Douglas Fir : Overview

Coastal Douglas Fir

Coastal Douglas Fir (Homer Edward Price)

By Oliver Scofield


The names Douglas Fir, Oregon Pine, Douglas Spruce and even Washington Fir have all been used for the same tree: Pseudotsuga (which means false hemlock) menziesii. None of them are accurate names however, because this evergreen conifer is neither a true fir, nor spruce, nor pine, nor (as the name implies) hemlock. Douglas-firs (notice the hyphen) belong to their own genus: Pseudotsuga in the family Pinaceae. Despite the horrible confusion in the name, Douglas-firs are an extremely important tree to our culture today and have been used in various forms by Native Americans throughout the west. In North America there are two subspecies: P. menziesii var. menziesii, the coastal giant that lives predominantly in Oregon and Washington; and P. menziesii var. glauca, the smaller, hardier Rocky Mountain dweller. The coastal version is the more common tree and is the typically the image thought of when Douglas-firs are mentioned. In this setting, the once huge tracts of old-growth Doug fir forests were critical to many ecological processes and, although drastically diminished in size, the remaining trees do the same.