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ABIES

Image of Abies

James H. Schutte

Family

Pinaceae

Botanical Name

ABIES

Plant Common Name

Fir

General Description

Comprising some 50 tree species from cool areas of the Northern Hemisphere, firs are used worldwide for lumber, pulpwood, Christmas trees, and ornamental plants. In parts of the North Temperate Zone these coniferous evergreens are dominant forest species, important for erosion control and wildlife forage and cover.

Most firs are medium to large, conical trees with a dominant central leader. Their flattened, straight or up-curved needles sit directly on the smooth branchlets (rather than on "pegs"), typically in two opposing rows. They usually have blunt tips and two white longitudinal under-stripes. The needles often have a pleasantly pungent, resinous odor. The branches occur in regularly spaced whorls of four or five. The bark is smooth and pale on young growth, but often thick and furrowed on older trunks and branches.

These wind-pollinated trees bear separate male and female cones on the same plant. The small, oval or cylindrical male cones hang from the undersides of the upper branches. They produce so much pollen you can see it in the air. The large, erect, seed-bearing female cones perch atop the upper branches. Their scales drop in autumn, shedding the winged seeds. The axis of the shattered cone remains on the plant.

Many fir trees are economically important. White fir (Abies concolor), from the western United States, is a large tree much admired for its soft silvery needles and symmetrical habit. It is widely grown in parks and Christmas tree farms. Another popular Christmas tree, the Frasier fir ( Abies fraseri) is native to the Appalachian mountains of the southeastern United States. It bears crowded needles on stiff horizontal branches that are tightly spaced on young plants. Native to the Caucasus, Nordman fir ( Abies nordmanniana) bears short dark green needles on a tall columnar tree.

Each fir is adapted to different areas, so choose the one that matches your climate and site. Generally, firs prefer full sun and neutral to slightly acidic soils with good drainage. Most perform best in areas with cool summers. Use firs in the landscape for as screens and specimens.

Characteristics

  • Plant Type

    Needled or Scaled Evergreen

  • Sun Exposure

    Full Sun, Partial Sun

  • Native To

    North America, Europe, Asia

Growing Conditions

  • Soil pH

    Acidic, Neutral

  • Soil Drainage

    Well Drained

  • Soil type

    Loam

  • Water Requirements

    Average Water

  • Habit

    Pyramidal

  • Seasonal Interest

    Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter

Ornamental Features

  • Fragrant Flowers

    No

  • Fragrant Fruit

    No

  • Fragrant Foliage

    Yes

  • Bark or Stem Fragrant

    No

  • Repeat Bloomer

    No

  • Showy Fruit

    Yes

  • Edible Fruit

    No

  • Showy Foliage

    Yes

  • Foliage Texture

    Fine

  • Foliage Sheen

    Matte

  • Evergreen

    Yes

  • Showy Bark

    No

Special Characteristics

  • Bark Texture

    Smooth

  • Usage

    Feature Plant, Screening / Wind Break

  • Sharp or Has Thorns

    No

  • Invasive

    No

  • Self-Sowing

    No