The icon of Eastern Washington dry forests, the ponderosa pine is the first tree to greet travelers as they climb out of the shrub-steppe and grasslands of the Columbia Highlands. With their thick, corklike fire-resistant bark and deep taproots, ponderosa pines can outlast low-intensity wildfires and drought to become true giants of the forest.
Wet mountainsides light up in autumn as the bright-green needles of western larch turn blazing yellow before dropping from the tree. With thick bark that shields the tree from fire, the sun-loving western larch relies on periodic wildfire to keep out more shade-tolerant species.
The pungent sagebrush has developed numerous adaptations to thrive in the hot dry summers and cold winters of the shrub-steppe such as tiny, silvery hairs that deflect the drying wind. Mule deer and grouse rely on the nutritious wedge-shaped leaves of this shrub.
Large, showy plumes composed of hundreds of tiny white flowers teeter atop the thick, fleshy stalks of beargrass, the only evergreen member of the Iris family in the Northwest. Usually found at mid-elevations in the Columbia Highlands, this honey-scented flower provides nourishment to a variety of insects—and bears, of course.