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Abies lasiocarpa

Alpine Fir, Rocky Mountain Fir
Evergreen, Trees


In nature, firs are tall, erect, symmetrical trees with uniformly spaced branch whorls. Though sometimes confused with spruces (Picea), they have softer needles that fall directly from the stems (spruces leave short pegs behind), and their large cones grow up rather than down. Cones shatter after ripening, leaving a spiky stalk. Most are high-mountain plants that do best in or near their natural environments. They grow slowly if at all in hot, dry, windy areas at low elevations, though firs from some other parts of the world do well in warm, dry climates.

Christmas tree farms grow native firs for cutting, and nurseries in the Pacific Northwest and Northern California grow a few species for the living Christmas tree trade. Licensed collectors in the Northwest dig picturesque, contorted firs at high elevations near the timberline and market them through nurseries as “alpine conifers.” Use these in rock gardens; small specimens are good container or bonsai subjects. Birds are attracted by fir seeds. New growth on firs is susceptible to aphid damage.

Allow ample growing room at planting. Trying to restrict a fir tree’s size by pruning usually ruins its naturally attractive shape. Pruning is rarely necessary; plants are more attractive with branches all the way to the ground.

Abies lasiocarpa

Native to Alaska, south through the high Cascades of Washington and Oregon; nearly throughout the Rocky Mountains. In the wild in good, moist soil, it is a narrow, steeple-shaped tree 60–90 ft. tall and 10 ft. wide. In gardens, usually grows much shorter and loses its narrow shape; allow for 15–20-ft. spread in Northwest. Extremely slow growing in California gardens. Bluish green, 1–1 1/2-in.-long needles.

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