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Abies densa

Abies densa - Sikkim fir, Himalayan red fir
  • Abies densa - Sikkim fir, Himalayan red fir - Click to enlarge
  • Abies densa branches - Click to enlarge
  • Abies densa cones - Click to enlarge


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Product Information


Scientific name: Abies densa  W. Griffith  1854

Synonyms: Abies fabri subsp. fordei (Rushforth) Silba, Abies fordei Rushforth, Abies spectabilis subsp. densa (Griff.) Silba, Abies spectabilis var. densa (Griff.) Silba

Common names: Sikkim fir, Himalayan red fir



Tree to 50(-60) m tall, with trunk to 2.5 m in diameter. Bark gray, becoming flaky and then ridged and furrowed with age. Branchlets reddish brown (hence the common name), distinctly grooved between the leaf bases, with or without some dark brown hairs in the grooves. Buds about 8 mm long, a little resinous. Needles arranged to the sides and above the twigs, (1.3-)2.5-5 cm long, light green above, the tips notched. Individual needles flat in cross section with the margins rolled under and with a small resin canal on either side near the edge just inside the lower epidermis, without stomates above and with 8-12 lines of stomates in each white stomatal band beneath. Pollen cones 20-40(-50) mm long, violet. Seed cones cylindrical, 8-12(-15) cm long. 3.5-5(-6) cm across, dark violet when young, maturing dark purplish brown. Bracts as long as or a little shorter than the seed scales and often just peeking out between them, especially near the bottom of the cone. Persistent cone axis narrowly conical. Seed body 5-8 mm long, the wing up to 1.5 times as long. Cotyledons four to six.

Eastern Himalaya from eastern Nepal to Arunachal Pradesh (India) and adjacent China in Xizang (Tibet). Forming pure stands or mixed with other conifers and hardwoods in a distinct belt within the montane forest (2,450-)2,750-3,750(4,200) m. The climate is extremely wet, with well-marked monsoons and an annual precipitation of more than 2,000 mm.


Conservation Status

Red List Category & Criteria: Least Concern

Abies densa is a widely distributed species, which, although the extent of occurrence may approach 20,000 km², is not under any threat, hence it is listed as Least Concern.

This species has been included with Abies spectabilis (Liu 1971, Cheng and Fu, 1978, Sahni [in part] 1990), but it is distinct both morphologically and geographically. It has somewhat smaller cones with slightly exserting bracts and leaves with slightly revolute margins, which are arranged more radially around the shoots, especially on coning branches. In these characters it is intermediate between Abies spectabilis and Abies delavayi, the latter a species occurring from NE India to Yunnan, China, and also disjunct in N Vietnam. Rushforth (2009) described a new species, Abies fordei, from S Xizang (Tibet) occurring on the northern side of the Himalayan crest in the Yarlung Zangbo drainage. Apart from its flat, not revolute, leaf margins, it is similar to Abies densa and is here treated as synonymous. It thus appears that at high elevation in the Himalaya, we find from west to east, with partly overlapping distributions, first Abies spectabilis, then Abies densa, and finally Abies delavayi, which extends into the adjacent mountains of western China and as far as Vietnam.

Occurs in the high mountains of the eastern Himalayas, from 2,450 m to 4,200 m a.s.l., on rocky, often steep slopes in the cloud belt, where it grows on a variety of alpine lithosols. The summers are relatively warm, the winters are cold at high altitudes and bring heavy snowfall. The species occurs in a wide altitudinal range from mixed deciduous coniferous forest at lower elevations to stands with Betula utilis at tree line. Deciduous trees are e.g. Acer caudatum, Acer pectinatum, Prunus spp., Sorbus spp. and many large Rhododendron spp. Most of these disappear above 3,000 m to make place for conifers. Picea spinulosa and Tsuga dumosa occur generally in a belt below Abies; Larix griffithii and/or Juniperus squamata above it, the latter at tree line.

Sikkim fir is a timber tree of importance in the eastern Himalayas, where it is used in construction (house building), in particular for interior work such as floor boards, ceilings and stairs, while shingles are used for roofing. This species has been introduced in Europe only relatively recently from Bhutan, Nepal and Sikkim. It is still uncommon in gardens and parks but has more attractive characters than Abies spectabilis, with very white leaf undersides and deep purplish blue, nearly black seed cones. It undoubtedly requires ample precipitation, judging from its natural habitat.

This species occurs in several protected areas within its range, but the greater part of its distribution falls outside such reserves.


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.

Product CodeABI1NR4094
Weight1.5 kg
Height10 - 15 cm

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