Silver fir, European silver fir – Abies alba

Trees & Shrubs

Abies alba, the European silver fir or silver fir, is a fir native to the mountains of Europe. Family Pinaceae, Genus Abies, Species A. Alba, Synonyms  A. nobilis, A.Dietr.  A. picea (L.) Lindl.  A. excelsa Wender.  A. pectinate (Lam.) Lam. & DC and Abies pectinate.

Abies alba is a large evergreen coniferous tree growing to 40–50 metres (130–160 ft) (exceptionally 60 metres (200 ft)) tall and with a trunk diameter of up to 1.5 metres (4 ft 11 in). The largest measured tree was 68 m tall and had a trunk diameter of 3.8 metres (12 ft). It occurs at altitudes of 300–1,700 metres (980–5,580 ft) (mainly over 500 metres (1,600 ft)), on mountains with a rainfall of over 1,000 millimetres (39 in).

The leaves are needle-like, flattened, 1.8–3 centimetres (0.71–1.18 in) long and 2 millimetres (0.079 in) wide by 0.5 millimetres (0.020 in) thick, glossy dark green above, and with two greenish-white bands of stomata below. The tip of the leaf is usually slightly notched at the tip. The cones are 9–17 centimetres (3.5–6.7 in) long and 3–4 centimetres (1.2–1.6 in) broad, with about 150-200 scales, each scale with an exserted bract and two winged seeds; they disintegrate when mature to release the seeds. The wood is white, leading to the species name “alba”.

It tends to forms woods with other firs and beeches. It is closely related to Bulgarian fir (Abies borisiiregis) further to the southeast in the Balkan Peninsula, Spanish fir (Abies pinsapo) of Spain and Morocco and Sicilian fir (Abies nebrodensis) in Sicily, differing from these and other related Euro-Mediterranean firs in the sparser foliage, with the leaves spread either side of the shoot, leaving the shoot readily visible from above. Some botanists treat Bulgarian fir and Sicilian fir as varieties of silver fir, as A. alba var. acutifolia and A. alba var. nebrodensis respectively. (Wikipedia)

Edward Step had this to say.

The Silver Fir (Abies pectinata).

Silver-fir-European-silver-fir-Abies-alba-cone-and-foliage-300x203 Silver fir, European silver fir - Abies alba
Silver fir, European silver fir – Abies alba

Evelyn has left on record the fact that a two-year-old specimen of the Silver Fir was planted in Harefield Park, near Uxbridge, in the year 1603, and this is usually regarded as the date of its introduction to England, though the evidence is by no means conclusive. Its home is in the mountain regions of Central and Southern Europe. Its highest range appears to be on the Pyrenees, where it is found at an elevation of 6500 feet, forming pure forests of considerable area. Specimens have been recorded in Southern Germany that have attained a height of nearly 200 feet, but in this country a more usual stature is from 100 to 120 feet, with a bole girth between 10 and 15 feet. Its trunk is straight and erect, tapering gently, and covered with smooth bark, of a greyish-brown colour, which in aged specimens becomes rugged and fissured longitudinally, as shown in our photo, and of a silvery grey colour. It retains its lower branches for a period of forty to fifty years, but after that age they begin to fall off. Whilst the tree is growing up—which is, roughly speaking, during its first two hundred years—the crown forms a slender bush; but its vertical growth completed, the crown grows laterally, and becomes flat-topped. Its life-period covers about four hundred years.

Silver-fir-European-silver-fir-Abies-alba-trunk-or-bole Silver fir, European silver fir - Abies alba
Silver fir, European silver fir – Abies alba – trunk or bole

The leaves are flat and slender, not in bundles, as in the Scots Pine, but arranged along the branchlets in two or three dense ranks. They are dark, rich green above, about an inch long, and on the flattened underside there is a bluish-white stripe on each side of the midrib, which gives a silvery appearance to the foliage when upturned, as is usual on the fertile branches. These leaves endure from six to nine years. The flowers appear in May at the tips of the branches. The male flowers are about three-quarters of an inch long, and consist of two or three series of overlapping scales, enclosing the yellow stamens. The cones are cylindrical, with a blunt top, always erect, 6 to 8 inches long, and from 1¼ to 2 inches in diameter. On the back of each of the broad scales there is a long, slender, pointed bract, which extends beyond the scale and turns downward. At first these cones are green, then become reddish, and when mature are brown; but maturity is not reached until eighteen months after their appearance. The angular seeds are furnished with a broad wing twice their length. They are shed by the cones in the spring following their maturity, the scales falling at the same time and leaving the core of the cone on the tree.

Silver-fir-European-silver-fir-Abies-alba-summer Silver fir, European silver fir - Abies alba
Silver fir, European silver fir – Abies alba

As a rule, the tree does not produce fertile seeds until it is about forty years of age, but seedless cones are formed from its twentieth year. Although the flowers of both sexes are found on the same tree, it may be that for a series of years only cones are produced. Until the Silver Fir is about twelve years old its growth is slow, and its annual increase is only a few inches, but later it will be as many feet. During this early stage spring frosts often destroy the leader-shoot, but its place is taken by another shoot; and soon the symmetry of the tree is restored. If this occurs at a later stage, however, the tree bears evidence of it in a forked trunk. It is a deep-rooting species, with a branching tap-root, and succeeds best in an open soil that is moist without being wet.

The timber, which has an irregular grain, is strong, and does not warp; but it is soft, and not enduring where it is exposed to the weather. It is yellowish-white in colour, and is largely used for all interior work.