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Pacific Northwest Native – The Legend of the Douglas-Fir
The iconic Douglas-Fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) is a symbol of the Pacific Northwest. It spans the west coast from Canada to California and eastward from the Coast Ranges to the Rocky Mountains. Douglas fir is the distinguished state tree of Oregon. When visiting Burney McArthur Falls several years ago I first heard the story of the legend of the Doulas-Fir cone and it fast became a favorite fable.
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There are different narratives of the well-known tale, but each has the same ending. My favorite version told by indigenous people of the Pacific Northwest says that a long time ago there was a great forest fire. All of the tiny mice were unable to outrun the flames so they stopped to asked the trees of the forest for help. The big-leaf maple, red cedar and other trees were unable to help. The giant Douglas-Fir offered protection. The trees told the mice to climb up their thick, fire-resistant trunks and hide under the scales of their cones for safety. The mice took shelter inside the cones, and survived the flames of the fire. And even today – if you observe the cones of a Douglas-Fir closely – you can see the little hind feet and tails of the mice sticking out from beneath the scales of the cones.
Even when the cones are not visible, the Douglas-Fir has several other identifying features. Needles – the needles are soft with blunt tips (unlike the sharp needles of spruce) and they stick out in all directions around the twig to resemble a bottlebrush. Buds – unique buds that are pointy, reddish-brown and papery. Bark – the bark is thick, textured and deeply furrowed, and is gray to brown in color. Cones – when the cones are present they hang down rather than stand up on the branch. The cones have three-pointed bracts sticking out of the scales that look like the hind feet and tail of a mouse.
One more fun fact about this remarkable tree - It’s not really a fir tree at all, and as botanists attempted to classify this tree, its scientific name was changed 21 times. Although it shares characteristics with other conifers such as pine, hemlock and spruce, this remarkable tree is in a class all it’s own. I hope you’re able to get out and enjoy this Pacific Northwest Legend.
#coniferlove #oregon #pacificnorthwestlegend
January 24, 2020
I wish I knew the origin of this beloved story so that I could share it with you. As I said, my first exposure to the legend was signage inside the McArthur Burney Falls State Park. Best wishes in your search for its origin!
January 19, 2020
Just wondering if you have a reference for the story about the mice and pine cone. I have been looking for a more specific source than indigenous people or the “Native Americans of the PNW” kind of tag and keep coming up short.
Thanks for your time!
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Many in-person Earth Day events have been canceled again this year due to COVID-19, but that doesn’t mean we can’t show the Earth some love. Check out these three things you can do.