Photo courtesy of Missouri Botanical Garden
Yule in the Air
If you’ve only seen this as a Christmas tree, sheared for dense growth and cut at six feet tall, you would not recognize an old specimen in a native forest, with a trunk six feet thick, the first branches a hundred feet overhead and the top of the tree out of sight at 300 feet. This is the second tallest tree of North America, surpassed only by the much better known redwoods. Take in the amazing heights - click here for videos.
In spite of its size, Douglas fir can be a garden tree. It grows slowly and for many years remains small enough to fit small properties and gardens. In less than ideal climates, it is even slower-growing. It’s hardy to USDA Zone 4 but farther south, starting in Zone 7, it suffers from the heat.
Nursery folk grow selections of this species that are notable for different shapes and colors. Arrowhead Alpines has many cultivars here (but no photos).There’s a cultivar called ‘Fastigiata' that grows as a narrow cone. There are light-green and gold cultivars, such as ‘Pine Grove Gold’ which is slow-growing, judging by its size at the Bickelhaupt Arboretum in Iowa (where the summer heat may contribute to slow growth). For blue needles, ‘Wycoff Big Blue.' I’m amazed that the species is a huge tree and yet the nursery trade offers dwarf cultivars. One of them, ‘Little Jon’ grow only 3 inches a year.
The needles of the tree are flat and resemble the needles of hemlock trees (Tsuga), hence the name “Pseudotsuga,” meaning “false hemlock.” The second name (menziesii) honors a pioneering botanist of the U.S. Northwest, Archibald Menzies. For more about this conifer (and others) treat yourself to a stroll through the website of the American Conifer Society. Click on the tab at the top of the home page that reads “ConiferBase.”
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