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Abies {the Firs} Study of Trees -21

Updated on November 14, 2014

Abies or Fir trees



This is the twenty first in the series A Study of Trees, where the aim is to help those who want to recognize trees , but are unsure of the species. here we look at the genus Abies and with the aid of descriptive text and images the reader will be much more able to identify the trees.

Abies are a genus of around 50 species of evergreen coniferous trees of the Pine family Pinaceae and the order of trees known as the Pinales. Abies is the classical name for the Fir Tree. They are found throughout much of North America, Central America, Europe,Asia and North Africa.

They are commonly referred to as Firs and are most closely related to the Cedrus {Cedars}. Incidentally the Douglas Firs are not true Firs being of the Genus Psuedotsuga.

General information about the Genus Abies

They are tall pyramidal trees,with bark which contains numerous resin-vesicles,smooth pale and and thin on young trees, often deeply furrowed and thick in old age,the wood itself is pale and brittle.

They have slender, horizontal wide spreading branches in regular remote four or five branched whorls,clothed with two or three forked lateral branches topped masses of foliage gradually narrowed from the apex of the branch.They have small globose or oblong winter branch buds,usually thickly covered with resin,or in some species are large and acute,with thin loosely imbricated scales.

The leaves are linear stalk-less,on young plants and on lower striate branches,flattened and mostly grooved on the upper side,or in one species four sided ,rounded and usually emarginate at the apex,appearing two-ranked by a twist near the base or occasionally spreading from all sides of the branch only, rarely stomatiferous above,on upper fertile branches and leading shoots usually crowded,more or less erect,often in-curved or falcate.

The leaves usually persist for between eight and ten years and in falling leave small circular scars.

The flowers are axillary,from buds formed the previous season on branchlets of the year,surrounded at the base by conspicuous involucres of enlarged bud scales, the staminate very abundant on the lower side of the branches above the middle of the tree,oval or oblong cylindrical,with yellow or scarlet anthers surmounted by projections,the pistillate usually on the upper side only on the top most branches,or in some species scattered also over the upper half of the tree,erect,globose,ovoid or oblong cylindrical,their scales imbricated in many species.

The fruit an erect ovoid or oblong cylindrical cone, its scales thin,in-curved at the broad apex and generally narrowed below into long stipes,decreasing in size and sterile towards the end of the cone,falling at maturity with their bracts and seeds from the stout tapering axis of the cone, the cone is long persistent on the branch.

Abies frasier { Fraser Fir}


Branch of A.frasier

originally appeared on Flickr uploaded to Commons by MPF.
originally appeared on Flickr uploaded to Commons by MPF. | Source

Abies frasieri Cone

uploaded to Commons by MPF.
uploaded to Commons by MPF. | Source

The species commencing with Abies frasieri

Abies frasier is a native North American Fir to most of north eastern United States, Minnesota east to Maine and south to the Appalachian Mountains to West Virginia, and most of eastern and central Canada.

Because this is an evergreen tree we commence with a description of the foliage. The leaves are obtusely,short,pointed,or occasionally emarginate { having a shallow notch at the tip of the leaf} at the apex. They are dark green and lustrous on the upper surface,marked on the lower surface by wide bands of eight to twelve rows of stomata { pours on the surface used to 'exchange gasses'.

The leaves are needle like half to one inches long . They are arranged spirally on the shoot, but with the leaf bases twisted to appear in two,more or less,horizontal rows.

The flowers are staminate { having stamens,but no carpels 'male'},yellow tinged with red. Pistillate { having pistills but no anthers} , with scales rounded above,much broader than long and shorter than their oblong pale yellow-green bracts rounded at the broad apex terminating in a slender elongated tip.

The fruit {cones} oblong-ovate {egg shaped} or nearly oval,a rounded and somewhat narrowed apex,dark purple,pubescent { covered by a fine white down},they are about two and a half inches long. At maturity nearly half covered with pale green-yellow reflexed bracts.The seeds have dark lustrous wings much expanded and very oblique.{ slanted}.

It is a tree usually forty feet in height rarely they are encountered as tall as seventy feet. the trunk occasionally two and a half feet in diameter. the branches are rather rigid forming an open symmetrical pyramid and often disappearing early from the lower half of the trunk,and the stout branchlets pubescent for three to four years,pale yellow brown during the first season, becoming dark reddish brown often tinged with purple,and obtuse orange brown winter buds.

The trunk has bark between half and three quarters of an inch thick,covered with thin,closely appressed bright cinnamon red scales,generally becoming grey on older trees. This species is occasionally planted in parks and gardens. However, it is short-lived in cultivation and of little use as an ornamental tree.

The tree was named after John Fraser {1750-1811}, a Scottish botanist. It is sometimes referred to as the Balsam Fir or She balsam causing confusion with the next species under review. The tree has been widely used as a Christmas tree due to its needle retention.

Abies frasieri engraving

Southern Wild Flowers and Trees--Alice Lounsberry. Engraving by Ellis Rowan
Southern Wild Flowers and Trees--Alice Lounsberry. Engraving by Ellis Rowan | Source

Abies balsamea The Balsam Fir

This species is closely related to the above species it is some times referred to as being a sub-species Abies frasieri balsamea.

the foliage of this species is dark green and lustrous on the upper surface,silvery white below, with four to eight rows of stomata. {Pours on the surface},on cone bearing branches,a little larger on sterile branches of young trees,a straight ,acute or acuminate {gathered together},with short or elongated rigid callous tips,spreading at nearly right angles to the branch on young trees and sterile branches, on the upper branches of older trees often broadest above the middle, rounded or obtusely short pointed at the apex,occasionally emarginate on branches at the top of the tree. { having a shallow notch at the tip }

Abies balsamea, Branch and foliage

Courtesy of Robert H Mohlenbrock   USDA- NRCS Plant Data Base USA
Courtesy of Robert H Mohlenbrock USDA- NRCS Plant Data Base USA | Source

Mature cones

Forestry Images { Bugwood Network }
Forestry Images { Bugwood Network } | Source

Pollen cones

USDA Forest Service
USDA Forest Service | Source

Flowers and fruit

The flowers,staminate,yellow more or less tinged with reddish purple. Pistillate with nearly orbicular purple scales which are much shorter than their oblong-ovate serrulate {minutely toothed or notched} pale yellow -green bracts emarginate with broad apex abruptly contracted into a slender recurred tip.

The Fruit { Cones} are oblong-cylindrical gradually narrowed to a rounded apex,pubescent,dark rich purple two to four inches long,with scales usually longer than broad,generally more than twice as long,The seeds are about a quarter of an inch long and rather shorter than their light brown wings.

The tree has spreading branches forming an handsome symmetrical open broad-based pyramid, the lower branches soon dying from trees crowded in a forest,and slender branchlets pale yellow green and coated with a fine pubescent at first becoming light grey tinged with red,and, often when four or five years old with purple.

The winter buds are nearly globose,with lustrous dark orange-green scales. The bark on old trees often half an inch thick,rich brown,much broken on the surface into small plates covered with scales. The wood is light and soft,not strong,coarse grained,perishable, pale brown streaked with yellow,with a thick lighter coloured sap wood. from the bark of this tree 'oil of fir' is produced and used in the arts and in medicine.

There are now thought to be two varieties of this tree Abies balsamea var balsamea which has bracts sub-tending { has a bud or similar part growing in the axil},seed scales short and not visible on the closed cone. Abies balsamea var phaererolepis the Bracted Fir or Canaan Fir,bracts sub-tending seed scales longer,and visible on the closed cone. The name Canaan Fir alludes to the Canaan Valley in Wets Virginia it has a more northern range than the former variety.

Abies balsamea

Courtesy of Joseph O'Brien USDA Forest Service uploaded to Commons by MPF
Courtesy of Joseph O'Brien USDA Forest Service uploaded to Commons by MPF | Source

Foliage from above


Foliage from below


Abies amabilis White Fir { Pacific Fir}

This species is now referred to as the Pacific Silver Fir it is a tree native to the Pacific North West of North America. It occurs in the Pacific Coast Ranges and the Cascade Range from the extreme south east of Alaska, through western British Columbia,Washington and Oregon ,to the extreme north west of California.

The leaves are deep grooved,very dark green and lustrous on the upper surface,silvery white below, with broad bands of six to eight rows of stomata between the prominent midribs and recurved margins,on sterile branches obtuse and rounded, or notched occasionally acute at the apex,wide, often broadest above the middle,erect by a twist at their base very crowded, those on the upper side of the branch,much shorter than those on the lower,and usually parallel with and closely appressed against it. On fertile branches acute or acuminate,with callous tips,occasionally stomatiferous on the upper surface near the apex half to three quarters of an inch long,on vigorous leading shoots acute with long rigid points closely appressed or recurved near the middle.

The shoots are orange red with a dense velvety pubescence. The bark of younger trees is light grey, thin ,covered with resin blisters.On older trees it darkens and develops scales and furrows.

Bark of the Pacific Fir


Pacific Silver Fir flowers and fruits.

The flowers are Staminate,red, pistillate withj broad rounded scales and rhombie dark purple lustrous bracts erose above the middle and gradually contracted into broad points. The fruits {cones} are on long,slightly narrowed to the rounded and often retuse apex.They are a deep rich purple, pubescent three and a half to six inches long,with scales one to one and one eighth inches wide, nearly as long as broad,gradually narrowed from the rounded apex and rather more than twice as long as their reddish rhombic or oblong -obovate bracts terminating in long slender tips.

The seeds are light yellow brown half an inch long with oblique pale brown lustrous wings about three quarters of an inch long.

This tree is often two hundred and fifty feet tall, or at high altitudes and in the north of its range usually not more than seventy to eighty feet in height. In close forest often naked for one hundred feet or so , but in open situations densely clothed to the ground, with comparatively short branches sweeping down in graceful curves,and stout branchlets clothed for four to five years with soft fine down,light orange brown in their first season, becoming dark purple and ultimately reddish brown.

The winter buds are nearly globose about quarter of an inch thick,with close lustrous purple scales.The bark on trees up to fifteen years old is thin,smooth,,pale or silvery white . near the ground on older trees the bark become one and half to two and a half inches thick and irregularly divided into comparatively small plates covered with small closely appressed reddish-brown,or reddish grey scales.

It is occasionally cultivated as an ornamental tree in the west,but without developing the beauty which distinguishes it in its native forests.

Pacific Silver Fir

Uploaded to Commons By MPF
Uploaded to Commons By MPF | Source

Foliage from above


Foliage from below


Abies grandis cones

USDA Forestry Service
USDA Forestry Service | Source

Abies grandis

This species is also referred to as the Western White Fir, Vancouver Fir, or Oregon Fir,among other common names. The Grand Fir another of its alternative names was first described by Scottish Botanist David Douglas,who in 1831 collected specimens of the tree along the Columbia River in the Pacific North West.

It is a tree that attains the height of two hundred and fifty to three hundred feet high with a slightly tapering trunk often four feet in diameter,and long, somewhat pendulous branches sweeping out in graceful curves,and comparatively slender pale-yellow green, branchlets becoming light reddish brown or orange brown and glabrous in their second season.

The winter buds are globose one eight to a quarter of an inch thick. The bark becoming sometimes two inches thick at the base of old trees and grey-brown or reddish brown and divided by shallow fissures into low flat ridges broken into oblong plates roughened by thick closely appressed scales.

The leaves are thin and flexible,deeply grooved,very dark green and lustrous on the upper surface,with two broad bands of seven to ten rows of stomata, on sterile branches,rounded and conspicuously emarginate { notched} at the apex, they are one and a half to two and a quarter inches long,usually about one eighth of an inch wide,spreading in two ranks nearly at right angles to the branches. On cone bearing branches more crowded,usually one to one and a half inches long,less spreading or nearly erect, blunt-pointed or often notched at the apex,on vigorous young trees long,acute or acuminate.

The fruits[cones} which follow the flowering period are cylindrical,slightly narrowed to the rounded and sometimes retuse apex. bright green two to four inches long,with scales usually about two thirds as long as wide,gradually or abruptly narrowed from the broad apex,and three or four times as long as their short pale green bracts.

The seeds are about quite small ,light brown, with pale lustrous wings. This tree was occasionally planted in parks and gardens in temperate Europe,where it grew quickly. However it appears it was rarely planted in the USA.

Abies grandis

Taken in Poland
Taken in Poland | Source

Other species of Abies

Other species include Abies lasiocarpa,native to North America. the mountains of Yukon,British Columbia and western Alberta in western Canada and south east Alaska. In the USA, Washington,Oregon,Idaho,west Montana,Wyoming,Utah,Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona,north eastern Nevada and the Trinity Alps of the Klamath Mountains in north west California.

Abies concolor native to North America. mountains of western North America.

Abies procera {nobilis}-the Noble fir native to western North America to the Cascade Range mountains of extreme north west California and western Oregon and Washington.

Abies magnifica {red or silver-tip fir.} native to the mountains of south west Oregon and California USA.


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    • D.A.L. profile imageAUTHOR


      4 years ago from Lancashire north west England


      Hi Eddy, Thank you for your kind and encouraging comments,which are appreciated. I know we will share many more hubs together,have a nice week end. best wishes to you.


      Hello, Devika, Trees are so beautiful and it is a pleasure to share any knowledge I have . Your votes are kind and as always so encouraging and I truly appreciate them. Best wishes to you..

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 

      4 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      A beautiful tree with such unique features. You always produce the best of knowledge here. The photos are well shared too. Voted up, interesting and useful.

    • Eiddwen profile image


      4 years ago from Wales

      Another interesting and well informed hub. Each and every one of your hubs my friend are amazing and you never produce anything less. Here's to so many more hubs for us both to share on here and enjoy your day.



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