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Abies bracteata

Abies bracteata - Bristlecone fir, Santa Lucia fir
  • Abies bracteata - Bristlecone fir, Santa Lucia fir - Click to enlarge
  • Abies bracteata branches - Click to enlarge
  • Abies bracteata cones - Click to enlarge


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Product Information


Scientific name: Abies bracteata   D. Don ex Poiteau  1845

Synonyms: Abies venusta (Douglas) K.Koch, Abies venusta Sarg., Picea bracteata (D.Don) Loudon, Pinus bracteata D.Don, Pinus venusta Douglas, Sequoia gigantea Endl.

Common names: Bristlecone fir, Santa Lucia fir



Abies bracteata is the only member of the subgenus Pseudotorreya within the genus Abies. It is not closely related to any other member of the genus. Tree to 35(-55) m tall, with trunk to 1.3 m in diameter. Bark grayish brown, breaking up slightly with age. Branchlets hairless, thinly waxy at first, not or weakly grooved. Buds (12-)15-20(-25) mm long, sharp-pointed, not resinous. Needles arranged all around the twigs or mostly to the sides, but rather densely so, (2.5-)3-6 cm long, very stiff, dark green above, the tips sharply pointed. Individual needles slightly plump in cross section and with a small resin canal on either side at the far edge, just inside the lower epidermis, without stomates above and with 8-10 rows of stomates in each greenish white stomatal band beneath. Pollen cones about 3 cm long, yellowish brown. Seed cones egg-shaped, (4.5-)7-10 cm long, 4-6 cm across, reddish green when young, maturing pale purplish brown. Bract blades about as long as the seed scales and emerging beyond them, the stiff, narrow tips extending out another 1-3 cm (hence the scientific and common names). Persistent cone axis broadly conical, widest below the midpoint. Seed body 6-10 mm long, the wing about as long. Cotyledons mostly seven.

Santa Lucia Mountains of coastal Monterey County and northern San Luis Obispo County, California. Scattered among evergreen hardwoods on steep slopes above the redwood forest; (200-)600-900(-1,600) m.


Conservation Status

Red List Category & Criteria: Near Threatened

Abies bracteata has been assessed as Near Threatened on the basis of its restricted distribution, a decline in the quality of the habitat in areas surrounding existing stands due to the effects of Sudden Oak Death, poor regeneration and poor re-establishment potential. It is also potentially susceptible to indirect effects of climate change. Any further change in its status could lead to a listing as Endangered, under criterion B.

Generally occurs as small stands or scattered individuals in areas that are not prone to fire. Throughout its range Abies bracteata is restricted to steep north- and east-facing upland slopes and ridges, in canyon bottoms, and on raised stream benches and terraces. These areas are not prone to hot fires. It occurs either in mixed evergreen forests, canyon live oak communities or occassionally with Sequoia sempervirens, Pinus lambertiana and  Pinus ponderosa.

Abies bracteata is not currently threatened by any form of utilization and almost all subpopulations are within protected areas so that changes in land-use are unlikely to occur in the near future. Under normal conditions, fire is a relatively minor risk as most stands are confined to areas that rarely burn. However, dieback of associated oak species through Sudden Oak Death may increase fuel-load in surrounding areas and heighten the risk of more intense fires. Additionally, climate change impacts such as variations in precipitation, associated changes in fire frequencies and intensities would be problematic. Abies bracteata's ability to respond and adapt to changes in its environment is hampered by poor seed set associated with inbreeding and seed predation, infrequent regeneration and a lack of genetic diversity within and between subpopulations.

Santa Lucia fir is no longer used for timber but it is an attractive and unusual species much valued in collections for botanic gardens and arboreta. It was successfully introduced and raised by the famous tree nursery of Veitch & Son near Chelsea in England in 1853, but it only became more common in horticulture later in the twentieth century when renewed seed collecting was undertaken. Trees in cultivation often grow much faster and taller than in their natural habitats in the Santa Lucia Mountains.

The majority of localities are within the Ventana Wilderness area of Los Padres National Forest protected areas.



Abies bracteata ’Corbin’ 
Abies bracteata ’Wilson’    



  • 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 CodeABIBX0F346
Weight1.5 kg
Height15 - 20 cm

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