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Abies alba

Abies alba
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Scientific name: Abies alba   Miller 1759

Synonyms: Abies abies Rusby, Abies argentea Chambray, Abies baldensis (Zuccagni) Zucc. ex Nyman, Abies candicans Fisch. ex Endl., Abies chlorocarpa Purk. ex Nyman, Abies duplex Hormuz. ex Beissn., Abies excelsa Link, Abies metensis Gordon, Abies miniata Knight ex Gordon, Abies minor Gilib., Abies nobilis A.Dietr., Abies pardei Gaussen, Abies pectinata (Lam.) Lam. & DC., Abies picea (L.) Lindl., Abies rinzii K.Koch, Abies taxifolia Duhamel, Abies taxifolia Desf., Abies taxifolia Raf., Abies tenuirifolia Beissn., Abies vulgaris Poir., Peuce abies Rich., Picea excelsa Wender., Picea kukunaria Wender., Picea metensis Gordon, Picea pectinata (Lam.) Loudon, Picea pyramidalis Gordon, Picea rinzi Gordon, Picea tenuifolia Beissn., Pinus abies Du Roi, Pinus baldensis Zuccagni, Pinus heterophylla K.Koch, Pinus lucida Salisb., Pinus pectinata Lam., Pinus picea L.

Common names: European silver fir, Common silver fir, Silver fir



Tree to 45(-60) m tall, with trunk to 1.5(-3) m in diameter. Bark light gray, becoming checkered with age. Branchlets densely hairy, not grooved. Buds 3.5-4(-6) mm long, not resinous. Needles arranged to the sides and above the twigs, 1.5-3 cm long, dark green above, the tip notched (or pointed). Individual needles plump in cross section and with a resin canal on either side near the edge just inside the lower epidermis, without stomates above and with seven to nine rows of stomates in each silvery stomatal band beneath. Pollen cones about 2 cm long, greenish yellow. Seed cones roughly cylindrical, 10-20 cm long, 3-4 cm across, green or purple-tinged when young, maturing reddish brown. Bracts emerging from between the scales and turned down. Persistent cone axis narrowly conical. Seed body 7-11 mm long, the wing a little longer. Cotyledons mostly five.

Central and southern Europe from the Pyrenees to Bulgaria and Poland-Belarus frontier. Forming pure stands or mixed with other species in montane forests; (300-)500-1,950 m. The preferred climate is cool temperate, comparatively humid (precipitation often >1,000 mm/year), with abundant snowfall but moderately low temperatures in the winter.


Conservation Status

Red List Category & Criteria: Least Concern

This tree is the only widespread species of fir in Europe. Its extent of occurrence (EOO), area of occupancy (AOO) and population are beyond any of the thresholds for a threatened category and there is no evidence of continuing decline, and in some areas it is probably increasing. As a result it is assessed as Least Concern. The population is large and the overall population trend is stable, with losses in some areas (e.g., in the Spanish Pyrenees; Oliva and Colinas 2007) but with some increases in areas where natural regeneration is promoted. In some parts of its range it is rare, for example, in the central Alps where a drier and colder climate prevails and in most of the Apennines in Italy (Farjon and Filer 2013). Under favourable conditions, this fir tree can reach an age of 500 to 600 years and tree heights up to 60 m (Wolf 2003). The species often forms large forests, either pure, mixed with other conifers (Picea abies, locally Pinus sylvestris) or mixed with broad leaved trees (Fagus sylvatica), in a belt between deciduous forest in the valleys and coniferous forest composed of other species of Pinaceae towards the tree limit. Of the European native conifers, this fir is most capable of competing with Beech (Fagus sylvatica) at altitudes where the latter becomes less vigorous and is the first of the conifers to appear among them (Ellenberg 1988). The area of occupancy has been reduced over the last two centuries as a result of deforestation, over-exploitation and afforestation with faster growing exotic species. Air pollution and acid rain have also affected stands in some parts of its range. Over the last several decades this decline has ceased as patterns of land use changed, forest management priorities shifted and air pollution levels dropped. This is an important timber tree in western and central Europe, where most forests are semi-natural and managed with a view to encourage fir regeneration and growth at the expense of competitors. It is not very successful as a plantation forestry tree outside its natural areas of occurrence; one cause of this may be damage done by insect pests, which may be more prolific in monocultures and in areas with mild winters such as in the British Isles. Its most famous use in the past was for the masts of seventeenth century ships. Most of its wood today is used for plywood and veneer as it is evenly grained, light, and easily worked. Minor uses are for soundboards in musical instruments, boxes, wood carving, and sometimes for joinery. The buds, bark and leaves are all believed to have medicinal properties, for example, antiseptic, antibiotic, diuretic and balsamic. Distillation of the leaf essential oils has in the past been used to produce remedies for sprains and bruises and the leaves and resin are ingredients for remedies for coughs and colds. The resin can be added to bathes to soothe rheumatic pains and neuralgia. In Britain it was used as a Christmas tree in the nineteenth century when Prince Albert popularized the tradition; its use has declined since in favour of the more quickly and cheaply produced Norway Spruce. In horticulture Silver Fir is uncommon and mostly restricted to arboreta; a number of cultivars are known but few are common in the trade. The bark can be ground and used to thicken soups and in bread making as a subsistence food (Wolf 2003, PFAF 2014). This fir tree occurs in numerous protected areas throughout its range. Examples include Pirin National Park in Bulgaria and Apuseni National Park in Romania (where extensive stands of undisturbed forest are protected; Feurdean and Willis 2008). It is also listed in 135 Natura 2000 sites (EUNIS 2014). Guidelines have also been produced to aid forest managers to encourage fir regeneration in managed forests and to control the type of replanting material used in those areas (Wolf 2003). It is conserved ex situ in 125 botanic gardens worldwide (BCGI 2013).



  • Farjon, A. (2010). A Handbook of the World's Conifers. Koninklijke Brill, Leiden.
  • Eckenwalder, J.E. (2009) Conifers of the World: The Complete Reference. Timber Press, Portland.
  • IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources. Cambridge, UK /Gland, Switzerland

Copyright © Aljos Farjon, James E. Eckenwalder, IUCN, Conifers Garden. All rights reserved.

Product CodeABILGQF096

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