Today’s Tree: Douglas Fir,
I could not help but notice the Latin name for the Douglas Fir is menziesii just like the madrone (Arbutus menziesii). This got me thinking, who was this Menzies guy these Pacific NW trees are named after? Asking this question led me to more than I bargained for. Apparently there is intrigue and dispute in the world of botanical nomenclature. The short answer is the man in question was Archibald Menzies, a naturalist on board Captain Vancouver’s world voyage, who collected the tree in 1792.
The common name, Douglas Fir refers to David Douglas, a Scottish naturalist and rival of Menzies, who was sent by the British Horticulture Society on a 3-year expedition to the Pacific Northwest in the 1820s and ended up introducing a total of 240 species of plants and many native pines back to Britain!
If you want to read the entire litany of how many names the Douglas Fir was given, and how it is not actually a true fir tree at all (just like the Western redcedar is not a cedar), you can start here: Pseudotsuga
One key identifier of this classic Northwest rain forest tree is its cone. They look like “mouse butts” with little hind legs and tails. So the next time you are walking in the woods and see mouse butts on a cone, you know you are standing near a Doug-Fir.
I can see how the Douglas Fir makes perfect lumber thanks to its straight and towering height (250 feet and up). I wish I could have seen the original first growth Pacific NW Douglas Firs before the land was cleared and settled, because apparently it is believed there were some larger than the largest Sequoias of California, so they were the largest tree on earth at one time. They can live anywhere from 500 to thousands of years if left alone and are the State Tree of Oregon.
I appreciate a need for a system of species classification (Biological Classification), but after reading the dizzying story of naming the Douglas Fir, I am more convinced than ever that today’s humans have lost sight of our connection to trees in general and specific. There are increasing numbers of studies showing lower rates of disease in human communities with higher numbers of trees (Can Lack of Trees Kill You Faster?). Tree beauty, longevity, and not yet fully appreciated co-existence on Earth provide us with plenty more than a name to preserve.
If you want to oogle over some great pics of skilled people climbing old growth Douglas Fir in the Olympic Peninsula, just one body of water away from me, have a look here: