How do you identify a Fir tree? (With Pictures)


fraser fir

The Fir tree belongs to the family of towering conifers. It is a native of North and Central America, Europe, Asia, and North Africa. The Firs like to grow on mountainous slopes.

These trees belong to the species Abies and are woody in nature. It is available in more than 50 species and a lot of cultivars.

Fir Tree Identification

The Fir trees can be identified based on the needles, cones, and bark.

The Fir is a conifer tree that has needles instead of leaves. But so do the Pine and Spruce trees have. The trees in the conifer family have lots of similarities. But at the same time, there are uniquely identifiable features of the Fir-tree, which makes it stand out from the other.

It is possible to identify a Fir tree visually based on the following features;

Needles

fir needles

The needles of the Fir tree are soft and smooth. These needles are softer than the needles of Spruce and Pine.

They grow singly out of the branch. The needles of the Spruce also do so. However, in the case of Fir, the needles are connected to the branch with a structure resembling a suction cup.

The needles have two white lines at the base of each needle.

When the needle falls off, it does not leave any woody peg-like protrusion, as in the case of a Spruce needle.

Branches

The lower branches of a Fir are wide and downturned.

Cones

The most striking feature of the Fir cone is that it is upturned and grows out of the branches like a candle flame

The young cone is blue, purple, or green in color and then changes to golden brown as it matures.

Common Fir Tree Varieties

There are more than 50 varieties of Fir trees, and each has its peculiarities of needles and cones. Some of the types of Fir and their distinguishing features are;

Noble Fir Tree (Abies procera)

noble fir tree

The needles are blue-green in color with blunt tips. The length of the needle varies from 1 to 3.5 cms, and they are arranged spirally around the stem.

The Noble Fir cones are ten to twenty-two centimeters long. The cones are yellowish-green initially and turn brown as they mature.

The bark of the Noble Fir is reddish-brown.

Balsam Fir (Abies balsamea)

balsam fir

The color of the needles of the Balsam Fir is dark green, and they are very soft and flat. Though placed spirally all around the stem, they appear to be lined up in two horizontal lines. The needles have a distinct and delightful aroma. Even after the branch or the tree is cut, the needles maintain their fresh green color.

The cones of the Balsam Fir are 4 to 8 cm long, and color ranges from dark purple to brown. The fir tree has a grayish bark.

Nordmann Fir (Abies nordmanniana)

nordmann fir

It is popularly used as a Christmas tree because of its bright green and glossy needles. Nordmann cones are fifteen inches long and red-brown in color.

Grand Fir (Abies grandis)

grand fir

It is one among the tallest varieties of the Fir tree. The needles of the Grand Fir has a distinct citrus aroma. The bark of the tree is usually grayish-brown and smooth in texture. But as the tree grows, the bark gets scaly.

Grand Fir has a green color cone that is 6 -12 cms long.

California Red Fir Tree (Abies magnifica)

red fir

The shape of the needle is like a hockey stick, which is very unique. It is bluish-green and about 3 cms long.

The California red Fir tree has a large cone measuring about 21 cms. Initially, the cone is yellowish-green in color and then on maturity turns brown.

It has a reddish bark when young, and hence the name red Fir. Eventually, as the California Red Fir tree matures, the bark becomes rough and textured.

White Fir (Abies concolor)

white fir

The White Fir has longer needles measuring up to 6 cm, which are bluish-green on the top, but the underside has a whitish appearance. Hence the tree is named White Fir. The needles have a blunt and curved tip.

The cones are 12 cm in length and barrel-shaped. It is pale brown in color.

Fraser Fir (Abies fraseri)

fraser fir

The needles of the Fraser Fir are arranged in two rows and are green to dark green. If you crush the needles between fingers, they give off mild turpentine like odor.

The branches of the Fraser Fir go out straight and turn upwards at the ends. That is a little unusual feature for a Fir tree. The bark is smooth grayish-brown initially, but with age, the bark turns scaly.   

West Himalayan Fir (Abies pindrow)

himalayan fir

The Himalayan Fir has the most extended needle measuring 9cms long. The needles are very soft, dark green, and glossy.

Like the needles, the cones of the Himalayan Fir are also big. The length is 14 cm and 4 cm wide. The branches start right from the base of the tree.

These are some of the prominent species of the Fir tree that you may come across. Every species will have its own distinguishing feature. Before you plant or buy a Fir tree, learn to identify it and also judge the suitability of the Fir tree based on its features.

How tall does a Fir tree grow?

The length of the Fir tree can be anything from 30 ft to about 260-300 feet.

The Douglas Fir grows to a towering height of 330 feet. On the other hand, the Korean Fir is small and beautiful; these Fir trees mainly used for beautification of the landscape. The Korean Fir has a height of 30 -60 feet maximum.

In between these two extremes, we have different species with varying heights. Like the Nordmann Fir generally grows to about 180- 200 feet, but some varieties of these species extend to 280 feet. Towards the taller Fir varieties, we have the Grand Fir tree, which attains a height of 230 ft, the California Red Fir, and the Himalayan Fir ranging between 130 – 200 feet in height.

On the moderate levels, the Silver Fir scales 130 -160 ft, the Spanish Fir doing about 65- 95 feet.

Towards the shorter length, we have the Fraser Fir that grows to 30 -50 ft maximum and SubalPine and Balsam Fir, reaching about 65 -66 feet maximum.

So we really have a vast choice about heights if we intend to plant a Fir tree. Apart from the species, the height of the tree is also dependent on the soil, the growing conditions, and climate. So, before you select a Fir for its height, check the ideal growing conditions with that of the plantation site. Inferior working conditions will result in the lower height of the tree. Hence the height of the tree is always mentioned in a range from X to Y feet. 

How fast do Fir trees grow? 

The growth rate of the Fir tree can vary from 6inches/year to 3 feet/year. There is a considerable variation in the growth rate of the Fir trees, from one species to another.

The Grand Fir is the fastest-growing Fir tree, which grows to a height of 140 feet in about 50 years. It averages to a growth rate of close to 3 feet/year.

On the other extreme, is the Spanish Fir (Abies pinsapo), which grows only about 6 inches/year.

Between these two extremes lies the growth rate of all other Fir trees.

The Douglas Fir grows at the rate of 2feet/year. The Cannan Fir also has a similar growth rate of 2-3 feet/year.

The Fraser Fir typically grows to a height of 6 to 7 feet in an equivalent number of years. So the growth rate establishes to 1 foot/year.

Please note that all these growth rates are the average growth rate of the species in its life. In reality, the growth rates for the same Fir tree is different during different stages of its life.

For example, in the case of Silver Fir (Abies alba), if planted from seeds, it is prolonged from germination until about four years of its age. From then on, the growth rate accelerates to a little more than 3 feet/year.

This growth happens invariably with almost all the Fir trees. The growth rate is slow initially, then it picks up till maturity and a little beyond it. Then it reduces to a moderate level and peaks out finally.

The growth rate largely depends on the growing conditions. Fir trees require well-drained and moist soil. The USDA zones 3 -8 are the best for it. The availability of full sunshine is also best. Otherwise, partial shade is also right.

How long do Fir trees live? 

Though the average lifespan of Fir trees usually pegged at around 60 years, many of the Firs live for more than 250 years.

The Coast Douglas tree lives more than 500 years. It is not uncommon for these Firs to live beyond 1000 years. However, Douglas Firs growing in the mountains, clocks around 400 years. The inference is that lifespan not only depends on the species, but the growing conditions also influence the life span of the Fir tree. Noble Fir trees are known to live 600 – 700 years.

The Firs trees generally mature around the age of 20 years.

What is the most popular Christmas tree? 

Growing and selling Christmas trees is big business, and it is in high demand. A million and more Christmas trees are bought and sold in the USA every year during the season.

The general considerations/tips for selecting a Christmas tree are;

  • It should be fresh. To check the freshness of the tree, shake it. If lots of needles fall, it is not that fresh. It is natural for a few needles to drop. You should also check the colour of the trunk. If it is very dark brown, that means it was quite a while since the tree got cut.
  • The Christmas tree should have a pleasant aroma. A simple way to check that is to crush a few needles between your fingers. It should smell sweet. The tree is going to be in the room for a while, and hence it should be pleasant smelling to maintain a good ambiance.
  • Prefer softer needles if kids are around.
  • It should be able to hold the festoons. Better is to carry some decorative items with you and put it on the branch to see how it holds.
  • Short needles and well-spaced branches will help easy decoration. The Christmas tree is beautiful, but wouldn’t you want to make it more beautiful with your decorations and artistry. You need space on the tree to do all that. Make sure that the tree you buy has some space in it and is not all jam-packed.

Among the top five, the most popular choice for the Christmas tree, the First is a Fir tree, and four out the top five are the Fir trees. So, it is clear that the Fir tree is the most loved and popular Christmas tree.

The most popular choice for the Christmas tree is the Fraser Fir, and the reasons for the selection are;

  • It has short, 1-inch long needles, which are very soft and has an attractive silvery-green color.
  • The Fraser Fir has enough space between the branches to allow much space for creative decorations.
  • The branches are firm enough to hold the weight of the ornaments.
  • The natural shape of the Fraser Fir confirms that of the ideal Christmas tree.
  • If the Fraser Fir gets well-watered, it will hold the needles for a long time.

The other choices in the descending order are

  • Noble Fir
  • Colorado Blue Spruce
  • Grand Fir
  • Balsam Fir

What is the difference between a Pine tree and a Fir tree?   

Both are conifers, but they have prominent differences between them. Some of the obvious ones and easy to note are:

The Pine trees belong to the genus, Pinus, whereas the Fir tree is of the family Abies. This distinction indicates a lot of biological differences between the two trees. We shall not look into the intricacies of biology, but just note the fact that some prominent biological differences separate them. 

  • The Pine tree has the needles in clusters and rarely as individuals. The needles are soft, glossy and thin and can be up to 16 inches long.
  • Whereas the needles of the Fir tree are short, most of the time, these are less than 2 inches. The needles invariably sprout singly from the stem from a suction cup-like structure. 
  • The Pine tree loosely resembles an irregular triangle because of its rounded canopy. The shape is not so well defined and has jagged edges. 
  • The structure of the Fir-tree, in comparison, strictly conforms to the classic cone shape of the conifer. The base is the widest, with the branches narrowing down as it reaches the top.
  • The bark of the Pine tree is substantially rough and covered with platy scales. The underlying trunk is quite dark in color. 
  • In contrast, the bark of the Fir trees, despite being hidden by the needles and the branches, are very smooth and corky.
  • The Pinecones come out of the branch tips. They are oriented either horizontally or vertically down. Immature and young cones carry a green color, which becomes reddish-brown to black on maturity. 

The cones of the Fir are located on the topmost branches. These grow up straight vertically like candle flames. The young cones, which are purplish blue-green, turn to golden brown as they mature.

How do you care for a Fir tree?  

Care of the Fir tree would mean to plant, water, and nourish the Fir tree correctly. And also protect it against pests and diseases.

Planting of the tree

The soil should be slightly acidic and well-drained. In case the ground seems too compacted, loosen it up to facilitate proper aeration. A partial shade spot for the plantations is ideal.

If you propose to plant a bare root or balled Fir tree, rehydrate the tree by dipping the roots in water for a couple of hours. Then plant the Fir tree in the appropriate ground. Do not plant too deep in the soil. The best time for this kind of plantation is early fall or winter.

In case you are planting the Fir tree from a container, you can do that at any time of the year. However, avoid the hot period of summer. The tree finds it difficult to establish itself because of the excessive heat.

Watering the tree

A freshly planted young tree needs watering once a week. Adopt a deep watering technique by reducing the flow of water to little more than a trickle and leave it near the tree for a long time. This way, the water slowly seeps deep into the ground and does not runoff. But ensure that the water does not form a puddle or stagnate near the tree. Standing water will spoil the roots and rot it.

Once the tree is well established, it is sufficient to water it only during very hot days of summer and in drought situations. Else the tree is capable of taking of itself.

Mulch

Cover the ground above the roots with organic mulch about two to three inches thick. In some time, the organic mulch nourishes the tree with good nutrients. Additionally, it also prevents undue evaporation of water and keeps the ground moist and cool.

Moist cool, acidic, well-drained soil will help the tree to establish and grow well.

Nourishment

Properly balanced nourishment of the Fir tree achieves the objective of healthy growth, and it also enhances the immunity of the tree.

A suitable fertilizer in the early spring every year will keep it growing well and fight off most of the diseases.

Protection

The Fir tree is susceptible to attacks of insects and fungus. Use proper fungicides and insecticides in the spring to protect the fresh needles from being sick.

Do Fir trees stop growing?  

In terms of height, the Fir tree stops to grow after it has attained its maximum height under the present circumstances.

But it may keep on adding to the width of the trunk or foliage over the years even after reaching its peak height. So, in that sense, it does not stop growing. Biologically speaking, the growth of new cells to replace the old ones is also a kind of growth. So in a very narrow sense, the tree keeps growing till it dies.

The reason for the finite height of the tree could be two-fold;

Like in the case of animals, the growth in the tree also happens because of the cell division. But these cell divisions are not infinite. After a particular number of cell divisions (which is dependent on the species, growth conditions, the cell biology and other things), the ability of the cell to multiply further ceases. This stage is the limit of the growth that can happen.

The second theory concerns the way water gets sucked up to the topmost of the part of the tree. As the tree grows, it needs to take up the water from the ground to the tip of the tree. But then this water drawing capacity is also limited. After attaining the maximum height, it is no longer possible for the tree to suck water to heights more than it. And this is the maximum height attainable by the tree.

The final verdict on the reasons of height limitation, is yet to be made by the biologist and horticulturist. But then, be it any reason, the tree does have a maximum height that it can grow. (In some cases, a minuscule growth percentage may keep the height growing. But this is very rare, and the growth percentage is almost negligible.

How do you prune a Fir tree? 

The Fir tree should be pruned very selectively for specific reasons. It does not need any necessary pruning to keep it growing or healthy.

One of the reasons why the Fir tree may need pruning is to remove the dead/damaged or diseased branches. If not removed, it will affect the general health and the growth of the tree.

Another probable reason is to give the tree a proper aesthetic look and shape. Pruning at the right time and also in the right quantity will help the tree grow fuller and healthier. Inappropriate time and over removal of foliage may damage and destroy the tree beyond resurrection. As a general thumb rule, one must not remove more than 1/3rd of the foliage/tree at a given time.

The best time to prune the Fir tree is early spring when the tree is dormant. This timing has the added advantage that the tree will regrow new branches and needles quickly in the ensuing spring.

Also, remember not to prune the growing needles or just grown needles. You will miss out on the needles and the branches forever.

Finally, as far as possible, leave the tree to grow on its own and intervene to prune only if necessary.

The Firwood is suitable for which purposes?

The most prevalent use of the Firwood is to make wood pulp used in the manufacture of paper.

Firwood is a kind of softwood that has feeble resistance to decay or disease. Apart from paper, it is also used to make plywoods or construct indoor frames for doors and windows.

In some rare cases, it finds use to make small furniture that does not have to carry much weight and will never get wet.

Lindsey Glenn

I've been learning about gardening since 2015, helping friends and family to grow their trees. I am passionate about trees and love sharing everything I learn about them.

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