A Portland Heritage Tree
There is a reason why this native fir tree – Abies grandis – is called “grand”. Grand firs may be the tallest Abies species in the world, typically reaching a height between 131′ – 229′. Pier Park is graced by a single grand fir tree located at the junction of two trails just up the hill south of the covered picnic area. Our tree reaches 167 feet, has a diameter of 53 inches and a spread of 34 feet. The health and grandness of our tree earned it the distinction in 2018 as a Portland Heritage Tree! Look for the marker on its trunk.
The grand fir is native to the Pacific NW and Northern California at altitudes of sea level to 5100′. Also called the Lowland Fir, it is the only fir in our area commonly found in lower elevations. Unlike the well known Douglas fir, grand firs are true firs. One distinguishing feature of a true fir is the cone which sits upright on the branch. It’s unlikely you’ll find a grand fir cone on the ground, because the cones fall apart at maturity, dispersing the winged seeds and leaving a cone core spike on the branch. You might see some of these scales at the tree’s base.
The aromatic properties of grand fir were important in many of its uses by indigenous tribes. The needles were boiled to make a medicinal tea for colds. Boughs were brought inside as an air freshener and burned as incense and to make a purifying smoke to ward off illnesses. Dried, crushed needles have been used as baby powder and the inner bark of the grand fir was also used by some for treating colds and fevers. (1)
Grand fir trees are nesting and feeding sites for a variety of aboreal animals including the endangered northern spotted owl and marbled murrelet. 1 The majority of pileated woodpecker roost trees in northeastern Oregon were grand fir, both live and dead. The needles are a major part of the diet of grouse and the seeds are eaten by squirrels, other rodents and birds such as nuthatches and chickadees. (2)
Commercially, the soft wood of grand fir is a valued source of pulpwood for paper making, plywood and packing crates. And for many people, the deep green shiny foliage and strong, aromatic “fir” fragrance has made it the centerpiece in many homes during the Christmas holiday – as it is the preferred species of Christmas trees grown in the Northwest.
As evergreens go, the grand fir may be one of the shortest-lived, rarely living beyond 250 years. This gives our humble and stately tree at least another century or more to grace our park.