The recent entry on Rocky Mountain Douglas-fir reminded me that we had yet to feature its iconic relative, coast Douglas-fir. What better tree to represent the taxon than Canada’s second-largest coast Douglas-fir, Big Lonely Doug?
These photographs are from last weekend, when we took our second-annual year-end trip to Vancouver Island with the Horticulture Training Program students. We bill it as a “Big Trees and Garry Oak Meadows” weekend (with a visit to the Hatley Castle Gardens to start). The big day was Saturday, when we visited the Port Renfrew area for big trees and Botanical Beach; if you examine this map and brochure, we visited all of the sites except the world’s largest Douglas-fir and the world’s largest member of the Pinaceae (or pine family), the Red Creek fir (due to vehicle limitations). Big Lonely Doug wasn’t on the official itinerary, but my arm was twisted, the weather was decent, and people were willing to delay their supper. You may be able to see a few of the students in the colour photograph.
The tale of Big Lonely Doug–how it was saved, and what it represents in the preservation of old-growth forests–is being made into a book by Harley Rustad (publication: September 2018): Big Lonely Doug: The Story of One of Canada’s Last Great Trees. Fortunately, the book is an expansion of an exceptional long-form essay by Rustad, which you can (must?) read here (via The Walrus): Big Lonely Doug: How a single tree, and the logger who saved it, have changed the way we see British Columbia’s old-growth forests. For additional photographs of Big Lonely Doug, the Ancient Forest Alliance has a photoessay on Climbing Big Lonely Doug.
Coast Douglas-fir is distributed from British Columbia to California, with an appearance in Nevada (the bright green portion of this map; the other colour is the Rocky Mountain Douglas-fir). Where the two taxa co-occur, they intergrade (hybridize). E-Flora BC has an identification key for the two varieties; coast Douglas-fir cones are longer, the cone bracts are straight or appressed, and the foliage is typically a deep green.
The coast Douglas-fir is also taller than its interior counterpart. In fact, there is some evidence to suggest that coast Douglas-fir may have been the tallest trees to ever exist (yes, taller even than the current record holder, coast redwoods). The tallest extant tree is Hyperion, measuring 115.92m (380.3 ft.). However, the Conifers.org site (linked in previous paragraph) has this tale:
Historical records identify much larger and taller trees. Such records are always subject to question, but some were collected by professional foresters and scientists and are likely quite reliable. For example, a tree near Mineral, Washington was measured at 68.6m (225 feet) tall in 1924, at which time its top, which had broken off many years before and was on the ground, was measured at 48.8m (160 feet), indicating a total height of at least 117.3 m (385 feet). This tree was 469cm (15.4 feet) dbh. It was blown down in 1930 and a section of it can be seen at the Wind River Arboretum in Carson, Washington (Carder 1995). The measurements were made by Richard McCardle and Leo Isaac, both highly qualified and widely published forest scientists of the day.
You can read more about perhaps the tallest trees that ever existed on the Vancouver Island Big Trees weblog: Douglas-fir: Tallest Tree In The World?, including one story of a 142m (465 ft.) coast Douglas-fir!