How to Identify Douglas Fir Trees

Douglas fir with cones

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Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) is an evergreen coniferous tree in the Pinaceae family. It is native to coastal areas in western North America and to British Columbia. A non-flowering forest tree that produces cones, some Douglas firs can grow to be more than 300 feet tall in the wild.

According to National Wildlife Federation, there are two varieties of Douglas firs: One is found along the coast, and the other is found inland in mountainous areas. Because of their separate locations, these tree varieties are characteristically quite different. Here, we highlight Douglas firs' key features and how to identify one on your next hike.

Scientific Name  Pseudotsuga menziesii 
Common Name  Douglas fir 
Habitat  Both mountainous and coastal regions of California and British Columbia
Description  Dark yellow-green or blue-green needles, depending on the variety; produces cones.
Uses Used as Christmas trees; timber used for furniture, flooring, etc.

Native Range and Habitat

The first Douglas fir was found on Vancouver Island by Archibald Menzies in 1792 and, later, by botanist David Douglas. Douglas is credited with collecting the tree seeds and bringing them back to Europe for cultivation in 1824.

Today, there are two main varieties of the Douglas fir:

  • Pseudotsuga menziesii var. menziesii (coastal Douglas fir) grows in the moist coastal regions of British Columbia and California.
  • Pseudotsuga menziesii var. glauca (Rocky Mountain Douglas fir) is a smaller fir that tolerates drier sites and grows throughout the Rocky Mountains, from Canada to the southwestern United States and Mexico.

Description and Identification

Coastal Douglas firs can reach hundreds of feet tall; the average height is around 250 feet, but some trees can reach up to 300 feet tall. Rocky Mountain Douglas firs are much shorter, often not reaching more than 130 feet tall. While Douglas firs also go by Douglas tree, Oregon pine, and Douglas spruce, this tree is not a fir, pine, or spruce. This can make identification challenging when you look at the needle formation and unique cones.

The cones are light brown and have unique forked bracts between the scales. These cones are nearly always intact and plentiful both on and underneath the tree. Male cones flower in the springtime and pollinate female cones, which produces seed cones in the late summer and early autumn. In the fall, the seeds are dispersed by the wind from the mature cones.

True firs have needles that are upturned and not whorled. Doug fir is not a true fir and needles are singly wrapped around the twig and between .75 to 1.25 inches long with a white line underneath. The needles are deciduous, meaning they typically fall off; are not prickly like a spruce tree's needles, and are singly whorled around the twig.


As one of the species chosen for Christmas trees, the Douglas fir is in high demand. This tree is also used for furniture, flooring, and other constructive purposes. While it can grow large over centuries, each tree is typically harvested within a century because of its wood value.

You can find protected Douglas firs in Crater Lake National Park, Oregon Caves National Park, and others.

Frequently Asked Questions
  • Where does Douglas fir grow best?

    Coastal Douglas fir trees grow in the moist, coastal regions of British Columbia and California. Rocky Mountain Douglas fir trees grow in drier, more mountainous regions, from Canada down to the southwestern United States and Mexico.

  • How fast do Douglas fir trees grow?

    Douglas fir trees often grow up to two feet per year. Some of the coastal variety can reach as tall as 300 feet.

View Article Sources
  1. Coastal Douglas fir. National Park Service. September 2017.