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Abies alba - Mill.                
Common Name Silver Fir, Christmas Tree Fir, European Silver Fir, Silver
Family Pinaceae
Synonyms A. pectinata. A. picea.
Known Hazards None known
Habitats Forests in mountains, 1000 - 1600 metres.
Range C. and S. Europe
Edibility Rating  
Medicinal Rating  
Fully Hardy Moist Soil Full shade Semi-shade Full sun

Form: Columnar.

Physical Characteristics       
 icon of manicon of cone
Abies alba is an evergreen Tree growing to 45 m (147ft) by 15 m (49ft) at a fast rate.
It is hardy to zone (UK) 4 and is not frost tender. It is in leaf 12-Jan It is in flower from Apr to May, and the seeds ripen from Sep to October. The flowers are monoecious (individual flowers are either male or female, but both sexes can be found on the same plant) and are pollinated by Wind.

USDA hardiness zone : 5-8

Suitable for: light (sandy), medium (loamy) and heavy (clay) soils and can grow in heavy clay soil. Suitable pH: acid and neutral soils. It can grow in full shade (deep woodland) semi-shade (light woodland) or no shade. It prefers moist soil. It cannot tolerate atmospheric pollution.

Abies alba Silver Fir, Christmas Tree Fir, European Silver Fir, Silver
Abies alba Silver Fir, Christmas Tree Fir, European Silver Fir, Silver
Woodland Garden Canopy;
Edible Uses                                         
Edible Parts: Inner bark.
Edible Uses:

Inner bark - cooked. It is dried, ground into a powder and then used as a thickening in soups etc or mixed with cereals when making bread[105, 177].
Medicinal Uses

Plants For A Future can not take any responsibility for any adverse effects from the use of plants. Always seek advice from a professional before using a plant medicinally.

Antibiotic;  Antirheumatic;  Antiseptic;  Astringent;  Balsamic;  Diuretic;  Expectorant;  Vasoconstrictor;  Vulnerary.

The buds are antibiotic, antiseptic and balsamic[7]. The bark is antiseptic and astringent[7]. It can be harvested as required throughout the year[238]. The leaves are expectorant and a bronchial sedative[7]. They are best harvested in the spring and can be dried for later use[238]. The resin is antiseptic, balsamic, diuretic, eupeptic, expectorant, vasoconstrictor and vulnerary[7]. Both the leaves and the resin are common ingredients in remedies for colds and coughs, either taken internally or used as an inhalant[238]. The leaves and/or the resin are used in folk medicine to treat bronchitis, cystitis, leucorrhoea, ulcers and flatulent colic[268]. The resin is also used externally in bath extracts, rubbing oils etc for treating rheumatic pains and neuralgia[238]. Oil of Turpentine, which is obtained from the trunk of the tree, is occasionally used instead of the leaves or the resin. The oil is also rubefacient and can be applied externally in the treatment of neuralgia[268].
Other Uses
Essential;  Lacquer;  Paint;  Resin;  Tannin;  Wood.

An oleo-resin is obtained from blister-like swellings in the bark[64, 100]. It is harvested in the summer and used fresh, dried or distilled for oil[238]. The resin extracted from it is used in perfumery, medicine and for caulking ships[46, 61, 64, 100]. It is called 'Strasburg Turpentine'[46]. Oil of turpentine is an important solvent in the paint industry[238]. The residue, known as 'rosin oil', is used in making varnishes, lacquers and carbon black (for pigments and ink)[238]. Resin is tapped from trees about 60 - 80 years old in the spring and used for the distillation of oil[238]. An essential oil obtained from the leaves is used as a disinfectant and also in medicine and perfumery[46, 61]. It is a common ingredient in many bath products, giving them their familiar pine scent[7]. The bark is a source of tannin[7]. Wood - light, soft, durable, elastic. The timber of this tree is especially sought after for its lightness, it is used for construction, furniture, boxes, pulp etc[7, 46, 61, 89, 101].
Cultivation details                                         
Landscape Uses:Screen, Specimen. Prefers a good moist but not water-logged soil[1] though it tolerates most soils except infertile sands and peats[11, 81]. Grows well in heavy clay soils. Prefers a slightly acid soil, with a pH down to about 5, and a north-facing slope[200]. Plants are very shade tolerant and this species has often been used to underplant in forests[11, 81], but growth is slower in dense shade[81]. Intolerant of atmospheric pollution[1]. Requires a generous rainfall and a sheltered position[11, 81]. Intolerant of windy sites[81]. The silver fir is a very hardy plant when dormant but it comes into growth in April and is then susceptible to damage by late frosts and aphis[185, 238]. This species is particularly subject to aphis infestation in many parts of the country[11], and is also prone to dieback and rust caused by fungal infections[238]. Trees are slow growing for the first few years but from the age of around 6 years growth accelerates and height increases of 1 metre a year are not uncommon[185]. Grows best in moist valleys in Scotland[11] and in S.W. England where it often self-sows. This species also thrives in E. Anglia[17]. Another report says that this species is not happy in the hot, dry, Lower Thames Valley, and does not thrive in many low-lying and frosty parts of southern England[11]. It has been planted as a timber tree in northern and western Europe[50]. It is also commonly used as a 'Christmas tree'[61, 200]. This tree is notably resistant to honey fungus[11, 81, 200]. Trees should be planted into their permanent positions when they are quite small, preferably between 30 and 90cm in height. Larger trees will check badly and hardly put on any growth for several years. This also badly affects root development and wind resistance[200]. Unlike most species of conifers, this tree can be coppiced and will regenerate from the stump[126]. Plants are strongly outbreeding, self-fertilized seed usually grows poorly[200]. They hybridize freely with other members of this genus[200]. The cultivar 'Pendula' used to be widely planted for ornament, shelter and timber but because it is now susceptible to damage by Adelges nordmannianae it is seldom planted. Research is going on (1975) to find provenances that are resistant[185]. Special Features:Not North American native, There are no flowers or blooms.
Seed - sow early February in a greenhouse or outdoors in March[78]. Germination is often poor, usually taking about 6 - 8 weeks[78]. Stratification is said to produce a more even germination so it is probably best to sow the seed in a cold frame as soon as it is ripe in the autumn[80, 113]. The seed remains viable for up to 5 years if it is well stored[113]. When large enough to handle, prick the seedlings out into individual pots and grow them on for at least their first winter in pots. Plant them out into their permanent positions in late spring or early summer, after the last expected frosts. Alternatively, if you have sufficient seed, it is possible to sow in an outdoor seedbed. One report says that it is best to grow the seedlings on in the shade at a density of about 550 plants per square metre[78] whilst another report says that they are best grown on in a sunny position[80].
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Expert comment                                         
Botanical References                                         
Links / References                                         

[1]F. Chittendon. RHS Dictionary of Plants plus Supplement. 1956
Comprehensive listing of species and how to grow them. Somewhat outdated, it has been replaces in 1992 by a new dictionary (see [200]).
[7]Chiej. R. Encyclopaedia of Medicinal Plants.
Covers plants growing in Europe. Also gives other interesting information on the plants. Good photographs.
[11]Bean. W. Trees and Shrubs Hardy in Great Britain. Vol 1 - 4 and Supplement.
A classic with a wealth of information on the plants, but poor on pictures.
[17]Clapham, Tootin and Warburg. Flora of the British Isles.
A very comprehensive flora, the standard reference book but it has no pictures.
[46]Uphof. J. C. Th. Dictionary of Economic Plants.
An excellent and very comprehensive guide but it only gives very short descriptions of the uses without any details of how to utilize the plants. Not for the casual reader.
[50]? Flora Europaea
An immense work in 6 volumes (including the index). The standard reference flora for europe, it is very terse though and with very little extra information. Not for the casual reader.
[61]Usher. G. A Dictionary of Plants Used by Man.
Forget the sexist title, this is one of the best books on the subject. Lists a very extensive range of useful plants from around the world with very brief details of the uses. Not for the casual reader.
[64]Howes. F. N. Vegetable Gums and Resins.
A very good book dealing with the subject in a readable way.
[78]Sheat. W. G. Propagation of Trees, Shrubs and Conifers.
A bit dated but a good book on propagation techniques with specific details for a wide range of plants.
[80]McMillan-Browse. P. Hardy Woody Plants from Seed.
Does not deal with many species but it is very comprehensive on those that it does cover. Not for casual reading.
[81]Rushforth. K. Conifers.
Deals with conifers that can be grown outdoors in Britain. Good notes on cultivation and a few bits about plant uses.
[89]Polunin. O. and Huxley. A. Flowers of the Mediterranean.
A very readable pocket flora that is well illustrated. Gives some information on plant uses.
[100]Polunin. O. Flowers of Europe - A Field Guide.
An excellent and well illustrated pocket guide for those with very large pockets. Also gives some details on plant uses.
[101]Turner. N. J. and Szczawinski. A. Edible Wild Fruits and Nuts of Canada.
A very readable guide to some wild foods of Canada.
[105]Tanaka. T. Tanaka's Cyclopaedia of Edible Plants of the World.
The most comprehensive guide to edible plants I've come across. Only the briefest entry for each species, though, and some of the entries are more than a little dubious. Not for the casual reader.
[113]Dirr. M. A. and Heuser. M. W. The Reference Manual of Woody Plant Propagation.
A very detailed book on propagating trees. Not for the casual reader.
[126]? The Plantsman. Vol. 6. 1984 - 1985.
Excerpts from the periodical giving cultivation details and other notes on some of the useful plants including Actinidia and Wisteria species.
[177]Kunkel. G. Plants for Human Consumption.
An excellent book for the dedicated. A comprehensive listing of latin names with a brief list of edible parts.
[185]Mitchell. A. F. Conifers in the British Isles.
A bit out of date (first published in 1972), but an excellent guide to how well the various species of conifers grow in Britain giving locations of trees.
[200]Huxley. A. The New RHS Dictionary of Gardening. 1992.
Excellent and very comprehensive, though it contains a number of silly mistakes. Readable yet also very detailed.
[238]Bown. D. Encyclopaedia of Herbs and their Uses.
A very well presented and informative book on herbs from around the globe. Plenty in it for both the casual reader and the serious student. Just one main quibble is the silly way of having two separate entries for each plant.
[268]Stuart. M. (Editor) The Encyclopedia of Herbs and Herbalism
Excellent herbal with good concise information on over 400 herbs.

Readers comment                                         
Elizabeth H.
Peter Gibbons Thu Jan 19 2006

Find additional information about this plant at

Elizabeth H.
Raffi Fri Oct 23 2009 - Garden wiki & Plant encyclopedia

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