Conifers Garden - Online Conifer Nursery


Abies religiosa

Abies religiosa - Sacred fir, Oyamel fir, Pinabete
  • Abies religiosa - Sacred fir, Oyamel fir, Pinabete  - Click to enlarge
  • Abies religiosa branches - Click to enlarge
  • Abies religiosa leaves - Click to enlarge


Scientific name: Abies religiosa  (Kunth) Schltdl. & Cham.  1830

Synonyms: Abies colimensis Rushforth & Narave, Abies glauca Roezl ex Gordon, Abies glaucescens Roezl, Abies hirtella (Kunth) Lindl., Abies religiosa var. glaucescens Carrière, Abies religiosa var. hirtella (Kunth) Carrière, Abies religiosa var. lindleyana Carrière, Abies tlapalcatuda Roezl, Picea glaucescens (Roezl) Gordon, Picea hirtella (Kunth) Loudon, Picea religiosa (Kunth) Loudon, Pinus hirtella Kunth, Pinus religiosa Kunth

Common names: Sacred fir, Oyamel fir (English), Oyamel, Pinabete (Spanish)



Tree to 45(-60) m tall, trunk to 1.5(-2) m in diameter. Bark grayish white, darkening or browning and breaking up into irregular plates with age. Branchlets at first sparsely to densely hairy in the prominent grooves between the leaf bases, the hairs disappearing with age. Buds 2-4 mm, thickly covered with white to yellowish resin. Needles arranged to the sides in several rows and also forward over the twig on lower branches and upward on higher branches with seed cones (1-)3-5(-9) cm long, shiny bright green to waxy bluish green above, the tip usually pointed or rounded but sometimes notched. Individual needles flat in cross section and with a resin canal on each side touching the lower epidermis near the outer margin, without stomates or with about five interrupted lines of stomates in the groove above, especially near the tip, and with 8-12 lines in each bluish white waxy stomatal band beneath. Pollen cones (12-)20-40 mm long, red. Seed cones cylindrical to oblong, (8-)12-16 cm long, 4-6.5(-8) cm across, purple when young, maturing purplish brown. Bracts about as long as the minutely fuzzy seed scales or somewhat longer, emerging between the scales and bent down over them. Persistent cone axis narrowly conical. Seed body (8-)9-12(-14) mm long, the wing 1-1.5 times as long. Cotyledons five or six.

Throughout central Mexico the branches are cut to decorate churches on feast days, explaining the scientific name. The common name oyamed is the Mexican Spanish continuation of the classical Aztec name for the tree, oyametl.

Central Mexico, from Jalisco and Guerrero to Hidalgo and Veracruz. Forming pure stands or mixed with pines (Pinus), oaks (Quercus), or other hardwoods on mountainsides and I mountain valleys; (1,200-)2,500-3,500(-4,100) m.


Conservation Status

Red List Category & Criteria: Least Concern

This is the most widespread and abundant species of Abies in Mexico; its extent of occurrence and probably its area of occupancy are beyond the thresholds for a threatened category. There is likely to have been some impact from logging but this has not resulted in sufficient reduction to fall within the threatened thresholds. On the available information it is assessed as Least Concern.

Abies religiosa is a high mountain species, occurring between 1,200 m and 4,100 m a.s.l., but more commonly between 2100 m and 3,100 m, usually on well drained mountain soils of volcanic origin. The climate is cool, moist oceanic on ranges near the coast, colder with more snow in the interior, with abundant precipitation. There are pure stands of this fir at the higher elevations, but it is often mixed with Pinus montezumae, Pinus hartwegii, in the north of its range also with Pseudotsuga menziesii var. glauca; at lower elevations Quercus spp., Alnus acuminata, Prunus serotina, and Arbutus spp. become more abundant. Shrubs are e.g. Vaccinium spp., Andromeda spp., Ribes spp., and Fuchsia spp.

This species has a very special ecological significance since it serves as the hibernation tree (in a very limited part of its range in south-central Mexico) for many millions of Monarch Butterflies (Danaus plexippus) yearly making one of the most spectacular displays in all of nature.

Logging almost certainly has had a negative impact on this species in some areas, as has general deforestation that has occurred especially in Guatemala and southern Mexico. It is difficult to quantify this, but a conservative estimate would be a past reduction of 10% over three generations, or about a century. This species is present in some protected areas, but most of the population is outside such forest reserves.

In Guatemala and Mexico the timber of this species is used for light indoor construction and general carpentry. Wholesale logging is unlikely to occur because this tree has traditional religious significance to Native Americans. With the conversion to (Roman Catholic) Christianity and hispanization of the populations of this part of Latin America these traditions were incorporated into the new modes of worship and at times of religious festivals churches are being decorated with the foliage of this fir.

This species is present in some protected areas, among which are national parks. Particular attention has been paid to some forests where Monarch Butterflies overwinter: these have been designated as the Reserva de la Biosfera Mariposa Monarca. Illegal logging is a problem even within these areas.


Cultivars: -



  • 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.

This field is required.