The Douglasfir is a pre-eminent tree in many ways. It is the country’s largest source of lumber, and the choice for nearly half of all Christmas trees grown in the United States. Douglasfir is a dominant species in many an old growth forest in the American Northwest. Here the blue grouse finds its home, as does the owl and hawk; and countless other birds and animals find both shelter and food in the foliage of the mighty Douglasfir, while such greenery as sword ferns and lichens thrive in its shade.
In fact, its size alone could make the tree an American legend. The national champion grows in Coos County, Oregon, and measures 329 feet tall, with a crown spread of 60 feet and a diameter of 11½ feet. In size, the majestic Douglasfir is second only to the sequoias. Its size is responsible for only a part of its beauty and place in the American consciousness. Its trunk can reach up to 100 feet clear of branches, making it ideal for lumber and plywood veneer. The pyramidal shape of its crown, its straight trunk, its skyward-reaching upper branches and drooping lower ones, and its downward hanging cones also make it the emblem of dense Northwestern forests.
The natural range of this magnificent tree includes California in the Northwest and throughout much of the Rocky Mountains region. Yet it also takes its place as a fine landscape ornamental, ideal for a home or park setting that can benefit from a large evergreen, which often reaches to 80 feet in home landscapes. (Grows in hardiness zones 4 to 6.)
Douglasfir’s Place in History
While the Douglasfir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) may have first been introduced to cultivation by botanist-explorer David Douglas in 1826, its importance in American history continues unabated. As well as being the country’s top source of lumber today, the Douglasfir also helped settle the West, providing railroad ties and telephone and telegraph poles. The Douglasfir was crucial to American soldiers in World War II as well, being used for everything from GI’s foot lockers to portable huts and even the rails of stretchers that carried many a soldier from battle.
But perhaps one contribution of the Douglasfir symbolizes its place in America’s evolving history more than any other. When in 1925 the time came to restore the masts of “Old Ironsides,” the USS Constitution, sufficiently grand white pines could no longer be found. Today, Old Ironsides proudly sails in the Boston Navy Yard under the power of three Douglasfir masts.