Have you ever wondered about the differences between pine and Douglas fir trees? Like most evergreens, they can be challenging to tell apart if you’re new to tree identification. However, once you know what to look for, you’ll find that they are easy to differentiate. Read on to learn more about the major physical differences of these two trees.
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Is Douglas Fir Stronger Than Pine?
Douglas firs are in the same family as pines and other evergreens, so they are somewhat related to each other. That said, they belong to different genera, so they have plenty of differences as well.
Both of these trees are considered softwoods, but Douglas fir wood is generally stronger than pine wood. Some variations exist between the different types of pine, but nearly all of them are lighter and less dense than Douglas fir; thus, they do not bear weight quite as well.
Differences Between Pine and Douglas Fir
Aside from wood strength, pine and Douglas fir have many other differences as well. Though they may look similar to an untrained observer, it’s easy to tell them apart once you know what you’re looking for.
Let’s take a closer look at these differences.
Douglas fir trees have distinctive and highly recognizable cones. They are typically between one and four inches long, tan to light brown in color, and they have segmented bracts hanging down from the scales.
These bracts look somewhat like small oak or maple leaves; they have also been compared to the back half of a mouse, with the longer segment of each bract resembling a tail and the shorter segments looking like legs.
Meanwhile, pine tree pine cones come in various shapes and sizes depending on the specific variety. They are generally rounded in shape and, in some species, can grow up to 23 inches long.
While cone variations can often be used to tell different types of pine apart, the distinctive appearance of Douglas fir cones makes them easily identifiable and is one of the features that sets them apart from other evergreens, including pines.
Check out this video for a great close-up visual of Douglas fir pine cones, as well as the needles, bark, and overall tree shape:
Douglas firs and pines both have needle-like foliage, as do other evergreens; but the length, shape, and arrangement of the needles is quite different between the species.
Douglas fir needles are relatively short, flat, and grow oppositely from each stem, giving the branches a flat brush-like appearance. They are dark green in color, and each needle comes to a soft, rounded point at the end.
Pine needles are usually much longer and more needle-like, though they are sometimes flat on one side. They differ from Douglas firs in that they grow in clusters from the stem, with each cluster containing up to five needles.
Clusters may grow in different patterns or groupings depending on the pine species; some curve upward, while most hang downward. They range from light to dark green in color.
The next time you’re trying to identify an evergreen, if you’re not sure whether you’re looking at a pine tree or a Douglas fir, taking a good look at the needles may provide the answer.
We’ve already established that Douglas fir wood is denser and stronger than pine wood. But the two types of wood also look quite different.
Douglas fir wood is generally reddish-brown, darker toward the heartwood. Its grain may be straight or a little bit wavy, and its texture is coarse.
Pine wood colors vary from species to species, but most are pale yellow with light brown heartwood. The grain is usually straight and the texture may be medium to very coarse.
Douglas fir trees are extremely fire-resistant thanks to their thick, corky bark. The bark tends to grow in chunky layers; some of the layers are dark brown, while others are lighter in color with a spongy, cork-like texture.
Younger trees have thinner, more gray-colored bark; however, on older trees, the bark darkens and becomes deeply fissured, and it may grow as thick as 14 inches.
Pine bark can also grow quite thick in some species, though other species have much thinner bark. It generally has a more scaly, flaky appearance and is not as fire-resistant as Douglas fir bark.
Even the overall shape of the tree can give you clues as to whether you’re looking at a pine or a Douglas fir.
Douglas firs can grow extremely tall, especially those in coastal regions of the western United States. They can live for hundreds of years, and some have grown between 300 and 400 feet tall.
Even the very tallest Douglas fir trees maintain a classic, Christmas tree-like shape. In fact, smaller varieties of this tree are commonly grown on farms and sold as Christmas trees.
Pine trees come in many different shapes, but they often have an irregular, brushy appearance–like large, rough lollipops. Their canopies are more rounded, whereas Douglas fir trees have a more pointed canopy.
Both types of trees can grow tall, but most pines are smaller than coastal Douglas firs. Depending on species, pines vary in height as well as appearance, but they can grow up to 260 feet tall.
If the tree you’re identifying has a more Christmas tree-like shape with a pointed top, it is probably a Douglas fir. If it is more rounded on top, with an irregular canopy, it’s most likely a pine.
As you can see, there are many differences between Douglas firs and pine trees. Douglas fir is stronger and denser than pine wood, making it a more useful and versatile lumber.
In addition, Douglas firs have shorter, flatter needles arranged singly along branches, while pine trees have clusters of needles arranged in clumps. Their pine cones are also more unique in appearance.
Finally, Douglas fir trees are usually larger with a more classic shape, while pine trees are generally more rounded and irregular.