Pseudotsuga menziesii. DOUGLAS FIR. Canada to Mexico

PINACEAE (Pine family)

Native to the foothills running down to the campus, and a main constituent of the mixed evergreen forest of the Santa Cruz Mountains, the Douglas fir is the principal lumber tree of the United States (now that pines and redwoods have largely been exhausted). It is the leader in plywood production and contributes many other products: bark wax for shoe polish, as a humble example. At over 200 feet Douglas fir is almost the tallest U.S. tree. Ponderosa pine reaches about the same height, the big tree about 50 feet more, while the tallest coast redwood, at Jedediah Smith State Park, was at 321 feet in 1998. Douglas fir occupies the most area of land -- for the time being. Douglas fir plantations were established in England in the early 19th century as a source of masts.

The Douglas fir is identifiable with certainty by its characteristic pendent 3-inch cones, which are not as woody as most, and show long thin three-pointed bracts protruding between the cone-scales. The general form and texture of the foliage permit it to be recognized at a glance from a distance. Clearly, problems for future generations can be created in built-up areas by the use of large trees, but more honor should be accorded this noble native of our area by planting of a few groves.

See a specimen north of where Memorial Way runs into Galvez Street. There is a pair about 70 feet tall located approximately 70 yards from the north end of the avenue of Atlas cedars (and a single incense cedar) that runs toward Palm Drive from the intersection of Campus Drive and Lasuen Street. A specimen is at the west entry gate at Palm Drive and El Camino Real, and another can be seen at 824 Mayfield Avenue. In Palo Alto, two Douglas firs near campus are at 1612 California Avenue; also see 869 Melville Avenue, 1043 Parkinson Avenue, and 1585 Mariposa Drive.

Scotsman David Douglas (1798-1834) collected plants from Hudson Bay to California for the Royal Horticultural Society (London), bringing back many wild flowers (such as Clarkia, Gilia, Mahonia, Mimulus). Moving on to Honolulu, he sadly fell into a pit trap, into which a young bull had fallen, and was gored to death in 1834, aged 36.

Illus. right: seed cone from George B. Sudworth. Forest Trees of the Pacific Slope. USDA, 1907. Larger image

Illustrations (links open new windows): Jasper Ridge photo archive http://www.flickr.com/search/?q=jrbp Pseudotsuga

Additions/Revisions:

Name derivation, genus | species allusion to similarity to hemlock (Tsuga) | Archibald Menzies (1754-1842), Scottish surgeon and botanist who collected plants with the Vancouver expedition

Related material: Canopy Trees for Palo Alto Tree Library

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