The Douglas Fir Tree

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General Background Information:
The Douglas Fir Tree is a very dense medium to large size tree. It is cone-shape as a young tree, but as it grows and the tree becomes denser and develops more of a pyramid shape. The needles are spiral shaped, about 1-1 ½ inches long, and are mostly a bluish-green color with the occasional yellowish-green needles. The trunk is very straight and, at a young age, has very smooth bark. Paralleled to human skin, as the trunk ages, with age its bark becomes more wrinkly and rough. The Douglas fir grows to be about 40-70 feet tall and about 12-20 feet wide in ideal growing conditions. To grow to full maturity, this tree needs plenty of sunlight (it will not grow in areas where there is more shade than sunlight) and the soil must be deep, moist, well drained, acidic or neutral and since this tree is sensitive to droughts atmospheric moisture is very important. This tree mainly grows in April and May (wet seasons). The fruit of the Douglas fir is a light brown, oval-shaped, hanging cone. These cones are 3-4 inches long with 3-pointed bracts that come through the cones scales.

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Trunk of a young tree
Trunk of a young tree

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To the left is a picture of the trunk of a young Douglas Fir and above is a picture of a trunk of an old Douglas Fir Tree

Family/Relative Information: The Douglas Fir comes from the Pinaceae family. This family is the largest family, including 220-250 species in 11 genera and the second largest in geographical range. The Pinaceae family consists mostly of trees and on occasion, some shrubs. Seed dispersal of these trees are mostly through the wind, but there are some trees that have large seeds with small wings, so these ones are carried and spread by birds. There are members of this family throughout Asia and Central America.

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Botanist-explorer David Douglas first introduced the Douglas fir in 1826. The Douglas fir is not only America’s top source of lumber today but it also helped to settle the West by providing railroad ties and telephone/telegraph poles. During World War II, this tree also played an important role. It was used for everything from soldiers’ footlockers to portable huts and the rails of stretchers use to carry wounded or dead soldiers from the battlefield. However, one contribution of the Douglas fir symbolizes its place in America’s evolving history more than any other. In 1925 when it came time to restore the poles of “Old Ironsides,” the USS Constitution, sufficiently large and beautiful White Pine trees could not be found. Today, Old Ironsides proudly sails in the Boston Navy Yard under the power of three Douglas fir poles.

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(above is a photo of David Doulgas- founder of the Douglas Fir Tree)

Geographic element: Western North American/Pacific and Cordilleran
Distribution in Western North America: central and south in the Pacific region; central and south in the Cordilleran region

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There are a number of ways in which humans use the Douglas fir tree today:
  1. Structural lumber
  2. Poles and posts
  3. Firewood
  4. Ornamentals
  5. Decorative wood
  6. Craft fiber
  7. Living plants
  8. Food
  9. Pharmaceuticals and plant extracts
  10. Christmas trees

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Sources: (information)
2012, 2012, 11/27,, 2012, 11/27,, 2012, 11/27,, 11/27,, Mindy; Bowns, Jim; Banner, Roger; Rasmussen, Allen 2002, 2012, 11/27,
"Douglas fir." Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online Academic Edition. Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2012. Web. 03 Dec. 2012. <>.