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12 Species of Fir Trees

Members of the Genus Abies

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Some of the most popular choices for Christmas trees belong to the fir genus (Abies). The most common fir trees used are the balsam fir, Fraser fir, noble fir and Nordmann fir.

Some characteristics that should help you distinguish the fir trees from other conifers:

These evergreens can be identified by the place where the needle attaches to the branch, which looks like a suction cup. The soft needles are attached to what looks like a suction cup on the branch. Unlike the pulvini of the spruce trees, they detach cleanly from the branch without leaving a peg behind. The needles also aren't formed into fascicles like the pine trees.

The fir tree cones are softer than other coniferous trees and come apart at the end of the season to spread their seeds. They also grow upwards instead of hanging down.

As happens with common names sometimes, the name Douglas fir is a misnomer. The genus for that tree is Pseudotsuga, which translates out to fake (Pseudo) hemlock (Tsuga), meaning that this tree is not a true fir.

If you want to celebrate Fir Tree Appreciation Day, break out your party hats on June 18th.

1. Balsam Fir

Picture of the balsam fir
Image by magnolia1000 via Flickr
  • Latin Name:Abies balsamea
  • Native to: North America
  • USDA Zones: 3-8
  • Height: 40-90' tall
Click here to see the balsam fir in Christmas tree form

In addition to being a popular choice for a Christmas tree, the balsam fir is used for its aromatic oils and resins, as well as in making paper.

2. Fraser Fir

Picture of Fraser fir cones
Image by Silversyrpher via Flickr
  • Latin Name: Abies fraseri
  • Other Common Names: Frazer fir, Frazier fir, she balsam, balsam fir, eastern fir, southern fir, Fraser's fir, southern balsam fir
  • Native to: Eastern United States
  • USDA Zones: 4-7
  • Height: 30-60' tall
Click here to see the Fraser fir in Christmas tree form

John Fraser, a Scottish botanist, was the inspiration for this fir tree's name. The Balsam woolly adelgid (Adelges piceae) has decimated many of these trees since it was introduced into the native range of the Fraser fir.

3. Grand Fir

Picture of the grand fir
Image by DymphieH via Flickr
  • Latin Name:Abies grandis
  • Other Common Names: Great silver fir, giant fir, Oregon fir, lowland white fir, Vancouver fir, western white fir, yellow fir, balsam fir, great fir
  • Native to:Northern California and the Pacific Northwest
  • USDA Zones: Hardy to Zone 6
  • Height: These firs can be almost 300' tall. They will usually be at least 100' tall.
Click here to see the grand fir in Christmas tree form

The grand fir is one of the fastest-growing fir tree species, as well as one of the tallest. The cones on this tree turn yellow as they mature.

4. Himalayan Fir

Photo of Himalayan fir
Image by wlcutler via Flickr
  • Latin Name: Abies spectabilis
  • Other Common Names: East Himalayan fir
  • Native to: Afghanistan, China, India and Nepal
  • USDA Zones: 7-9
  • Height: Can be almost 100' tall

Parts of this fir can be used to create an essential oil and incense. This tree can do well in shady areas.

5. Korean Fir

Photo of the cones on a Korean fir tree
magnolia1000 via Flickr
  • Latin Name: Abies koreana
  • Other Common Names: Gusang namu
  • Native to: South Korea
  • USDA Zones: 5-7
  • Height: 15-30' tall

This is one of the smaller firs. It grows slowly and will fit into most landscapes. These firs will start producing cones at an early age. The cones are distinctive; they appear in late spring and come in shades of blue or purple. This is a good option for a living Christmas tree.

6. Noble Fir

Photo of the noble fir
Image by mamamusings via Flickr
  • Latin Name: Abies procera
  • Other Common Names: Red fir, white fir
  • Native to: Western Oregon, Washington and northwest California
  • USDA Zones: 5-8
  • Height: This fir can be over 240' tall.
Click here to see the noble fir in Christmas tree form

The noble fir was a popular choice for our Christmas tree when I was growing up. There are distinct tiers of branches with open spaces, so you can showcase ornaments without the tree looking like it has bare spots. This is the tallest species of fir tree.

7. Nordmann Fir

Photo of Nordmann fir
Image by Chhe via Wikimedia
  • Latin Name: Abies nordmanniana
  • Other Common Names: Caucasian fir
  • Native to: Northern Armenia, Russian Caucasus, Georgia and Turkey
  • USDA Zones: 4-6
  • Height: 40-80' tall generally; can be over 200' tall.

Alexander von Nordmann, a Finnish zoologist, is the man that this tree was named after. The cones are blue-green when immature with brown bracts peeping out between the scales. This species can tolerate living in a container (as long as they were started in one) so it can be a good choice for a living Christmas tree.

8. Red Fir

Image of the red fir
Image by brewbooks via Flickr
  • Latin Name: Abies magnifica
  • Other Common Names: Silvertip fir, California red fir, golden fir, Shasta red fir, Shasta fir
  • Native to: Southwest California and Oregon
  • USDA Zones: 6-8
  • Height: This fir can reach 200' tall.

This fir tree gets its name because the bark turns dark red as it matures. It handles frost better than drought.

9. Silver Fir

Picture of the silver fir
Image by fauxto_digit via Flickr
  • Latin Name: Abies alba
  • Other Common Names: European silver fir
  • Native to: Southern and central Europe
  • USDA Zones: 4-8
  • Height: Can grow 130-200'+ tall

This fir species produces an essential oil that smells like pine trees. The needles are silver on their underside. This was the tree that was chosen for the first Christmas trees in Europe.

10. Spanish Fir

Image of Spanish fir
Image by tree-species via Flickr
  • Latin Name: Abies pinsapo
  • Other Common Names: Spanish pin fir, hedgehog fir
  • Native to:Morocco and southern Spain
  • USDA Zones: 6-8
  • Height: Can reach 100' tall; more often, it is 25-75' tall.

This fir tree species has female cones that look like raspberries. The needles are very sharp, inspiring the moniker of hedgehog fir.

11. Subalpine Fir

Photo of subalpine fir
Image by brewbooks via Flickr
  • Latin Name: Abies lasiocarpa
  • Other Common Names: Rocky Mountain fir
  • Native to: Western North America
  • USDA Zones: 5-8
  • Height: 60-100' tall in the wild; usually much shorter in landscapes

The subalpine fir trees in this picture exhibit the flag type of krummholz formation where one side is destroyed by strong winds. These trees grow very slowly so they are a good candidate for creating bonsai. The subalpine fir can be planted in areas with some shade.

12. White Fir

Photo of white fir
Image by simonov via Flickr
  • Latin Name: Abies concolor
  • Other Common Names: Concolor fir, Rocky Mountain white fir, California white fir, Colorado fir, silver fir
  • Native to: Western North America
  • USDA Zones: 3-7
  • Height: 30-75'+ tall
Click here to see the white fir in Christmas tree form

This fir tree is often grown in Western landscapes. It is very drought tolerant once established if it is growing in its native range and offers some tolerance in other areas. The white fir features bluish-green needles.

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