Trees of the Nantahala National Forest

by | Nantahala National Forest

I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree…
-Joyce Kilmer


Methuselah tree found in nantahala national forest. oldest tree in america

The following trees are found in the Nantahala National Forest in North Carolina.   Methuselah is a 4,853 year old California tree, and the oldest living tree in the world–the oldest living thing in the world (though this is being challenged by a Patagonian cypress in Chile). This Great Basin bristlecone pine has been around since the Egyptians built the pyramids. In contrast, North Carolina’s oldest tree, a bald cypress, is 2,624 years old and is found in cypress swamps near the coast. The Nantahala National Forest is made up of some old-growth trees as well that are 400 years old, and can be found in the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest

Without trees, planet earth would eventually run out of oxygen but, thankfully, not in our lifetime. However, trees are a honey bee’s habitat. Without trees they can not survive and, if honey bees go extinct, we would only have 4 years to live. Trees are the majestic giants of our livelihood. They help provide the very air we breathe and many animals depend on them for their homes and nourishment. Take time out to walk among the trees and let them whisper their ancient secrets to you as the wind blows and cools your brow. Respect their place in our livelihood for we could not survive long without them.

Over 130 distinct species of trees–mostly old-growth trees–can be found in the Nantahala National Forest. Below, we at Carolina Outfitters white water rafting have put together information about just a few of the trees that grow in the majestic mountains of western North Carolina.


Yellow Pines aka Ponderosa Pine

panderosa pine tree in nantahala forest

The yellow pine is a large tree that can reach as high as 164 feet with a diameter of 6 feet 7 inches. David Douglas named the tree ponderosa because of its gigantic size. It’s also called yellow pine because of the clear even-grained wood found in old trees. On hot days the bark smells like vanilla. It thrives in a variety of soils, can withstand forest fires because of its thick bark, and can live 400 to 500 years.


Poplar Trees

tree in nantahala national forest

Poplar trees are fast growing and grow to great heights of 50 to 160 feet. They are also called cottonwoods and aspens. These trees are aesthetically pleasing with their colorful leaves in the fall. Poplar trees are the introverts of the forest; they need plenty of space to thrive but also love the warmth of the sun. And, to get a little artsy, early renaissance Italian art like the Mona Lisa was painted on poplar wood.


Oak Trees

oak tree in nantahala national forest

There are over 600 species of oak trees in North Carolina, and many of them can be found in the Nantahala National Forest. Oaks produce acorns that help feed squirrels and other animals–acorns are also used to fatten up pigs and poultry. Some species of oak acorns can be ground into flour for human consumption. Oaks are separated into three groups: white oak, red oak, and black oak. The Nantahala National Forest contain: white, chestnut, northern red, and black oak.


Hardwood Trees



Hardwood trees are found in temperate rainforests and, since the Nantahala National Forest is just that, they can be found there also. The most common species are: oaks, maple, hickory, birch, beech, and cherry. Hardwood trees grow at a slower rate giving them time to reach greater density, which makes them a great choice for making sturdy furniture. However, due to the destruction of rainforests, many things that used to be made with hardwood trees are now made of ceramics, plastic or softwood.


Loblolly Pine Trees

spruce in nantahala national forest


Pine trees are evergreen, meaning they stay green even in winter. The most common types found in the Nantahala National Forest are: loblolly pine, longleaf pine, and yellow pine. The loblolly pine grows mainly on the east coast, but can be found in the western end of North Carolina near the Nantahala River. Legend says the loblolly tree got its name from 16th century sailors who often ate a gruel called loblolly, which was basically a thick bubbling soup with a swamp-like consistency. On an interesting side note, Loblolly seeds were carried on a trip to the moon and back with Apollo 14. These seeds were then planted in various places, including at the Whitehouse.



hemlock trees in nantahala national forest

The Carolina Hemlock can only be found in the southern Appalachians, mostly in western North Carolina. Native Americans used its bark for tannin and medicinal purposes. Sadly these trees have been infested by an insect that is slowly killing them. One of the best features of the Hemlock is that they prevent erosion, rapid downhill run off, and help prevent flooding and landslides.

Longleaf Pine

long leaf pine in nantahala national forestNPS Photo / Andrew Bennett

North Carolina’s state nickname came from the longleaf pine. Tar was collected from this tree for centuries and people would be covered in it as they worked, thus the Tarheel state name. Most of its growth occurs below ground in its roots and it is resistant to fire. The longleaf pine was almost mined to extinction because of the turpentine industry. The seeds of a longleaf pine is a food source for small forest animals. 

Dogwood Trees

dogwood tree - nantahala national forest

Dogwood trees come in a variety of species, including the flowering kind. Their flowers range from white to pink, to light yellow. They need water and indirect sunshine to thrive and don’t do well in arid places. Too much water is also a bad thing for these beautiful trees. Dogwood trees can reach a height of 40 feet depending on the species. If you want an ornamental tree for your yard, a dogwood tree would be a good choice. The Gray Dogwood is a bush that grows in the thickets and meadows of the North Carolina mountains.


The above is just a drop in the bucket of the many trees in the Nantahala National Forest. Each tree has species and subspecies throughout the mountains and meadows of North Carolina. It’s not ever just a pine tree or just a dogwood tree. Planet Earth is diverse in nature and that’s what makes it so beautiful, and few places are more beautiful than the Nantahala National Forest and the Great Smoky Mountains. Come on over and sit a spell with nature, or take a walk among the trees, and find your bearings in life again. Once you’ve done that, book a white water rafting trip with Carolina Outfitters and experience the wild side of nature on the river.

Margaret Marr, is a local author of paranormal, mystery, and suspense laced with romance. She has written over 15 books available on Amazon. 


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