A Guide to the Douglas Fir

Tag Number: 203

Scientific Name: Pseudotsuga menziesii

Pseudotsuga means false hemlock, since it is similar to a hemlock. Hemlocks do not have resinous wood, and Douglas Firs do. The menziesii honors the tree's original discoverer, Archibald Menzies.

Common Names

Habitat

Naturalized in British Columbia, Canada; California, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington, USA.

Morphology

Bears swooping branches with spiraling needles, giving the twigs a bottle-cleaner appearance. Visible white lines along the bottom of the needles are stomata, or openings in the epidermis of the leaf through which gas is exchanged. Its cones have three prominent tails that protrude between the scales. Some say they look like pitchforks; others tell the story of a mouse diving into the cone to avoid being eaten by an owl.

History

This tree has a lot to brag about; it is the state tree of Oregon, the most abundant tree in Oregon, and a favorite among Christmas trees. Further, it can reach up to 1000 years of age and grows over 250 feet tall. Thus, it is the tallest tree in North America, with the exception of the two Sequoia species. Finally, it is the most commonly clear-cut tree and makes up 3/4 of the United States' wood harvests. Douglas Firs are ideal in the logging industry, because its seedlings can only grow in areas that have lots of sunlight. Therefore, for new growth to occur, areas must be harvested to allow seedling generation. These seedlings grow quickly and vigorously, and loggers depend on 4.7 billion feet a year in regenerated Douglas Firs. Their harvested wood is found in more products than any tree in the world. Its strong quality and nonexistent warping is utilized in the reinforcement of bridges and tall buildings. It is also convenient for tall telephone poles and in railroad track ties. When made into plywood and used as a steel replacement on large boats, the boats float 7 more inches above the water. After the tree's bark is crushed and processed, it is used in over 500 patented items such as shoe soles and natural cork replacements, since natural cork is both expensive and limited. The resin from the tree assists in glue-making and protecting stringed instruments' bows. Although the Forest Service officially christened the tree a Douglas Fir (to honor botanist David Douglas, who collected over 120 lbs in the seed samples from these trees), this tree is not a fir, because the cones on the Douglas Fir hang downward, while true firs have cones that stand upright. It is its own distinct species.

Ethnobotany

This was the Hawaiian's favorite tree for their war canoes. Since the Hawaiians could not harvest Douglas Firs, the trees' driftwood was prized.

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