No. 1: Sitka Spruce

Pseudotsuga menzesii

In 1791 the Scottish naturalist Archibald Menzies, who accompanied Captain George Vancouver on his exploration of the Northwest Coast, made note of a tree that no botanist had seen before. Fifteen years later, on March 10, 1806, Meriwether Lewis wrote in his journal:

The hunters who were over the Netull the other day informed us that they measured a pine tree, (or fir No 1) [Sitka Spruce] which at the hight of a man's breast was 42 feet in the girth about three feet higher, or as high as a tall man could reach, it was 40 feet in the girth which was about the circumpherence for at least 200 feet without a limb, and that it was very lofty above the commencement of the limbs. from the appearance of other trees of this speceis of fir and their account of this tree, I think it may be safely estimated at 300 feet. it had every appearance of being perfectly sound.

Twenty years later the Royal Horticultural Society of London sent the Scottish botanist David Douglas to the American Northwest. Douglas and his party anchored in Baker's Bay on April 7, 1825.

From The Journal Kept by David Douglas During his Travels in North America, 1823-1827. . . (London: William Wesley & Son, 1914):

they form one of the most striking and truly graceful objects in Nature. Those on the other hand which are in the dense gloomy forests, two thirds of which are composed of this species, are more than usually straight, the trunks being destitute of branches to the height of 100 to 140 feet, being in many places so close together they naturally prune themselves, and in the almost impenetrable parts where they stand at an average distance of five square feet, they frequently attain a greater height and do not exced even 18 inches in diameter close to the ground. In such places some arrive at a magnitude exceeded by few if any trees in the world generally 20 or 30 feet apart. The actual measurement of the largest was of the following dimensions: entire length 227 feet, 48 feet in circumference 3 feet above the ground, 7-1/2 feet in circumference 159 feet from the ground.

Some few even exceed that girth, but such trees do not carry their proportionate thickness to such a vast height as that above mentioned. Behind Fort George, near the confluence of the Columbia River, the old establishment of the Honourable the Hudson's Bay Company, there stands a stump of this species which measures in circumference 48 feet, 3 feet above the ground, without its bark. The tree was burned down to give place to a more useful vegetable, namely potatos.

In the memorable journey of Lewis and Clarke (p. 455), in their interesting account of the timber of that country, we find that they "measured some 42 feet in circumference, at a point beyond the reach of an ordinary man. This trunk for the distance of two hundred feet was destitute of limbs; the tree was perfectly sound, and, at a moderate calculation its size may be estimated at three hundred feet." I am most willing to bear testimony to the correctness of their statements as respects the girth of the timber, but after a two years' residence, during which time I measured any tree that appeared from its magnitude as interesting, I was unable to find any from actual measurement exceeding the height I have mentioned.


Stephen F. Arno, Northwest Trees (Seattle: The Mountaineers, 1977), pp. 67-74.