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Abies pinsapo

Abies pinsapo - Spanish fir, Pinsapo, Abeto español
  • Abies pinsapo - Spanish fir, Pinsapo, Abeto español   - Click to enlarge
  • Abies pinsapo branches - Click to enlarge
  • Abies pinsapo cones - Click to enlarge


Scientific name: Abies pinsapo   Boissier  1838

Synonyms: Abies hispanica Chambray, Abies pinsapo var. glauca Carrière, Abies pinsapo subsp. hispanica (Chambray) Maire, Abies pinsapo var. hispanica (Chambray) Christ, Abies pinsapo var. pendula (Beissn.) C.K.Schneid., Abies pinsapo subsp. pinsapo, Abies pinsapo var. pinsapo, Picea pinsapo (Boiss.) Loudon, Picea pinsapo var. argentea J.Nelson, Picea pinsapo var. glauca (Carrière) Gordon, Pinus pinsapo (Boiss.) Antoine, Pinus sapo d'Ounous

Infraspecific taxa: Abies pinsapo var. marocana (Trab.) Emb. & Maire  1938, Abies pinsapo var. tazaotana (Cózar ex Villar) Pourtet  1954

Common names: Spanish fir (English), Pinsapo, Abeto español (Spanish)



Tree to 30(-50) m tall, with trunk to 0.8(-1.5) m in diameter. Bark grayish brown, becoming deeply ridged and furrowed with age. Branchlets hairless, often shiny, grooved between the leaf bases. Buds 3.5-5 mm long, resinous or not. Needles arranged straight out all around the twigs or bent upward or denser toward the sides, (0.6-)1-2(-2.5) cm long, shiny dark green above, the tip sharp to blunt, rounded, or even slightly notched. Individual needles stiff, thick in cross section and with a resin canal on either side near the edge either just inside the lower epidermis or deep within the leaf tissue, with 1-14 continuous or discontinuous lines of stomates in a variably expressed central groove above, especially near the apex, and 6-7(-10) lines in each greenish white stomatal band beneath. Pollen cones 5-7(-15) mm long, reddish purple. Seed cones cylindrical, (9-)12-18(-25) cm long, 3.5-5(-6) cm across, greenish, yellowish, or reddish brown when young, maturing yellowish to purplish brown. Bracts no more than half as long as the seed scales and hidden by them. Persistent cone axis narrowly conical. Seed body 7-10 mm long, the wing up to 1.5 times as long. Cotyledons five to seven.

The twigs can be mashed in water to produce a soap, thus explaining the species and Spanish common name (“soap pine”).

Mountains of the southwestern Mediterranean in southeastern Spain, northern Morocco, and northern Algeria. Forming pure stands or mixed with Atlas cedar (Cedrus atlantica) in rocky soils at higher elevations and with other conifers and evergreen hardwoods below; (900-)1,200-1,800(-2,200) m.


Conservation Status

Red List Category & Criteria: Endangered

Abies pinsapo has a very limited distribution and a restricted habitat in small areas of Spain and Morocco. The total extent of occurrence (EOO) has been estimated to be 3,727 km², while the area of occupancy (AOO) is considerably less than 500 km². The number of locations is five and there is a decline in the quality of habitat in significant parts of its range. In Morocco, deforestation and forest degradation are regionally significant factors whereas in Spain, the decline is linked to fungal and insect pathogens combined with the effects of recent droughts and long term fire suppression. This species is therefore listed as Endangered.

There are currently no accurate figures for the total number of mature individuals over the full extent of its range. The Moroccan subpopulation is considerably smaller than the Spanish subpopulation. Recent genetic studies have indicated that the Spanish and Moroccan varieties have been isolated for considerable periods of time and that there is little, if any, gene flow between them.

In Morocco Abies pinsapo occurs in the Mediterranean humid bioclimatic zone. The average annual rainfall is 1,500 mm, increasing to 1,900 mm at an altitude of 1,700 m. Stands are typically found on north facing dolomitic limestone slopes of mountain ridges. The optimal altitudinal range is between 1,400 and 1,800 m, where it forms mixed forests with a range of oaks and maples. Between 1,800 and 2,000 m Abies occurs with Cedrus atlantica, Pinus nigra and Pinus pinaster. Above 2,000 m the mountain summits are typically dominated by shrubby xerophytic species. In southeastern Spain Abies pinsapo occurs on dolomitic soils in the Sierra de Grazalema and Sierra de las Nieves but on serpentine soils in the Sierra Bermeja. Forests occur at altitudes between 900 and 1,600 m asl. Above 1,100 m its forms dense, pure forests, but below this altitude trees occur in mixed communities with a range of oaks and pines.

In Spain the major threat is fire. Other threats include pests and diseases which are more apparent during drought years when forests are more stressed.  During the last decade (1990s) a regional warming trend and a decrease in precipitation has been observed. These changes have been associated with increasing mortality of trees at elevations below 1,100m. In Morocco, fire is also a major threat. Deforestation and habitat degradation associated with cannabis cultivation in the areas surrounding the fir stands are additional threats.

The timber has historically been locally used for house construction. The forests in the Sierra de Grazalema (El Pinar) were managed for timber production. There is no present-day use of the timber.

The majority of stands are now within various protected areas in Spain and Morocco. In 2006 these protected areas were included in the first UNESCO Intercontinental Mediterranean Biosphere Reserve. In Spain Abies pinsapo var. pinsapo is also protected at a regional level under the Spanish law. At the European level, Abies pinsapo forests have been included in the Habitats Directive (92/43/CEE).



Abies pinsapo ’Argentea’
Abies pinsapo ’Atlas’   
Abies pinsapo ’Aurea’
Abies pinsapo ’Aurea Wilkins’
Abies pinsapo ’Barbara’s Dwarf’
Abies pinsapo ’Bell’
Abies pinsapo ’Blaubar’
Abies pinsapo ’Bois’
Abies pinsapo ’Clarke’
Abies pinsapo ’Delbert’s Dwarf’
Abies pinsapo ’Enrice’
Abies pinsapo ’Espania’
Abies pinsapo ’Fastigiata’
Abies pinsapo ’Fatima’
Abies pinsapo ’Glauca’
Abies pinsapo ’Glauca Compacta’
Abies pinsapo ’Glauca Prostrata’
Abies pinsapo ’Guek Silber’
Abies pinsapo ’Hammondii’
Abies pinsapo ’Haunet Feld’
Abies pinsapo ’Horcajo’
Abies pinsapo ’Horstmann’
Abies pinsapo ’Kelleriis’
Abies pinsapo ’Kelleriis Broom’
Abies pinsapo ’Kilmacurragh’
Abies pinsapo ’La Fiesta’
Abies pinsapo ’Marokko’
Abies pinsapo ’Monte Jaque’ 
Abies pinsapo ’Monteverde’ 
Abies pinsapo ’Nana’
Abies pinsapo ’Nana Glauca’
Abies pinsapo ’Pendula’
Abies pinsapo ’Pendula Glauca’
Abies pinsapo ’Prostrata’
Abies pinsapo ’Pygmaea’
Abies pinsapo ’Pyramidalis Glauca’ 
Abies pinsapo ’Pyramidata’
Abies pinsapo ’Quicksilver’
Abies pinsapo ’Ronda-Holubec’
Abies pinsapo ’Ronda Mt.’
Abies pinsapo ’Roquelle’ 
Abies pinsapo ’Rosemoor Form’
Abies pinsapo ’San Diego Creeper’
Abies pinsapo ’San Petro’
Abies pinsapo ’San Rogue’
Abies pinsapo ’Soltan’
Abies pinsapo ’Soltau’
Abies pinsapo ’Tuareg’
Abies pinsapo ’Vanc’
Abies pinsapo ’Variegata’
Abies pinsapo ’Weeping Blue’



  • 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.

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