of time.

There is history surrounding the tree, too. Indigenous people lived near the tree at the mouth of Cape Creek for about 1,500 years until the 1850s when the Coos and Lower Umpqua people were forced to move to the Coast Reservation. The Native Americans used all parts of the Sitka spruce in their daily life, including for building, as medicine, even as food.

In the 1930s, during the Great Depression, the Civilian Conservation Corps built the first trail to the Giant Spruce of Cape Perpetua, mostly likely using an ancient trail to plan its route.

Farther south of Yachats, at the Heceta Head Lighthouse State Scenic Viewpoint, avid hikers can follow a trail behind the historic lighthouse and into the forest near the highest point to experience the wind coming over the headland, as it stirs a dense stand of Sitka spruces. Look up and note how few branches are on the trees’ windward sides as they have adapted to the constant barrage of coastal winds through the years.

Prized for its strength and malleability, spruce wood is still used for building. It’s also used to make soundboards for instruments and, in the past, was used for aircraft frames. Perhaps one of the most famous aircraft made from spruce is Howard Hughes’ “Spruce Goose,” which is worth seeing on display at the Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum in McMinnville, Oregon, about a two-hour drive from Yachats.

Nurse Stump