is Oregon Pine?
Either from my rapidly advancing years, or my
misspent youth in the 60’s or a combination
thereof, I find I can be easily confused. Case in
point, my wife and I recently volunteered to be tour
guides in the Gamble house in Pasadena. I always
thought of myself as a knowledgeable wood-guy and
while I am continuously learning new things (as I’m
sure all you fellow wood-guys are) some things I
felt I knew pretty well.
I have been an amateur woodworker (and a
part-time pro as a young man) for my entire life.
Since I grew up in a heavily forested town in the
wilds of Oregon, I’m sure you can understand my
confusion when I was handed my docent training
manual for the Gamble house and found that the
alternate name of my beloved Douglas Fir was Oregon
Pine. I was more that a bit befuddled. I had never
heard of Oregon Pine and I am a Wood-guy and an
I have spent many hours in the forestry pavilion
just outside of Portland. This was built to replace
the worlds largest log cabin that was lost to fire
in 1964. The huge building and its amazing forestry
exhibits were built for the Lewis and Clark
exposition in 1905 from massive Douglas Fir trees.
They said they could have build 27 three bedroom
homes from the wood used in that one room building.
My parents took friends from out of town, so many
times, even at 12 years old I felt an extreme loss
when I found out it was gone.
In my docent class I was stunned and extremely
honored to meet and converse with the renowned
woodworker and master craftsman Jim Ipekjian. He
informed me that in reviewing the plans for the
Gamble house, the structural
members were called out as OP (Oregon Pine).
Douglas the botanist, whom the tree was named after,
was not as common a name in 1907.
Somehow my brain played one of it’s many tricks
on me and turned this information into an elaborate
story about Douglas and how he was not alive in
1907, so no one had heard of Douglas fir at that
It was true that David Douglas was not alive in
1907, because he fell in a hole and died in 1834. He
was exploring in Hawaii and didn’t see the animal
trap, dug by the locals. He was 35 at the time.
I happened to be pondering this information when
I was in front of my computer and decided that I
should verify the story, I was so quick to tell to
my fellow classmates. Imagine my embarrassment when
I realized my error.
I contacted the research department at UCLA
Library and asked if they could find out when the
name "Douglas fir" was first given to that
species of tree.
They informed me that the genus pseudotsuga
false Tsuga) was given to the tree by the French
botanist Elie-Abel Carrière in 1867. This was when
his most important work Traité
Général des Conifères which
was originally published in 1855, was extensively
Unfortunately they were unable to find out when
the name Douglas Fir was first used. They did refer
me to two sources. One was the oldest reference they
were able to find:
Wing, Chas. B. Source: Engineering News, March
Abstract: Transverse tests of strength of the
Douglas fir, by Prof. Chas. B. Wing. (See also
criticism by Prof. J. B. Johnson.-Eng. News, March
The second reference was for a book they did not
have access to, but that was published on the
history of the Douglas fir and was associated with
the Forestry Resources Department at Oregon State
I contacted Dr. Edward C. Jensen at this
department in OSU and he was able to shed a bit more
light on the subject.
He was apologetic in that he was also not able to
find the date the name was first given to this
species of tree, but he explained how this would not
be that unusual. It appears that common names are
often like nicknames. Someone starts calling
something by the name and it sticks.
Dr. Jensen informed me that there were over 20
different scientific names given to this particular
species of tree and that the epithet menziesii
finally established in 1950.
Part of the difficulty with finding the actual
date is in that Douglas fir is not actually a fir
tree at all. To be a true fir the genus must be Abies,
fir is in the Pinaceae
so it is actually a pine.
This would seem to imply that the honorific was
not bestowed by a botanist (one of the scientific
names was pseudotsuga douglasii) but probably was
used by the people in Europe that received the
plants as a result of one of Douglas’s
expeditions, calling it Douglas’s fir trees.
There is a rather low and common expression used
to describe people like me who go to this much
trouble to be accurate. Personally I like to think
of myself as being careful, not the other name.