Douglas-fir species profile

29 Jan

I thought it might be nice to go back and cover some of the basics about forestry for the benefit of readers who want to learn more. Specifically, I think some of you have been waiting for tree ID posts since I started this blog. I know I get excited about knowing what plants are around us.

This might be old news to many of you, but I’m going to start doing species profiles of native woody plants in this area. What better way to start than with one of the most common sights in the Pacific Northwest: the Douglas-fir!

The first thing to know is its many names, because they say a lot about this particular tree. The Latin name (genus and species) is Pseudotsuga menziesii. The species name refers to the person who discovered this tree, and the genus name means “false hemlock.”

Besides being called Douglas-fir and labeled a phony hemlock, this tree is also sometimes known as Douglas-spruce or Oregon-pine. These common names are hyphenated because it is not a true fir, spruce or pine, either — which is to say that trying to identify this tree can potentially send you down a lot of wrong paths.

The easiest ways to identify it are by the three-pronged bracts on the cones (1), the deeply furrowed (2) bicolor bark (3) of mature trees, and its pointed buds (4). The cones set it apart from all other conifers, but they may be too high up for you to see very well, and cones on the ground may have come from a neighboring plant. In that case, the bark separates it from thin-barked hemlocks and true firs, and the pointed buds will clue you in to the truth if you first suspect that it might be a spruce.

This tree is tall and fast-growing, with bark that gives it greater resistance to many pests, diseases and wildfire. This makes it dominant in a lot of forests in the Pacific Northwest, sometimes at the expense of species like the declining Oregon white oak. It is not tolerant of shade, and tends not to like hot, dry sites. This tree is one of the tallest species of conifer in the world, and can live to be 500 to even 1,000 years old.

P. menziesii is the preferred home of the spotted owl, and is an important food source for deer, elk, blue grouse, porcupines and the red tree vole, along with several moths and numerous birds and small mammals that like its seeds. It is the alternate host of the Cooley spruce adelgid, primary host of the Douglas-fir dwarf mistletoe, and is susceptible to many diseases including Swiss needle cast.

It is often a climax species in terms of forest succession. Additionally, it is one of the most important timber species in the world, generating more timber than any other species in the United States, in particular. We import tons of it to Japan.

So there you have it. As I expand my species profiles, I will link to them in articles like this, so keep your eyes peeled for profiles on things like the Oregon white oak.

3 Responses to “Douglas-fir species profile”

  1. rainyleaf January 30, 2012 at 6:59 am #

    Thanks for the great information, I really like this post (and this tree)!

  2. theevolutionofeating February 6, 2012 at 1:42 pm #

    Very cool. I’m glad your blog is including this kind of practical identification info.

  3. xylem_up February 20, 2012 at 10:22 pm #

    I’m glad the identification write-ups are going over well. I could post these forever!

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