Glen Affric is a National Nature Reserve because of its forest of native trees, and most conservation work here is designed to encourage them. Sometimes that means removing non-native species. But at Plodda Falls, one non-native tree defines the character of the forest – and they’re so magnificent they’ve earned a place in the reserve.
Douglas fir was introduced to Scotland by the great plant hunter David Douglas in 1827.
Naturally, they grow in western North America, with related species in Mexico and Asia. They need particular conditions to grow well: plenty of water, but not too exposed, and clean air.
Lord Tweedmouth planted the trees that you can see at Plodda, which has proved a perfect site for them. Douglas fir is usually top of the list for the tallest tree in Britain and at Plodda you can see why: the mature trees are up to 59 metres / 190 feet high. You may notice numbered tags next to the largest trees: we keep records of each individual so we can monitor their growth.
Tall, healthy trees like this can make valuable timber. The wood is strong and close-grained – excellent for ships' masts, or for buildings where it must take heavy loads.
Look closely at a cone from a Douglas fir and you may see a papery bract above each scale. A native American folk tale tells of how these bracts are the tail and back legs of a mouse, which hid inside the cones during a forest fire.