Douglas Fir Trees: What Should You Know

We call the Douglas Fir by a deceptive name. It is not a true fir and is actually in the Douglas Fir family. We call this tree the Douglas Fir to honor a Scottish botanist, David Douglas. He was the first to report the uniqueness of this tree. Naturally, the Douglas Fir grows in the Western United States. The trees grow deep into the United States, stretching from the coast to the Rocky Mountains and from British Columbia to Mexico. Overall, the Douglas Fir is medium size, but in the right conditions can grow incredibly tall.

The Douglas Firs that grow closer to the coast grow up to 300 feet in height and can live for over 1000 years. However, the Douglas Firs that grow along the Rocky Mountains are much smaller and live shorter lives. While Douglas Firs prefer acidic soils, they are adaptable to just about anywhere. Compared to other trees, Douglas Firs provide significant sustenance to small animals strongly supporting the ecosystem. In the long run, we can use different portions of the Douglas Fir. Native Americans use the needles and resin for many traditional medicines.

So How Many Kinds of Douglas Fir Trees Are There?

Scientists split the Douglas Fir genus into six distinct species. We know the Douglas Fir genus as Pseudotsuga. It is in the Pinaceae family with the pines, spruces, and larches. The species found in North America is the most widespread. Generally speaking, the Douglas Fir North American species is significantly complex from a genetic perspective. We split the North American species, or Pseudotsuga menziesii, into two species. The coast Douglas Firs and the Rocky Mountain Douglas Firs are distinct. Finally, the other species found in the United States is the Pseudotsuga macrocarpa and is only found in Southern California. We can find four other species of Pseudotsuga in Asia.

How Large Do Douglas Fir Trees Grow?

Douglas Firs grow quite tall similar to many other species found along the west coast of the United States. The soil, humidity, and weather all support trees growing to gigantic height. However, per Hunker, the Douglas Fir will probably grow to a smaller height in your backyard. It is not unheard of to find a Douglas Fir along the coast growing to 300 feet. Whereas the Douglas Firs growing along the Rocky Mountains stand at a shorter 100 feet. It is likely that your Douglas Fir will only reach 60 feet. Altogether, the Douglas Fir is a fast-growing tree estimating close to 24 inches per year.

What Does a Douglas Fir Tree Look Like?

The needles of the Douglas Fir grow in a pretty unique way. The needles grow individually along the tips of the branches. Additionally, the needles are flat with just two sides. Finally, the needles are soft to the touch. The bark of a younger tree is gray and smooth. This appearance is why many confused it with fir trees for a long time. Mature Douglas Firs sport dark brown bark that is deeply furrowed. You will find the furrowing to be incredibly pronounced. 

Douglas Fir Cone

Also, the cones display three points.

Where Can I Find a Douglas Fir Tree?

Douglas Firs grow across the Western United States. Overall, the Pacific Northwest can claim the most trees. They can thrive in that environment. Douglas Fir trees extend far south reaching all the way into Mexico. Additionally, the Douglas Fir can survive further inland. Most of the coastal species cannot spread away from the coast. You can find the Douglas Fir species as far as the Rocky Mountain range.

How Long Can a Douglas Fir Tree Live?

The life of the Douglas Fir highly depends on where it is living. Those found along the coast of the United States live the longest lives. Moreover, the coastal trees easily live to be over 1000 years old. Whereas, the Rocky Mountain firs live significantly shorter lives, closer to 500 years old. A Douglas Fir planted in your backyard will probably not reach 1000 or even 500 years in age.

Can I Grow a Douglas Fir Tree?

Douglas Firs are very adaptable to different soil and climates. However, they grow best where they have cold winters and hot summers. The Douglas Fir does not like a soil that holds too much water, so your planting location will need excellent drainage. When your Douglas Fir is still a sapling, it will need you to provide it with water to thrive. Finally, when picking a planting location, be sure to pick a shady area. Too much sun will dry out the tree. When your tree is well established, it will grow between one and two feet a year and need minimal care.

It is Time to BRANCH out into some fun tree facts!

  • The Douglas Fir is the tallest conifer.
  • The bark of a Douglas Fir is incredibly thick and unique in its deep furrowing.
  • The common name honors one botanist, David Douglas, while the scientific name honors another botanist, Archibald Menzies.

What Are Some Uses for Douglas Fir Trees?

Natural Uses

Douglas Fir trees support their ecosystem. Not only do they provide shelter to many animals, voles, and owls, but smaller mammals also heavily depend up on the cones and seeds for food. Every part of the tree can be used for medicinal purposes. In the past, Native Americans used the pitch to treat skin issues and injuries. The pitch can also treat coughs and sore throats. The bark can treat ulcers and other stomach issues. It even used to treat excessive menstruation symptoms. Additionally, it provides ample sustenance for smaller mammals, it provides little edible parts for humans. Meanwhile, we brew the needles into tea and do not consume any other portions. Finally, the pitch from the tree works excellent as a natural glue.

Bears enjoy eating the sap of the Douglas Fir. Additionally, the northern spotted owl relies heavily on tit for cover from predators and to sneak up on their own prey, snacking on the seeds below. Scientists have well established the dependence of the red tree vole on the Douglas Fir exclusively. They build nests in the tops of the trees and live off the needles. Finally, the Douglas Fir is not considered endangered in any way. The population is large and strong. This is excellent considering how much the ecosystem depends upon it.

Native Americans hold the Douglas Fir in high regard. They use branches to make a purification scrub that is applied to those bereaved with deep loss or even for good luck.

Artistic Uses

The Douglas Fir stands slender and erect. Artists often paint and draw Douglas Fir trees for their unique look.

Furthermore, the Douglas Fir is a similar staple to the Christmas tree farm business. They grow quite fast and reach sale height in a few years. Ultimately, the Douglas Fir gives a unique shape for those looking for a skinnier Christmas tree that still sports a beautiful, full triangular shape. 

Overall, many plant the Douglas Fir in their backyards because of its unique shape and ease of growth. It is a beautiful ornamental piece in any yard or garden.

Residential/Commercial Uses

The Douglas Fir tree stands slender and erect. Artists often paint and draw Douglas Fir trees for their unique look.

Furthermore, the Douglas Fir is a similar staple to the Christmas tree farm business. They grow quite fast and reach sale height in a few years. Ultimately, it gives a unique shape for those looking for a skinnier Christmas tree that still sports a beautiful, full triangular shape. 

Traditionally, Native Americans used Douglas Fir trees to build snowshoes, weapons, and canoes. The needles are soft and therefore were used to make beds and floors. They even used tree knots to make fishhooks.

The timber from a Douglas Fir is unique, like many other features of this tree. It has an unprecedented strength-to-weight ratio which makes it highly sought after for beams. Moreover, it is naturally durable and water resistant, even more so than other softwoods. The timber is easy to work with and can be shaped easily. All things considered, the wood from the Douglas Fir has many practical applications in building and construction. Builders use it for doors, framing, weight-bearing furniture, cutting boards, flooring, and molding. Historically, bridges and boats were built using Douglas Fir timber. Probably the most common application, however, is in plywood.

Wrap Up

Douglas Fir claims many unique features, such as their beautiful, slender shape. They are immense trees growing across the Western United States. Compared to many coastal trees, they are distributed in a more widespread pattern. These trees live long lives along the coast but see slightly shorter lives inland. Also, the Douglas Fir is a common species chosen for Christmas trees. It is an excellent choice for your backyard or garden. It is easy to grow in the proper conditions, but it adapts to tougher situations compared to other species. Finally, we use all aspects of Douglas Fir tree in many applications, from medicinal remedies to building beams.

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