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The Douglas Fir

UK Garden Centre - Information on the Douglas Fir tree

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Family Pinaceae
Pseudotsuga taxifolia

David Douglas, in his capacity of collector to the Royal Horticultural Society, landed at Fort Vancouver on the Columbia River in 1825, and not only sent home herbarium specimens, but seeds also, of this Conifer. It was by means of these seeds that the Douglas Fir was introduced to Britain.
Under the most favourable natural conditions, as around Puget Sound and on the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada, the Douglas Fir grows to a height of three hundred feet, with a girth of thirty to forty feet, but on the drier slopes of the Rocky Mountains it is not more than a hundred feet high. In Colorado, forests of Douglas Fir are found at and elevation of 11,000 feet. The tree has not been sufficiently long established in this country to say what dimensions it will reach, though it appears to have taken kindly to Ireland and to Devon and Cornwall, where the rate of growth of young trees is about thirty inches a year. There are plenty of trees in these islands, planted about the year 1834, which have reached or passed one hundred feet, and there is no doubt that towards our western coasts this height will be greatly exceeded.
The Douglas Fir is of Pyramidal outline, with the lowest branches bending to the ground under their weight of branchlets and leaves; above, they spread horizontally, but the uppermost are more or less ascending. The branchlets are given off mostly in opposite pairs, densely clothed with slender, rich green leaves three-quarters to one and a quarter inches in length, paler beneath. They endure for six or seven years, and are arranged in three or four ranks.
The male flowers will be found clustered at intervals on the underside of the previous year’s shoots, whilst the cones are formed at the tips of the lateral branchlets, and hang downwards. These cones are somewhat elliptical in outline, from two and a half to four inches long, with large scales, and from the back of each there extends a three-clawed bract, the middle claw or awn being very long.
The Douglas Fir produces excellent timber, and is a most valuable forest tree, not only on that account, but because of its adaptability to varying conditions of soil and climate. It is the most widely distributed of all American forest trees, and the area of its distribution is spread over thirty-two degrees of latitude, and from end to end of this range it has, in the words or Sargent, “to endure the fierce gales and long winters of the north, and the nearly perpetual sunshine of the Mexican Cordilleras; to thrive in the rain and fog which sweep almost continually along the Pacific coast range, and on the arid mountain slopes of the interior, where for months every year rain never falls”. It appears to thrive best where the air is humid and the soil well drained.
It begins to bear cones about its twenty-fifth year.
Its suitability for masts and spars will be evident to all visitors to the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew. The Flagstaff set up in the gardens is from the bole of a Douglas Fir. The pole is 214 feet long with a diameter of 33 inches at the base, tapering to 12 inches at the top and weighing about 18 tons. It was brought from Vancouver Island and was erected in 1919 to replace a smaller spar of the same species.
The full life of the Douglas Fir is estimated to be about 750 years.


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