The Douglas Fir

Douglas-fir Pine Cone against a blue sky.Douglas firs are widespread across the state of Colorado. This tree has very distinct cones and is quite easy to spot. Found most anywhere in the Rocky Mountains including the Fort Collins area. The Douglas fir usually takes root at altitudes of 6,000 feet to 10,000 feet and really enjoys colder air and moist conditions. Since the northern slopes of the mountains are generally wetter, these firs tend to like this location best and are pretty good friends with the Ponderosa pine, with which this tree can often be found growing.

These trees are fairly tall and wide. They are often recognized for their broad shape, which sets them apart from the ever too similar spruce trees. Also, these particular firs are not very picky. They can grow through times of drought and do very well with little water. They are also able to stay alive with minimal sunlight. They can certainly withstand the shade better than most trees.

Douglas firs are also very fast growing trees. They can regenerate after a natural disaster and come back even stronger than before. This is partially due to their easily germinated seeds and thick bark. Not only are they very long lived, but these firs can grow to be over 200 feet tall.

The Douglas fir also has an exceptionally wide trunk, sometimes with a diameter of more than 12 feet. This varies a lot based on where the tree is growing, however. In perfect conditions, it will obviously fare much better than in areas of dry soil and too much sunlight.

Like other evergreens, the fir is one of the main sources of nutrition for many woodland animals. Birds, squirrels, some deer and other mammals enjoy the seeds of this tree or use it for shelter. Thankfully, this tree does not have many insect enemies. While there are some bugs that can eat entire trees on their own, the Douglas firs are very resilient and can bounce back from just about anything.

Though this tree does look a lot like other pines and spruces from a distance, it is impossible to mistake a Douglas fir for something else up close. This is because this tree has a cone that is unique to this one fir. The cones can be recognized because they hang down from the tree, are about two inches long on average, and have a distinct feature called “three pronged bracts” between the scales of the cones. These bracts are the one sure-fire way to know that a tree is indeed a Douglas fir. The needles look similar to other trees, and so does the bark. So, relying on those features might lead one astray. However, the Douglas fir’s cones are truly one in a million.

By Jason Writz