A Guide to the Grand Fir

Tag Number: 189

Scientific Name: Abies grandis

Abies is from abeo, which means, to rise; grandis means large. As the tree does, the words rise to great heights

Common Names

Habitat

British Columbia west through Idaho and Montana and south through Washington, Oregon, and California.

Morphology

Easily identifiable from other firs due to its needles of two distinct lengths arranged together in two rows so flatly that both the top and bottom of the branch is easy to see. Like all true firs, its cones stand upright on the top of the branch.

Phenology

Pale yellow male and light green female flowers appear between April and May.

History

This tree is commonly seen at Christmastime due to its shapely appearance, the green of its needles, and the strong pine scent it emits--especially when the needles are crushed. Although most people enjoy the odor, some feel it is too strong--thus the common name Stinking Fir. Botanist David Douglas was impressed by the tree and coined it the Grand Fir, because it grows up to 263 feet tall and 22 inches wide. Although it grows magnificently, its maximum age of 300 years is much less than most evergreen trees in the west. It also is susceptible to rotting, since its wood is not resinous. Perhaps its vulnerability to this and fire make its mere existence even grander. Unfortunately, Douglas died at the age of 35 when, while exploring the islands of Hawaii, he fell into an animal pit and was trampled to death by the pit's second victim: an ox. The common name Lowland Fir was bestowed upon this tree when it was discovered that this was the only true fir that can grow below 1500 feet. Do not let its name fool you when you are at higher elevations, because it can grow at levels as high as 5000 feet. Although the number of Lowland Firs composes about 2% of living conifers, their range is not modest at all; they exist in all but one county in Oregon.

Ethnobotany

The Straits Salish of British Columbia and Washington concocted both brown and pink dyes from the bark of this tree. The brown was a favorite for dying the baskets they wove, and this same brown dye was mixed with clay pigments to form the pink hue. Another dye was created by removing a black fungus that surrounded the tree and accessing its brick-red insides. Its bark, along with those of the red alder and western hemlock, was also drawn on by the Ditidaht of southern British Columbia who used it to remedy internal injuries. Other remedies were created by the Lutshootseed of Washington who used chemicals in the needles to relieve colds and the Kwakwaka'wakw of British Columbia who used them as an energizer. The Kwakwaka'wakw medicine men performed purification ceremonies, cleansing their people with its branches. The Ditidaht went one step further than simply curing diseases after they surfaced; they evaded them by using the potent boughs as incense. The Hesquiat of British Columbia's Vancouver Island hold that when a woman was banned from their people after conceiving a child out of wedlock, she used the branches of the Grand Fir for warmth.

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