With the holiday spirit filling our hearts and city streets this month, it seemed fitting to highlight a tree that often finds its way into our homes this time of year, adorned with ornaments and family mementos: the Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii). Making up nearly half of all Christmas trees grown in the U.S., this evergreen conifer is also neighboring Oregon’s state tree and grows in abundance throughout the Pacific Northwest.
It is also apparently a current inspiration for a coffee drink, as this writer discovered while ordering a Juniper Latte recently at Starbucks, wherein the barista described the flavor as “tasting like a Douglas fir.”
Native Americans used the tree for building, basketry, and medicinal purposes, curing ailments such as stomach aches, headaches, and the common cold.
The Douglas fir’s namesake, David Douglas, was a botanist-explorer that first introduced the tree to cultivation in 1826. In many ways, the fir helped settle the west, providing lumber that was used for railroad ties and telephone/telegraph poles. The fir continues to be one of the country’s top sources for lumber today, with 1.3 billion boards alone harvested in our state last year.
While living, the tree is also an essential part of the forest, supporting an abundance of wildlife and the highest average bird counts for North American forest types.
The tree’s seeds are used by blue grouse, songbirds, squirrels and other small animals, while antelope, deer, elk, and mountain goats eat the twigs and foliage.
One species that relies on Douglas firs exclusively is the Red Tree Vole, constructing nests in the crown of the firs and eating the needles; they even obtain water from the tree by licking moisture off the needles!
Reaching heights of anywhere from 40 to over 300 feet tall, the trees strike a dramatic pose not only in the forest but also in city parks and neighborhoods. As the tree grows, it forms a pyramidal shape; a few towering examples can be found in our own Rheingarten Park.
There are smaller varieties available for the home landscape, though the Douglas fir must have full sun wherever one plants it and should not be used in areas prone to drought.
Looking for a low-cost source for Douglas fir for your property? Underwood Conservation District (UCD), one of 45 locally led, non-regulatory conservation districts in Washington state, serves local landowners in understanding and improving natural resources with advice, hands-on assistance, and cost-share programs.
Their annual Native Plant Sale is currently accepting orders for bare root tree and shrub seedlings. Online orders are being accepted through Feb. 28, 2019, with order pickup in mid-March.
For information or to place an order, visit UCD’s website (www.ucdwa.org) and click on “Shop Native Plants”; or call the conservation district office at 509-493-1936.