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Trees of Yosemite (1932, 1948) by Mary Curry Tresidder

[Pine Family]

Douglas Fir

Pseudotsuga taxifolia Britt.

Douglas Fir Cone. Slightly Less Than Natural Size
Douglas Fir Cone
Slightly Less Than Natural Size

The Douglas Fir, or Douglas Spruce, suffers from an embarrassment of riches in nomenclature, reflecting the complexity of its characteristics. It is commonly known by one of the titles above; when made into lumber it goes under the label of Oregon Pine; and its botanical name assigns it to yet another category—“false hemlock, with a yewlike leaf.”

It is a stately tree, and a rather somber one withal. Its dark, brownish-gray trunk and its drooping branches with their great plumes of dark green foliage endow it with an air of majesty, and the wind brings “voices sad and prophetic” which become it well. The cool talus slopes of the south wall are its special habitat, though it may be found scattered through the Valley and for a couple of thousand feet above that elevation. One fine tree stands beside Tenaya Bridge; the Ledge Trail to Glacier Point passes some splendid old monarchs of this species; and the slope below Panorama Cliffs is another good place to find them, along the Vernal Falls Trail.

The Douglas Fir varies in height from seventy-five feet to three times that. In diameter the mature tree may be from three to eight feet, often with a clear shaft for one-third its height. The bark of mature trees is several inches thick and is furrowed longitudinally; where the brown of the old bark is bruised, that underneath is a clear reddish-brown. Young trees have a smooth and rather ashen bark, which gradually thickens from the ground upward and becomes a dull brown.

The needles grow around the branch, but the sprays give a drooping effect instead of the flat appearance of the firs; this is really the best way of distinguishing the Douglas Fir, and it is wise to accustom the eye to the general effect of the tree. The flat needle is blunter than that of the White Fir, but is quite similar to it in the median channel above and the rib below with a whitish band on each side underneath. It is from a half inch to an inch and a half in length, yellowish-green in color—perhaps a little darker green than the White Fir, as a rule. The needle has a short leaf-stem.

The cones, which mature in the first autumn, are a distinctive feature of this tree and a great aid to identification. Unlike the fir cones they are pendent and are not confined to the topmost branches. In shape they are oval, coming to a point; they are about one and three-quarters to three inches in length and one and a quarter to one and three-quarters inches in breadth. The scales are thin and rounded, with bracts thrust over them which have a trident-like tip. The ripened cone seems loosely put together.

The Douglas Fir occurs at a much lower altitude than the Mountain Hemlock; hence there is little danger of confusing the two. The Red Fir does occasionally come down to our fir’s level, but the foliage of the Red Fir is much more bluish-green, its bark is a richer brown, and its erect, compact cones are quite different. The White Fir is the tree with which the beginner must most often compare the Douglas Fir; the needles of the two are rather similar and the bark not greatly unlike, though that of the White Fir has a more ashen tinge. The two are found through much the same range, although the White Fir climbs higher, under conditions to its liking, than the Douglas Fir.

Next: FirContentsPrevious: Mountain Hemlock

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