From New World Encyclopedia

Abies - firs
Korean Fir (Abies koreana) cone and foliage
Korean Fir (Abies koreana) cone and foliage
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
Division: Pinophyta
Class: Pinopsida
Order: Pinales
Family: Pinaceae
Genus: Abies

See text

Fir is the common name for any of the evergreen trees comprising the genus Abies of the family Pinaceae, characterized by erect, cylindrical cones that shed their scales and by flattened, stemless, needle-like leaves growing directly from the branches. Fir also refers to the wood of these trees.

Firs provide numerous ecological, commercial, and aesthetic values. Ecologically, they provide habitat and food for many animals, such as insect larva. For humans, they provide wood for pulp and for construction (plywood, crates, boxes, interior finishings) and their beauty and fragrance is a reason for their popularity in ornamental plantings and as Christmas trees.

Some other similar trees that are not in the genus Abies, and thus not true firs, also have the common name of fir, such as the Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii), whose cones hang downward, unlike true firs (Nix 2006).

Abies grandis foliage
Intact and disintegrated Bulgarian Fir cones
Abies alba foliage from Dinaric calcareous fir forests on Mt. Orjen


True firs comprise the genus Abies, which includes between 45 and 55 diverse species of evergreen conifers in the family Pinaceae. All are trees, reaching heights of 10-80 meters (30-260 feet) tall, and trunk diameters of 0.5-4 meters (2-12 feet) when mature.

Firs can be distinguished from other members of the pine family, Pinaceae, by their flat, needle-like leaves, which are attached to the twig by a base that resembles a small suction cup; and by erect, cylindrical cones, 5-25 centimeters (2-10 inches) long, that disintegrate at maturity to release the winged seeds, rather than dropping entire. The leaves usually leave a scar when they fall.

Identification of the species is based on the size and arrangement of the leaves, the size and shape of the cones, and whether the bract scales of the cones are long and exserted, or short and hidden inside the cone.

Firs are most closely related to the cedars (Cedrus). Firs are found through much of North and Central America, Europe, Asia, and North Africa, occurring in mountains over most of the range.


The wood of most firs generally is light and soft and often considered unsuitable for general timber use. However, it is often used as pulp or for the manufacture of plywood and rough timber, as well as construction of crates and boxes and for interior finishings.

Canada balsam, also called Canada turpentine or balsam of fir, is a turpentine that is made from the resin of the balsam fir (Abies balsamea).

Many firs are valued for their beauty and fragrance, whether as Christmas trees or ornamental trees. Nordmann Fir, Noble Fir, Fraser Fir, and Balsam Fir are very popular Christmas trees, with aromatic foliage that does not shed many needles on drying out. Nix (2006) provides a list of the most popular Christmas trees, with three firs prominent on the list: Fraser fir, Abies fraseri (most popular); Balsam fir, Abies balsamea (third); and white fir, Abies concolor (ninth). Many firs are decorative trees, notably Korean Fir and Fraser Fir, which produce brightly colored cones even when very young, still only 1-2 meters (3-6 feet) tall.

Firs provide habitat and food for many animals, including the the larvae of some Lepidoptera species, including Chionodes abella (recorded on White Fir), Autumnal Moth, Conifer Swift (a pest of Balsam Fir), The Engrailed, Grey Pug, Mottled Umber, and Pine Beauty.


  • Section Balsamea (Taiga|boreal Asia and North America, and high mountains further south)
    • Abies fraseri - Fraser Fir
    • Abies balsamea - Balsam Fir
      • Abies balsamea var. phanerolepis - Bracted Balsam Fir
    • Abies bifolia - Rocky Mountains Subalpine Fir
    • Abies lasiocarpa - Coast Range Subalpine Fir
      • Abies lasiocarpa var. arizonica - Corkbark Fir
    • Abies sibirica - Siberian Fir
    • Abies sachalinensis - Sakhalin Fir
    • Abies koreana - Korean Fir
    • Abies nephrolepis - Khinghan Fir
    • Abies veitchii - Veitch's Fir
      • Abies veitchii var. sikokiana - Shikoku Fir
  • Section Grandis (western North America to Mexico and Guatemala, lowlands in north, moderate altitudes in south)
    • Abies grandis - Grand Fir or Giant Fir
      • Abies grandis var. idahoensis - Interior Grand Fir or Giant Fir
    • Abies concolor - White Fir
      • Abies concolor subsp. lowiana - Low's White Fir
    • Abies durangensis - Durango Fir
      • Abies durangensis var. coahuilensis - Coahuila Fir
    • Abies flinckii - Jalisco Fir
    • Abies guatemalensis - Guatemalan Fir
  • Section Abies (central, south & east Europe, Asia Minor)
    • Abies nebrodensis - Sicilian Fir
    • Abies alba - Silver Fir
    • Abies borisii-regis - Bulgarian Fir
    • Abies cephalonica - Greek Fir
    • Abies nordmanniana - Nordmann Fir or Caucasian Fir
      • Abies nordmanniana subsp. equi-trojani - Turkish Fir
    • Abies cilicica - Cilician Fir
  • Section Piceaster (southern Spain, northwest Africa)
    • Abies pinsapo - Spanish Fir
      • Abies pinsapo var. marocana - Moroccan Fir
    • Abies numidica - Algerian Fir
  • Section Momi (east & central Asia, Himalaya, generally at low to moderate altitudes)
    • Abies kawakamii - Taiwan Fir
    • Abies homolepis - Nikko Fir
    • Abies recurvata - Min Fir
      • Abies recurvata var. ernestii - Min Fir
    • Abies firma - Momi Fir
    • Abies beshanzuensis - Baishanzu Fir
    • Abies holophylla - Manchurian Fir
    • Abies chensiensis - Shensi Fir
      • Abies chensiensis subsp. salouenensis - Salween Fir
    • Abies pindrow - Pindrow Fir
    • Abies ziyuanensis - Ziyuan Fir
  • Section Amabilis (Pacific coast mountains, North America and Japan, in high rainfall mountains)
    • Abies amabilis - Pacific Silver Fir
    • Abies mariesii - Maries' Fir
  • Section Pseudopicea (Sino-Himalayan mountains, at high altitude)
    • Abies delavayi - Delavay's Fir
    • Abies fabri - Faber's Fir
    • Abies forrestii - Forrest's Fir
    • Abies chengii - Cheng's Fir
    • Abies densa - Bhutan Fir
    • Abies spectabilis - East Himalayan Fir
    • Abies fargesii - Farges' Fir
    • Abies fanjingshanensis - Fanjingshan Fir
    • Abies yuanbaoshanensis - Yuanbaoshan Fir
    • Abies squamata - Flaky Fir
  • Section Oiamel (Mexico, high altitudes in mountains)
    • Abies religiosa - Sacred Fir
    • Abies vejarii - Vejar's Fir
      • Abies vejarii var. mexicana - Mexican Fir
    • Abies hickelii - Hickel's Fir
      • Abies hickelii var. oaxacana - Oaxaca Fir
  • Section Nobilis (western USA, high altitudes)
    • Abies procera - Noble Fir
    • Abies magnifica - Red Fir
      • Abies magnifica var. shastensis - Shasta Red Fir
  • Section Bracteata (California coast)
    • Abies bracteata - Bristlecone Fir

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Dallimore, W., and A. B. Jackson. Revised by S. G. Harrison. 1967. A Handbook of Coniferae and Ginkgoaceae. New York: St. Martin's Press.
  • Nix, S. 2006. Top ten Christmas tree species sold in North America. Retrieved September 16, 2007.
  • Pielou, E. C. 1988. The World of Northern Evergreens. Ithica, NY: Cornell University Press. ISBN 0801421160

External Links

All links retrieved March 26, 2024.


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