Plant of the day: Douglas fir


Pseudotsuga_menziesii2When I was a kid we’d go into the forest by our house and cut down our own Christmas tree. It was always a Doug fir–perhaps a little paler, scrawnier and scragglier than the deep green varieties for sale in a lot. But these wild trees were the most beautiful in my eyes.

Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) is characterized by branches covered with soft, dense needles. The cones are unique for their “rat tail” bracts, which look like a cartoon silhouette of the legs and tail of a rodent. Young trees have blisters of sap under their thin bark; if you climb them you are likely to get sticky.

This is a versatile survivor of a tree. It thrives in disturbed environments, and can quickly grow to fill meadows and gaps in the forest. It’s the source of the most timber in North America, and is a vibrant part of the ecosystem from BC to central California. The wood is used for  lumber, timbers, and plywood. Great beams are soaked in creosote and used for building piers, pilings, docks and other marine structures. The wood is also made into railroad ties, mine timbers, house logs, posts and poles, flooring, veneer, pulp, and furniture. Birds, rodents, elk, and deer all use Doug fir for food and shelter.

The rat-tail bracts of a Doug fir cone

The rat-tail bracts of a Doug fir cone

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