Douglas fir grows tall and straight. In fact, it
is the tallest conifer in the
Northwest, growing to over 300 feet (90 meters). Only redwoods in
California grow to a greater height. Douglas fir is also the most
common and widely distributed species in the Pacific Northwest. Any
conifer you see west of the Cascade summit in Oregon or Washington is
more likely to be a Douglas fir than any other species.
is easy to identify. The thin needles
out in all directions from the twig like a bottle brush. Although the
similar to that of spruce, the needle tips are soft,
unlike the sharp spruce needles. If you find a tree growing in the
understory, you may see needles that lie flat like a grand fir.
Don't let them fool you. Look at
the buds. Douglas fir has unique buds that
are pointed, reddish-brown and papery.
The cones are
the only ones you will find in the Northwest with three-pointed bracts
sticking out of
the scales. Unlike the true firs, the cones hang down rather
standing up on the branch. Also unlike the true firs, the Douglas fir
its cones to the ground intact. When you see these unique cones on the
ground, you know that a Douglas fir is nearby.
come out in the spring. After dispersing
the pollen, they fall, often covering the ground under the trees.
Young bark is gray and smooth with resin blisters like the true
firs. On large trees, you can usually
a Douglas fir by the bark alone. The thick bark is
deeply furrowed, more than any other tree in the
region. The color is gray to brown and usually brown at the bottom of
Douglas fir is the state tree of Oregon and by far the
common conifer in the state. It grows throughout western
Oregon and Washington as well as large areas east of the Cascades. It
thrives in direct
sunlight but is shade intolerant. It naturally propagates
from seeds on bare ground in areas destroyed by fire. It is often
planted after logging, resulting in extensive stands of pure Douglas
fir. When trying to
conifer in western Oregon or Washington, if you guess that
Douglas fir, you will be right 80% of the time.
Douglas fir grow in the Northwest:*
grows in western Oregon and Washington from sea level up to 5000 feet
grows between 2000
and 8000 feet in the northeast corners of Oregon and Washington, and the mountains of Idaho. The needles of
this variety tend to be blue or gray compared to var. menziesii.
The bark is darker, and
the bracts tend to protrude outward from the cones. This variety also
grows throughout the Rocky Mountains.
The tallest living Douglas fir is
327 feet (99.7 meters), located in Coos County, Oregon. The tallest
redwood is 379 feet (115 meters), quite a bit taller than any living
Douglas fir. However, reports from logging in the early 1900's
claim that some of these Douglas firs were over 400 feet (120
Douglas fir is the Northwest's most important timber tree. Its
strength makes it ideally
suited for structural timbers and framing lumber in home construction.
Douglas fir is a popular Christmas tree, mostly because it is typically
less expensive than other species.
the Scottish botanist, is honored in the common name for Douglas fir.
Another Scott, Archibald Menzies, takes the honors for the scientific
means "false hemlock." Botanists often write the common name as
"Douglas-fir" to indicate that it is not a true fir. Other common
names: Oregon pine, red fir, and red spruce.
isn't Douglas fir a
fir? As the scientific name
indicates, Douglas fir is not
It has been
called a pine, hemlock and spruce. It is more closely related to the
larch than any of these. Its scientific name changed 21
times as botanists attempted to determine the correct classification
for the species.
Although it has
blisters in its bark like the true firs, in
many other respects it is quite unlike the firs. The cones
hemlock or spruce cones than fir cones. But other differences clearly
distinguish it from the hemlocks and
spruces. In 1867, it was
classified not as a fir, hemlock or spruce, but in a separate
genus of its own, Pseudotsuga.
Finally, after many more years of discussion and confusion, Pseudotsuga menziesii
as the species name in 1953.
*Most sources list these as varities. The
Gymnosperm Database lists them as subspecies.
and pollen cones
growing in shade
Douglas fir woods west of Hillsboro