Douglas Describes His Fir

The following is the combined text of the two Douglas manuscripts treating Douglas-fir as published in Appendix VIII of Douglas' Journal. Some additional notes and comments are added:

1. Pinus Douglasii. Foliis solitariis planis subdistichis, strobilis ovatis pendulis, bracteolis exsertis, 3-cuspidatis.7 Sabine in Trans. Hort. Soc. Vol.8 Flowers in April and May, fruit ripe in September.9 Leaves solitary, flat, entire, imperfectly two-ranked, blunt at the apex, dark shining green above, glaucous underneath, about an inch long. Common filament erect, shorter than the bractea. Another reniform, inflated, destitute of a crest, having instead a blunt, short entire point. Bractea nearly round, concave, densely ciliated or fringed.10 Female catkin, erect, sessile, oblong or elliptic, one inch long, of a bright pink colour. Bractea lineaer-oblong, ciliate, tricuspidate, persistent, very long.11 Cone sessile, ovate, pointed, pendulous in clusters at the extremities of the twigs, two to two and a half inches long, one and a half of an inch in diameter. Scales orbicular, ciliate, slightly notched near the base, entire at the apex, soft and velvety to the touch, fuscous [brownish-green], the bractea of a glossy reddish tint and exserted beyond the scale five-eights of an inch.

Male (left) and female (right) cones of lodgepole pine

a cluster of brown spikes (male)and a tight-leaved pinecone (female)

© 2000 by James L. Reveal

Seeds small, pointed at the base, widening upwards, brown, wing pointed, broad and large in proportion to the seed.12


7. This translates to "Needles solitary in approximately a row on each side of the branch, cones ovate, pendulous, bractlets exserted, 3-pointed." A 3-pointed cone bract is unique to Pseudotsuga, and allows ready identification of the genus. Although Douglas gives a far more lengthy description in English in the following paragraphs, the presentation of a Latin diagnosis or description was often added for the benefit of those who did not read English. The rules governing modern botanical nomenclature now requires a Latin diagnosis (a brief statement of how the new plant differs from its near relatives) or a Latin description (Douglas gave a brief description).

8. No such paper was published.

9. Conifers lack flowers, a feature unique to the flowering plants or the angiosperms (Magnoliophyta). The conifers (Pinophyta) have male and female strobuli or cone-like structures that individually produce pollen (male) or ovules (immature seeds, female). This technical distinction was not known to Douglas, or even understood fully until the end of the nineteenth century. Also, the life cycle of Douglas-fir is far more complex than Douglas could ascertain, so that in April and May, pollen is released and only in September do the seeds reach a point in their development that they can be removed from the cone.

10. This section describes the bracts of male strobilus and the stalk (or rachis) that holds of bracts.

11. This section describes the immature female strobilus at or just after pollen is released from the male strobilus. This structure eventually becomes the cone.

12. See volume two of Flora of North America for a modern description, illustrations and distribution map of Douglas-fir. (Click on "Online Treatments," then "Gymnosperms," then "Pinaceae." Scroll down and click on "Pseudotsuga.")