Douglas Fir

When people say they want an old-fashioned, cone-shaped Christmas tree, they are referring to the Douglas fir—which isn’t quite as neatly shaped in the wild. It’s also much larger than a standard holiday tree if left to its own devices. It averages between 40 and 60 feet, though some coastal varieties grow as big as 350 feet, surpassing all trees in height but the Coast Redwood. Despite the name, it isn’t actually a true fir tree. Douglas firs have flat, soft needles that are linear and about 2-4 centimeters long, and which bristle out of the twig in every direction. The bark is smooth and gray when the trees are young and furrowed and dark as they age. They are found all through the Western United States and Western Canada.They are particularly abundant in the Pacific Northwest and are in fact Oregon’s official state tree.

Identifying evergreens can be tricky, but Douglas firs have a couple of helpful distinctive characteristics. The main one is its 3-to-4—inch cone, which has a stiff, papery three-pointed bract protruding from each scale (the bract has been described as resembling the back half of a mouse, with two legs and a long tail, trying to scramble between the scales). The other identifier is the fruity, almost tropical aroma of the needles when crushed, especially new growth.

Douglas firs are quite useful trees, aside from the obvious function they serve on Christmas. They account for nearly 25 percent of the total lumber produced in the United States. They produce strong, durable, relatively dense wood used for railroad ties, house logs, fencing, plywood veneer and paper manufacture. A variety of birds and small animals eagerly gobble up their seeds. Bears, too, use Douglas firs for food, scraping off the bark and eating the sap underneath. You can even make a tea out of Douglas fir tips.

Aaron Carnes