Growing up on an orchard, I have always been interested in trees. So, when I saw a new book about the history of the Douglas fir in our new holiday book lineup, I knew I had to check it out.
That book, “Douglas Fir: The Story of the West’s Most Remarkable Tree” by Stephen Arno and Carl Fiedler sheds new light on a well-known tree. These authors have the credentials and expertise working with trees to tell an enthusiastic history — and possible future — of this staple of the Northwest. Arno has a doctorate in forestry and plant science and is retired from being a research forester with the U.S. Forest Service; Fiedler is retired from teaching at the University of Montana and has a doctorate in forestry and ecology.
Going into the book, I was unprepared for how many new and interesting facts i was about to learn about this conifer. The authors start with the general history of the tree, from its first written descriptions from naturalists in 1791 to its finally-settled-on scientific name in 1950. The book focuses on both the inland and coastal varieties of the tree, which can reach heights of 300 feet.
One of the more surprising facts about this tree is its range, from British Columbia all the way to the mountains in Mexico. One possible reason for this diversity of region is that the tree has 13 pairs of chromosomes instead of 12, which is common in most other conifer species.
The role the tree has had in shaping the Northwest is also mentioned. From logging to shipbuilding, it is almost impossible to tell our history without mentioning this amazing tree.
The authors go on to discuss the organisms in the forest that Douglas firs have a partnership with, helping it get nutrients, further its height and provide a long life, from lichen in its canopy that help with acquiring nitrogen to fungi found only below these trees that help with nutrient transfer.
The book also mentions the many uses that Native people have had for Douglas fir wood, needles, branches and pitch for thousands of years.
The authors also touch on the importance of regular fires to help keep a forest healthy, and how Douglas firs are affected by this.
By far my favorite part of the book is at the end, where the authors list several noteworthy Douglas firs that you can visit across Canada, the Western U.S. and Mexico. One of the closest to us is the Grove of the Patriarchs near Packwood. These are trees that retain the height and width of pre-European Douglas firs. Another site I plan to visit is the Staircase Area of Olympic National Park that has 5- to 9-foot thick trees at 200 feet tall.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. The authors present the information with clarity and passion, and the self-contained chapters made it an ideal book to pick up when I have a few minutes to spare. This is a great book for those interested in the history of the Northwest, or ecology. I would definitely recommend it as a great Christmas gift for anyone who loves trees.
• “Douglas Fir: The Story of the West’s Most Remarkable Tree” by Stephen F. Arno and Carl E. Fiedler was published by Mountaineers Books on Oct. 1. It retails for $21.95.
• Rachel Fowler works for Inklings Bookshop. She and other Inklings staffers review books in Thursday’s SCENE section every week.