Silver Firs

Noble Fir Caucasian Fir Greek Fir Giant Fir

What are they?

Silver Firs are found in the boreal zone and mountain regions of the Northern Hemisphere. They strongly resemble spruces and are easily confused with them, having a similar overall look and shape, while also having a similar arrangement of single needles carried along the stems. Some species have become familiar for their service as Christmas trees as their needles tend to hold longer on the tree and are not shed so easily as those of spruces. Silver Firs typically have upright cones that are carried only at the top of trees that over eight metres or so in height, making the cones difficult to use for identification purposes. In addition, the cones break apart on the tree, so finding a whole one on the ground almost never happens.

Where are they found?

Spruces are occasionally planted for forestry but more often for ornament. Ornamental species are most likely to be found in parks, cemeteries, churchyards and similar places. Giant Fir is widely used for forestry but other species may also occasionally be found in forest blocks on larger estates.

Identification

Silver Firs can be difficult to identify to species and much care is needed to check a number of features. These trees most closely resemble the spruces so you need to check how the needles are attached to the stems. In silver firs, the leaf has a sucker-like base which comes away leaving a rounded depression in the twig (see photo, above). In spruces, each needle is attached to a short, peg-like bump on the twig. Note the arrangement of the needles on the stem - do they appear all around the stem or spread out to the sides? What is the patterning of white on the underside of the leaves and are the tips pointed or rounded? Check also for hairs on the young stems. Details of the cones can be useful but is often difficult to get without binoculars! In particular, check for distinctive bracts that may or may not be visible, poking out from between the cone scales. The colour of the bark and appearance of the winter bud can also be useful. Most reference books do not make clear the often strong difference between 'shade' foliage at the bottom of the tree and 'sun' foliage at the top and this can cause confusion. Shade foliage at the bottom of the tree tends to consist of longer, wider-spaced needles that are widely parted to the sides and lay horizontally. Sun foliage from the top of the tree consists of shorter, more densely-packed needles that are usually curved to stand vertically.



Giant Fir      Abies grandis

Introduced from North America. Fairly common in forestry blocks or on large estates and regularly self-seeding and regenerating. Needles blunt and notched at the tip with well-marked white stripes beneath and rich, deep green above (paler on young growths). Needles long (2-6cm), arranged neatly to the sides, strongly parted along the stem both above and below. Winter bud pale grey, covered in thick resin. Mature cone 12-25cm, with bracts hidden between the scales. Bark grey, at first smooth, becoming shallowly cracked vertically.

Giant Fir Giant Fir Giant Fir Giant Fir
Habit
Leaves
Leaves
Leaves
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Upper leaves
Winter bud
Bark
Bark


Caucasian Fir      Abies nordmanniana

Introduced from Eastern Europe. Uncommon in forestry blocks or on large estates but occasionally grown for the Christmas tree market. Needles blunt and notched at the tip with well-marked white stripes beneath and mid green above. Needles 1.5-4cm, arranged neatly to the sides, strongly parted along the stem below; forward-pointing, not parted above. Winter bud small, reddish-brown. Mature cone 10-15cm, with bracts extending about 2cm beyond the scales and easily visible. Bark grey, at first smooth, becoming shallowly cracked.

Caucasian Fir Caucasian Fir Caucasian Fir Caucasian Fir
Leaves
Leaves
Leaves
Leaf underside
Caucasian Fir Caucasian Fir Caucasian Fir Caucasian Fir
Leaf underside & stem
Winter buds
Bark
Bark


Noble Fir      Abies procera

Introduced from North America. Rare in forestry blocks or on large estates but occasionally grown for ornament. Has been found self-seeding at Felbrigg Park, Norfolk. Needles blunt and notched at the tip, though sometimes slightly pointd on lower branches; well-marked white stripes beneath and weak white stripes above, especially towards the base of the needle. Needles 1-3.5cm, strongly parted along the stem below; forward-pointing, not parted above. Upper 'sun' needles typically twisted strongly upright. Winter bud dull brown. Mature cone large, 12-25cm, with prominent bracts extending at least 2cm beyond the scales and easily visible. Bark grey, at first smooth, becoming shallowly cracked.

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Leaves
Leaves upperside
Leaves underside
Noble Fir Noble Fir Noble Fir Noble Fir
Upper leaves
Cones
Winter buds
Bark


European Silver Fir      Abies alba

Introduced from mainland Europe. Rare in forestry blocks or on large estates. Needles blunt and notched at the tip with well-marked white stripes beneath and mid green above. Needles 1.5-3cm, arranged neatly to the sides, strongly parted along the stem below, more weakly parted above. Winter bud small, reddish-brown. Mature cone 10-15cm, with bracts only just showing beyond the scales. Bark grey, at first smooth, becoming shallowly cracked into plates.

European Silver Fir European Silver Fir European Silver Fir European Silver Fir
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Leaves
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European Silver Fir European Silver Fir European Silver Fir
Leaves
Leaf underside & stem
Bark


Greek Fir      Abies cephalonica

Introduced from southern Europe. Rarely grown as an ornamental and long-established on Ministry of Defence land in West Norfolk. ALso occasionally seen in churchyards and parks. Needles rather sharply pointed at the tip with well-marked white stripes beneath and mid green above. Needles 1.5-3.5cm, distinctly arranged spirally along the stem and not parted to the sides. Winter bud covered with whitish resin. Mature cone 12-16cm, with bracts shortly extending beyond the scales and easily visible. Bark grey, at first smooth, becoming shallowly cracked.

Greek Fir Greek Fir Greek Fir Greek Fir
Habit
Leaves
Leaves
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Male flowers
Winter bud
Cones
Bark