Firs are evergreen coniferous trees belonging to the genus Abies (/ˈbiˌiz/) in the family Pinaceae. There are approximately 48–65[2][3] extant species, found on mountains throughout much of North and Central America, Europe, Asia, and North Africa. The genus is most closely related to Cedrus (cedar). The genus name is derived from the Latin "to rise" in reference to the height of its species.[4] The common English name originates with the Old Norse, fyri, or the Old Danish, fyr.[5]

Temporal range: 49–0 Ma Eocene - Present[1]
Korean fir (Abies koreana) cones and foliage
Scientific classification Edit this classification
Kingdom: Plantae
Clade: Tracheophytes
Clade: Gymnospermae
Division: Pinophyta
Class: Pinopsida
Order: Pinales
Family: Pinaceae
Subfamily: Abietoideae
Genus: Abies
Type species
Abies alba

See text

  • Peuce Richard 1810

They are large trees, reaching heights of 10–80 metres (33–262 feet) tall with trunk diameters of 0.5–4 m (1 ft 8 in – 13 ft 1 in) when mature. Firs can be distinguished from other members of the pine family by the way in which their needle-like leaves are attached singly to the branches with a base resembling a suction cup, and by their cones, which, like those of true cedars, stand upright on the branches like candles and disintegrate at maturity.

Identification of the different 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 can be distinguished from other members of the pine family by the unique attachment of their needle-like leaves to the twig by a base that resembles a small suction cup.

The leaves are significantly flattened, sometimes even looking like they are pressed, as in A. sibirica.

The leaves have two whitish lines on the bottom, each of which is formed by wax-covered stomatal bands. In most species, the upper surface of the leaves is uniformly green and shiny, without stomata or with a few on the tip, visible as whitish spots. Other species have the upper surface of leaves dull, gray-green or bluish-gray to silvery (glaucous), coated by wax with variable number of stomatal bands, and not always continuous. An example species with shiny green leaves is A. alba, and an example species with dull waxy leaves is A. concolor.

The tips of leaves are usually more or less notched (as in A. firma), but sometimes rounded or dull (as in A. concolor, A. magnifica) or sharp and prickly (as in A. bracteata, A. cephalonica, A. holophylla). The leaves of young plants are usually sharper.

The way they spread from the shoot is very diverse, only in some species comb-shaped, with the leaves arranged on two sides, flat (A. alba) [6][clarification needed]

The upper foliage is different on cone-bearing branches, with the leaves short, curved, and sharp.[7]



Firs differ from other conifers in having erect, cylindrical cones 5–25 cm (2–10 in) long that disintegrate at maturity to release the winged seeds.

In contrast to spruces, fir cones do not hang. Even large fir cones grow upwards like "candles", the new growth of the tree.

Mature cones are usually brown, young in summer can be green, for example:

A. grandis, A. holophylla, A. nordmanniana

or purple and blue, sometimes very dark:

A. fraseri, A. homolepis (var. umbellata green), A. koreana ('Flava' green), A. lasiocarpa, A. nephrolepis (f. chlorocarpa green), A. sibirica, A. veitchii (var. olivacea green).[6]



Abies produce a variety of terpenoids. The analyses of the Zavarin group – from Smedman et al 1969 to Zavarin et al 1977 – showed variation in terpenoid composition of the bark by genetics, geography, age and size of the tree.[8][9]



The oldest pollen assignable to the genus dates to the Late Cretaceous in Siberia, with records of leaves and reproductive organs across the Northern Hemisphere from the Eocene onwards.[10]

Phylogeny of Abies[11][12]

A. bracteata (Don) Poit.


A. mariesii Masters

A. amabilis (Douglas ex Loudon) Forbes

A. procera Rehder


A. magnifica Murray


A. concolor (Gordon) Lindley ex Hildebr.

A. jaliscana (Martínez) Mantilla, Shalisko & Vázquez

A. guatemalensis Rehder

A. hickelii Flous & Gaussen

A. flinckii Rushforth

A. vejarii Martínez

A. durangensis Martínez

A. religiosa (Kunth) von Schlechtendal & von Chamisso

A. hidalgensis Debreczy, Rácz & Guízar

A. grandis (Douglas ex Don) Lindley

A. lowiana (Gordon) Murray


A. alba Miller

A. pinsapo Boiss.

A. cephalonica Loudon

A. nebrodensis (Lojac.) Mattei

A. nordmanniana (Steven) Spach

A. numidica de Lannoy ex Carrière

A. ×borisii-regis Mattf.

A. cilicica (Antoine & Kotschy) Carrière


A. lasiocarpa (Hooker) Nuttall

A. ernestii Rehder

A. balsamea (von Linné) Miller


A. firma Siebold & Zuccarini

A. sibirica Ledeb.


A. fanjingshanensis Huang, Tu & Fang

A. ziyuanensis Fu & Mo


A. kawakamii (Hayata) Itô

A. chensiensis van Tieghem

A. squamata Masters

A. beshanzuensis Wu

A. pindrow (Royle ex Don) Royle

A. recurvata Masters

A. fargesii Franchet


A. koreana Wilson

A. nephrolepis (Trautvetter ex Maxim.) Maxim.

A. holophylla Maxim.

A. sachalinensis (Schmidt) Masters

A. fabri (Masters) Craib

A. veitchii Lindley

A. fraseri (Pursh) Poiret

A. delavayi Franchet

A. densa Griffith

A. spectabilis (Don) de Mirbel

A. nukiangensis Cheng & Fu

A. ferreana Bordères & Gaussen

A. forrestii Coltm.-Rog.

A. georgei Orr

A. homolepis Siebold & Zuccarini

A. yuanbaoshanensis Lu & Fu


Section Abies


Section Abies is found in central, south, and eastern Europe and Asia Minor.

Section Balsamea


Section Balsamea is found in northern Asia and North America, and high mountains further south.

Section Grandis


Section Grandis is found in western North America to Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, in lowlands in the north, moderate altitudes in south.

  • Abies grandis – grand fir or giant fir
    • Abies grandis var. grandis – Coast grand fir
    • Abies grandis var. idahoensis – interior grand fir
  • Abies concolor – white fir
    • Abies concolor subsp. concolor – Rocky Mountain white fir or Colorado white fir
    • Abies concolor subsp. lowiana – Low's white fir or Sierra Nevada white fir
  • Abies durangensis – Durango fir
    • Abies durangensis var. coahuilensis – Coahuila fir
  • Abies flinckii – Jalisco fir
  • Abies guatemalensis – Guatemalan fir
    • Abies guatemalensis var. guatemalensis
    • Abies guatemalensis var. jaliscana
  • Abies vejarii

Section Momi


Section Momi is found in east and central Asia and the Himalaya, generally at low to moderate altitudes.

Section Amabilis


Section Amabilis is found in the Pacific Coast mountains in North America and Japan, in high rainfall areas.

Section Pseudopicea

A. fabri, Sichuan, China

Section Pseudopicea is found in the Sino – Himalayan mountains at high altitudes.

Section Oiamel


Section Oiamel is found in central Mexico at high altitudes.

Section Nobilis

A. magnifica, California, USA

Section Nobilis (western U.S., high altitudes)

Section Bracteata


Section Bracteata (California coast)

Section Incertae sedis


Section Incertae sedis



Firs are used as food plants by the caterpillars 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, pine beauty and the tortrix moths Cydia illutana (whose caterpillars are recorded to feed on European silver fir cone scales) and C. duplicana (on European silver fir bark around injuries or canker).


Green fir twig pictured on top of heart in the coat of arms of Laukaa

Wood of most firs is considered unsuitable for general timber use and is often used as pulp or for the manufacture of plywood and rough timber. Because this genus has no insect or decay resistance qualities after logging, it is generally recommended in construction purposes for indoor use only (e.g. indoor drywall on framing). Firwood left outside cannot be expected to last more than 12 to 18 months, depending on the type of climate it is exposed to.

Nordmann fir, noble fir, Fraser fir and balsam fir are popular Christmas trees, generally considered to be the best for this purpose, with aromatic foliage that does not shed many needles on drying out. Many are also decorative garden trees, notably Korean fir and Fraser fir, which produce brightly coloured cones even when very young, still only 1–2 m (3 ft 3 in – 6 ft 7 in) tall. Other firs can grow anywhere between 30 and 236 feet (9.1 and 71.9 m) tall. Many fir species are grown in botanic gardens and other specialist tree collections in Europe and North America.[15] Fir Tree Appreciation Day is June 18.

Abies religiosa—sacred fir, is the overwinter host for the monarch butterfly.[16][17]

Abies spectabilis or Talispatra is used in Ayurveda as an antitussive (cough suppressant) drug.[18][19]

See also



  1. ^ a b Schorn, Howard; Wehr, Wesley (1986). "Abies milleri, sp. nov., from the Middle Eocene Klondike Mountain Formation, Republic, Ferry County, Washington". Burke Museum Contributions in Anthropology and Natural History. 1: 1–7.
  2. ^ Torres, Leon Nahuel; Shi, Xiao; Na, Yuling; Wang, Bing; Tian, Chi; Chen, Jun (2024-03-01). "First study on fossil wood from the Middle Pleistocene of the Songliao Plain, Northeast China". Review of Palaeobotany and Palynology. 322: 105063. Bibcode:2024RPaPa.32205063T. doi:10.1016/j.revpalbo.2024.105063. ISSN 0034-6667.
  3. ^ Debreczy Zsolt Rácz István and Kathy Musial. 2011. Conifers Around the World : Conifers of the Temperate Zones and Adjacent Regions. Budapest: DendroPress.
  4. ^ Coombes, Allen J. (2012). The A to Z of plant names : a quick reference guide to 4000 garden plants (1st ed.). Portland, Or.: Timber Press. p. 23. ISBN 978-1-60469-196-2. OCLC 741564356.
  5. ^ "fir | Origin and meaning of fir by Online Etymology Dictionary". Archived from the original on 2021-08-08. Retrieved 2020-10-01.
  6. ^ a b Seneta, Włodzimierz (1981). Drzewa i krzewy iglaste (Coniferous trees and shrubs) (in Polish) (1st ed.). Warsaw: Państwowe Wydawnictwo Naukowe (PWN). ISBN 978-83-01-01663-0.
  7. ^ Arno, Stephen F.; Hammerly, Ramona P. (2020) [1977]. Northwest Trees: Identifying & Understanding the Region's Native Trees (field guide ed.). Seattle: Mountaineers Books. p. 125. ISBN 978-1-68051-329-5. OCLC 1141235469. Archived from the original on 2023-09-19. Retrieved 2022-02-26.
  8. ^ Hemingway, R. W. (2018-01-18). "Bark: Its Chemistry and Prospects for Chemical Utilization". Organic Chemicals from Biomass. CRC Press. pp. 189–248. ISBN 978-1-351-07525-1.
  9. ^ Barton, George M. (2018-01-18). "Foliage". Organic Chemicals from Biomass. CRC Press. pp. 249–280. ISBN 978-1-351-07525-1.
  10. ^ Xiang, Xiaoguo; Cao, Ming; Zhou, Zhekun (October 2007). "Fossil history and modern distribution of the genus Abies (Pinaceae)". Frontiers of Forestry in China. 2 (4): 355–365. doi:10.1007/s11461-007-0058-4. ISSN 1673-3517. Archived from the original on 2024-01-01. Retrieved 2023-02-15.
  11. ^ Stull, Gregory W.; Qu, Xiao-Jian; Parins-Fukuchi, Caroline; Yang, Ying-Ying; Yang, Jun-Bo; Yang, Zhi-Yun; Hu, Yi; Ma, Hong; Soltis, Pamela S.; Soltis, Douglas E.; Li, De-Zhu; Smith, Stephen A.; Yi, Ting-Shuang; et al. (2021). "Gene duplications and phylogenomic conflict underlie major pulses of phenotypic evolution in gymnosperms". Nature Plants. 7 (8): 1015–1025. bioRxiv 10.1101/2021.03.13.435279. doi:10.1038/s41477-021-00964-4. PMID 34282286. S2CID 232282918. Archived from the original on 2022-01-10. Retrieved 2023-03-30.
  12. ^ Stull, Gregory W.; et al. (2021). "main.dated.supermatrix.tree.T9.tre". Figshare. doi:10.6084/m9.figshare.14547354.v1. Archived from the original on 2024-01-01. Retrieved 2023-03-30. {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  13. ^ Knowlton, F.H. (1923). Fossil plants from the Tertiary lake beds of South-Сentral Colorado (Report). Professional Paper. Vol. 131-G. United States Geological Survey. pp. 183–197. doi:10.3133/pp131G.
  14. ^ Wolfe, J.A.; Schorn, H.E. (1990). Taxonomic revision of the Spermatopsida of the Oligocene Creede flora, southern Colorado (Report). Bulletin. Vol. 1923. United States Geological Survey. pp. 1–40. doi:10.3133/b1923.
  15. ^ "Christian, T. (2021) Abies from the website Trees and Shrubs Online". Archived from the original on 2023-03-01. Retrieved 2023-03-01.
  16. ^ Groth, Jacob (10 November 2000). "Monarch Migration Study". Swallowtail Farms. Archived from the original on 9 May 2022. Retrieved 21 July 2014.
  17. ^ "Monarch Migration". Monarch Joint Venture. 2013. Archived from the original on 2017-10-31. Retrieved 2017-10-25.
  18. ^ Schar, Douglas (2015). "Douglas Fir, Pseudotsuga menziesii". Archives. Doctor Schar. Archived from the original on 2015-10-05. Retrieved 2015-10-04.
  19. ^ Kershaw, Linda (2000). Edible and Medicinal Plants of the Rockies. Edmonton, AB: Lone Pine Publishing. p. 26. ISBN 978-1-55105-229-8.

Further reading

  • Philips, Roger. Trees of North America and Europe, Random House, Inc., New York ISBN 0-394-50259-0, 1979.
  • Abies at The Gymnosperm Database
  • Abies from the website Trees and Shrubs Online
  • Michael P. FRANKIS CONE COLLECTION: Abies at the Arboretum de Villardebelle—images of cones of selected species
  • Platt, Karen "Gold Fever" provides descriptions of golden or yellow-leaved Abies cultivars