Family: Pinaceae
Common Name: Fir

The name of this genus of 50 species, which occurs naturally only in the northern hemisphere, derives from the Latin abeo, 'I rise', as some grow to majestic heights. Like the majority of conifers, the firs are evergreen. The short, stiff needles of most species are usually flat, clothing the twigs evenly, but on the outer branches on the lower part of the tree they part and twist upward. The needles of some species are radially arranged, perfectly, on all twigs, while others form two separate, flat rows on either side of the twig. Generally, the needles have two silver bands on the undersurface. Most Abies species are worth growing in large, cool Climate gardens for their extraordinary symmetry and beautiful foliage, color and texture. Heights given for the various species are for trees grown in conditions that mirror their habitat. In other regions they will usually be much shorter.


A. alba, European silver fir, zohe S, grows to 30 m (100 ft) or more in height, becoming pyramid-like and broad-tipped with age. The dark green leaves are 2-3 cm (about 1 in) long and they grow in two rows.

A. balsamea, balsam fir or balm of Gilead, zone 3, grows 10-20 m (33-65 ft) high and forms a narrow pyramidal shape. The dark green, 2-3 cm (about 1 in) long leaves are either blunt or notched and also grow in two rows. The dwarf Hudsonia Group is better known.

A. cephalonica, Grecian fir, zone 6, grows to 30 m (100 ft) in a pyramidal shape. The stiff, sharp, shiny green leaves are 2-3 cm (about I in) long and blueish gray underneath.

A. firma, Japanese fir, zone 6, grows to 30 m (100 ft) or more in a pyramidal shape, becoming broader at the top with age. The shiny green leaves are 2.5 cm (1 in) long, acute or sometimes forked at the apex, and they grow in two rows.

A fast-growing species, A. grandis, or giant fir, zone 6, grows to 20-30 m (65-100 ft) in height and forms a pyramidal shape. The leaves are colored shiny dark green, 3-6 cm (1-2½ in) in length, with notched apexes, and growing in two horizontal rows.

A. homolepis, Nikko fir, zone 5, grows 20-30 m (65-100 ft) in height to a pyramidal shape. The dark green leaves are 2 cm (1 in) long and either acute or notched.

A. lasiocarpa, alpine fir, zone 3, grows 15-25 m (50-80 ft) in height and forms a pyramidal shape with an irregular outline. The sharp-pointed, pale grayish green leaves are 2-3 cm (about 1 in) long. Cultivar 'Compacta' grows to about 1 m (3 ft) forming a compact pyramidal shape. It has blueish green foliage.

A. magnifica, Californian red fir, zone 6, grows 15-25 m (50-80 ft) in height in a column-like shape and has downward sweeping branches and crowded leaves. The shiny dark green leaves are 2-3 cm (about 1 in) long, with notched apexes.

A. pinsapo, Spanish fir, zone 7, grows 15-25 m (50-80 ft) in height, forming a broad pyramidal shape, with a rounded crown and downward sweeping branches. The dark green leaves are 1-2 cm (about 1 in) long, rigid and sharp-pointed. They are arranged radially on the twigs. Cultivar 'Glauca' is widely grown because of its blueish gray foliage.

A. spectabilis, Himalayan fir, zone 6, grows to 30 m (100 ft) or more to a broad pyramid-like shape. Leaves are 3-6 cm (1-2½ in) long, shiny dark green, and blunt or notched.


Firs grow well throughout the cooler and cold regions of the UK but do not like hot summers and are not drought-resistant. They can be grown quite successfully in tubs in warmer coastal areas if they are placed in a cool spot. Plant in deep soil of medium to high fertility, and make sure that the subsoil is kept moist throughout the year. Propagate from seed. Germination usually takes place easily a short time after sowing which is best done in early spring. Grafting is only used for propagating prized selections and cultivars. The scion must be taken from the tip of an erect leading shoot, otherwise the resulting plant will have the horizontal growth of a side-branch.


Zones 3 to 7 depending on the species.

Abeliophyllum      Abutilon