Pseudotsuga macrocarpa, commonly called the bigcone spruce or bigcone Douglas-fir, is an evergreen conifer native to the mountains of southern California, It is notable for having the largest (by far) cones in the genus Pseudotsuga, hence the name.

The tree occurs from the San Rafael Mountains in central Santa Barbara County and the Tehachapi Mountains of southwestern Kern County, south through the Transverse Ranges, to the Cuyamaca Mountains in San Diego County. The tree is shade-tolerant and prefers to grow on slopes.

Pseudotsuga macrocarpa typically grows from 15–30 m (49–98 ft) in height and 56–155 cm (1 ft 10 in–5 ft 1 in) in trunk diameter.[6] The growth form is straight, with a conical crown from 12–30 m (39–98 ft) broad, and a strong and spreading root system. The bark is deeply ridged, composed of thin, woodlike plates separating heavy layers of cork; bark of trees over 1 m (3.3 ft) in diameter is from 15–20 cm (5.9–7.9 in) thick. The main branches are long and spreading with pendulous side shoots.

The leaves are needle-like, 2.5–4.5 cm (0.98–1.77 in) long, are shed when about 5 years old. The female cones are from 11–17 cm (4.3–6.7 in) long,[4] larger and with thicker scales than those of other douglas-firs, and with exserted tridentine bracts. The seeds are large and heavy, 10 mm long and 8 mm broad, with a short rounded wing 13 mm long;[4] they may be bird or mammal dispersed as the wing is too small to be effective for wind dispersal. Trees start producing seeds at about 20 years of age.

The largest known individual of this species is 53 m (174 ft) tall, 231 cm (91 in) in diameter, and is estimated to be from 600 to 700 years of age.

Observations Map

Pseudotsuga macrocarpa is restricted to the California montane chaparral and woodlands and California coastal sage and chaparral ecoregions of California. It prefers a Mediterranean climate, characterized by hot dry summers and wet, mild winters. Annual rainfall during a 30-year period on a bigcone Douglas-fir site in the San Gabriel Mountains averaged 75 cm (30 in) and ranged from 25–125 cm (9.8–49.2 in).

Bigcone Douglas-fir occurs between 300–2,700 m (980–8,860 ft). At low elevation, it occurs near streams in moist, shaded canyons and draws where aspects are mostly north and east. At elevations from 1,350–1,700 m (4,430–5,580 ft), aspects include south- and east-facing slopes. At these elevations, it also grows on sloping hillsides, ridges, and benches. At higher elevations, it occurs on south and west aspects on all types of terrain. The average angle of slope on which it grows is 35 degrees, ranging from level to 90 degrees, although these extremes are uncommon.

Pseudotsuga macrocarpa, has several features to tolerate and survive wildfire, notably the very thick bark, and the presence of numerous adventitious buds on the upper side of the branches; this enables the trees to survive even crown fires which burn off all the branchlets, the apparently dead trees becoming green again the following spring. Wildfire frequencies in the chaparral habitats in which it often grows typically range from 15-50 year intervals. Bigcone Douglas-fir is closely associated with canyon live oak (Quercus chrysolepis) and often establishes itself in its shade; after about 50 years, it emerges above the oak canopy.

Pseudotsuga macrocarpa populations are suspected to be declining due to possibly larger and more extreme wildland fires with greater frequencies. Major wildfires within its range, since 2003, have clearly proven a reduced extent when compared to early 1930s extents derived from historical aerial photos. Although historical information has provided the opportunity to detect stand level patch changes, post-fire resprouting of older more mature trees and natural regeneration and recruitment of the species into higher canopy has yet to be adequately quantified.

One tree species in direct competition with bigcone is Calocedrus decurrens, with preliminary post-fire regeneration of this species exponentially greater than bigcone. After 1 or 2 years after the Station fire in 2009 on the Angeles National Forest, there was an estimated 20:1 cedar:bigcone seedling density in fixed radius plots on Mount Wilson. It may be more appropriate to perform population stability estimates up to 5 yrs or much later (i.e. 20 yrs) after a large conflagration due to the potential for immediate and delayed post-fire sprouting and regeneration and interplant competition, as well as the well-noted strategy of seed germination in shrub understories, which is likely to escape detection by surveyors until much later in its life.

Research related to the role of mycorrhizae and its relationship to seed establishment needs evaluating in these vegetation communities due to the suspected role it has with the relationship with water, especially in water-limited systems such as those in the wildlands of southern California. In addition, an aggressive seed cone collection strategy should be drafted for this species which includes extensive collection during large cone production years such as 2013, and should include a tracking system to determine correlations to climatic conditions in order to develop a foundation from which to perform species viability assessments w/ varying future climate scenarios.

This tree is being considered for more extensive plantings in semiarid locales. Its favorable qualities include resistance to drought, fire, insects, decay, and damage from ozone, and its aggressive rooting system and tolerance to variable growing medium. The needles of older trees sometimes fade to yellow, drop, and trees appear dead only to sprout with renewed vigor within 2 years. The reason is unknown, although drought or insects may be possible causes.

Bigcone Douglas-fir stands provide habitat for black-tailed deer, black bear, and various small animals. These trees provide preferred spring habitat for black bear in the San Bernardino Mountains.

The seeds are eaten by various rodents and birds.

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