SEARCH AND WILDFLOWER HOME PAGE     TREES      CONTACT US



Pseudotsuga menziesii
Pseudotsuga menziesii variety glauca (Douglas Fir)
Pinaceae (Pine Family)

Foothills, montane, subalpine. Woodlands. Spring.
Bear Creek Trail, October 10, 2008.

Neither a Fir nor a Spruce, Douglas Fir is more akin to Hemlock ("Pseudotsuga" means "false Hemlock" -- "Tsuga" is the Japanese name for Hemlock).  Douglas Fir is a magnificent tree usually growing on moist, shady, north-facing slopes, but it can also be found on rocky open slopes.  Pseudotsuga menziesii is common in cool mesa coves, foothills, lower mountains, and even in the subalpine zone of the Four Corners.  In the Four Corners mountainous areas it is a giant at 180 feet and five feet in diameter, but in Pacific coastal areas it reaches well over 250 feet tall and 8 feet in diameter. 

The above photograph centers on a Douglas Fir but it is flanked by Ponderosa Pines. The size of the trees can be estimated by noting my wife, Betty, with the orange hat in the lower left of the photograph.

Douglas Fir was formerly known as "Douglas Spruce", and thus came the name for the now famous "Spruce Tree House" of Mesa Verde National Park.  In the late 1880s the Wetherill brothers saw a large group of sandstone buildings tucked into a high and shallow cave in a canyon wall.  They shinnied down a "Douglas Spruce" to reach the buildings.

The specific epithet of the scientific name is for Archibald Menzies (1754-1842), Scottish botanist who collected leaves, cones, and seeds of this grand tree on Vancouver Island in 1791.  (More biographical information about Menzies.)

The common name is for David Douglas, widely acclaimed botanist and explorer in the early 1800s. Douglas was for a number of years thought to be the first collector of specimens of this tree. (More biographical information about Douglas.)

For and enlightening, intriguing, eye-opening, mind-boggling view into the complexities and vagaries of the naming of plants, see James Reveal's excellent discussion of "Douglas Fir on the Lewis and Clark website.

Add to Reveal's information that according to the master botanist, Thomas Nuttall, in his three volumes on the trees of North America (1842ff): This species was called "Abies Douglasii, Douglas's Spruce Fir", previously known, Nuttall tells us, as Pinus Douglasii and Pinus taxifolia. Read Nuttall's description of the tree and you will see there is no doubt that he is describing what we now call Pseudotsuga menziesii.

Nuttall indicates that "This species was originally discovered by Mr. Menzies at Nootka Sound, in 1797, during the voyage of Captain Vancouver, and from a specimen without cones or flowers was published a description by Mr. Lambert, under the name of Pinus taxifolia, which forms, however, a distinct variety by the greater length of its leaves". So as early as the 1840s, it was known that Menzies had discovered this species prior to Douglas, but it was not until 1950 that Juao Franco corrected the mistake and Menzies was given credit for the discovery and his name assigned as the specific epithet.

Pseudotsuga menziesii variety glauca (Douglas Fir)
Pinaceae (Pine Family)

Foothills, montane, subalpine. Woodlands. Spring.
West Mancos Trail, June 24, 2008.

A few giant Douglas Firs remain in the Four Corners region.

Pseudotsuga menziesii

Pseudotsuga menziesii variety glauca (Douglas Fir)
Pinaceae (Pine Family)

Foothills, montane, subalpine. Woodlands. Spring.
Lower Stoner Mesa Trail, September 5, 2007.

Douglas Fir bark is irregularly furrowed and dark gray with hints of orange in crevices. This giant tree is over four feet in diameter.

Pseudotsuga menziesii

Pseudotsuga menziesii

Pseudotsuga menziesii variety glauca (Douglas Fir)
Pinaceae (Pine Family)

Foothills, montane, subalpine. Woodlands. Spring.
Lower Calico Trail, August 26, 2011 and West Mancos Trail, May 15, 2009 and June 10, 2019.

Bark of older trees is commonly clothed with several lichen species.

A very different bark layer of swirling browns sometimes shows for short or long sections of the tree trunk.

                        Pseudotsuga menziesii

Pseudotsuga menziesii

Pseudotsuga menziesii

Pseudotsuga menziesii variety glauca (Douglas Fir)
Pinaceae (Pine Family)

Foothills, montane, subalpine. Woodlands. Spring.
Abajo Mountains, Utah, July 8, 2006.

Douglas Fir needles are flat, soft, shiny green, fragrant, and 1 to 1 ½ inches long.  New needles are light blue-green to light green.  Notice the narrow, pointed, reddish brown buds that are characteristic of Douglas Firs.

Pseudotsuga menziesii

Pseudotsuga menziesii

Pseudotsuga menziesii variety glauca (Douglas Fir)
Pinaceae (Pine Family)

Foothills, montane, subalpine. Woodlands. Spring.
Knife Edge Trail, Mesa Verde National Park, June 21, 2015.
Lower Stoner Mesa Trail, May 26, 2004.

Pseudotsuga menziesii cones are distinctive, having bracts projecting from the cone; they appear to be little mouse hind legs and tails.  Douglas Firs are easy to identify: look at the cones scattered along the trail under the trees. 

Pseudotsuga menziesii
Pseudotsuga menziesii variety glauca (Douglas Fir)
Pinaceae (Pine Family)

Foothills, montane, subalpine. Woodlands. Spring.
Abajo Mountains, Utah, June, 2006.

This stunted and twisted old giant shows the wide range of conditions that many living things can tolerate and it also shows the wide range of characteristics a plant can evince.  Normally Douglas Fir grows straight and tall on moist, sheltered, north facing slopes or in protected canyons.  Here, dead branches top a twenty foot tall, centuries old tree that is completely exposed on a steep southwest facing slope.  Several other ancient trees are nearby; on the ground at this giant's feet are dead limbs of this and other Douglas Fir trees; and quite close-by are several young trees, just three feet tall.

Pseudotsuga menziesii
Pinus ponderosa   Pinus flexilis   Pseudotsuga menziesii 
From the left:
Pinus ponderosa
 variety scopulorum (Ponderosa Pine)
Pinus flexilis (Limber Pine)

Pseudotsuga menziesii
variety glauca (Douglas Fir)
All three tress are members of Pinaceae (Pine Family)

The photograph of the tall trees is from the Lower Calico National Recreation Trail, September 21, 2020.
Click each tree name for more information, including details about the trunk segments shown immediately above.

Range map © John Kartesz,
Floristic Synthesis of North America

State Color Key

Species present in state and native
Species present in state and exotic
Species not present in state

County Color Key

Species present and not rare
Species present and rare
Species extirpated (historic)
Species extinct
Species noxious
Species exotic and present
Native species, but adventive in state
Eradicated
Questionable presence

Range map for Pseudotsuga menziesii