The Douglas Fir and the Mouse

A Douglas fir cone with its “mouse tails.”
A Douglas fir cone with its “mouse tails.”

Have you ever been walking in the forest and seen a cone, and wondered what tree it was from? This happens to me all the time. Sometimes it can be difficult to identify conifers (cone-bearing trees) because their branches can start very high up and it’s hard to get a good look at their needles; many of them have similar bark; and they don’t produce flowers, which can often be a key identifying characteristic. So instead of looking up, I look down and try to find cones that help me identify the trees around me. One cone that’s easy to identify is that of a Douglas fir.

Legend says that a long time ago there was a large fire in the forests of the west. Many animals were running around frantically trying to escape the flames. Tiny mice, not fast enough to outrun the fire, were trying to find shelter in various trees. The mice approached many trees asking for their help and were continuously denied. Finally they approached the large and mighty Douglas fir tree and asked if they could take shelter amongst its branches. The Douglas fir agreed to help the mice and allowed them to hide in its cones. The mice survived the fire, and to this day, if you examine a Douglas fir cone you can see the tails of the mice sticking out of the scales of a cone.

Hopefully next time you are in the forest you can easily identify the cone of a Douglas fir and additionally have a great story to tell family, friends, and young forest explorers.

If you have any other tricks for plant identification please let us know.  

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About Deborah Zierten


Deborah joined the League's staff in 2013 as the Education & Interpretation Manager. She brings with her extensive experience teaching science, developing curriculum and connecting kids to the natural world.

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