IUCN threat status:

Least Concern (LC)

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Abies alba, silver fir or European silver fir, in the Pinaceae family, is an evergreen coniferous tree species native to the mountains of Europe, from the Pyrenees north to Normandy, east to the Alps and the Carpathians, and south to southern Italy and northern Serbia.

A. alba is a large evergreen coniferous tree generally growing to 40–50 m (98–130 feet) tall and with a trunk diameter of up to 1.5 m (over 4.5 feet). It occurs at altitudes of 300-1,700 m (mainly over 500 m). Leaves are needle-like, flattened, 1.8–3 cm long and 2 mm wide by 0.5 mm thick, glossy dark green above, and with two greenish-white bands of stomata below. Leaftips are usually slightly notched at the tip. Cones are 9–17 cm long and 3–4 cm broad, with about 150-200 scales, each scale with an exserted bract and two winged seeds. As is characteristic of the genus, the cones disintegrate when mature to release the seeds.

A. alba is dominant in some forest stands in the Alps, or may co-occur with spruce (Picea sp.), or with hardwoods, commonly beech (Fagus sp.). It is closely related to Bulgarian fir (A. borisiiregis) of the Balkan Peninsula, and Sicilian fir (A. nebrodensis) in Sicily; it differs from these and other related Euro-Mediterranean firs in the sparser foliage. Some botanists treat Bulgarian and Sicilian firs as varieties of A. alba (var. acutifolia and var. nebrodensis, respectively).

The wood is white, leading to the species name "alba," but soft, somewhat weak, and tending to decay quickly. However, silver fir is important for pulpwood and construction use (often plywood) in Europe. Silver fir previously had widespread use as a Christmas tree, and may be the species immortalized in Hans Christian Anderson's famous fairy tale, The Little Fir Tree (recited in this YouTube clip). In recent years, however, silver fir has largely been replaced by other species (such as Norway spruce, Picea abies, which is more economically cultivated, or Nordmann fir, A. nordmanniana, which has denser, more attractive foliage). Resin extracted from the bark and leaves is used to make turpentine, varnishes, and various medicinal and cosmetic products, including perfumes, bath oils, and air fresheners. The resin has been used as an antiseptic, diuretic, expectorant, vasoconstrictor, and is a common ingredient in cough remedies.

A. alba is sensitive to pollution and climate change, and is considered a good environmental indicator. It listed as a threatened species in the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List, although is rated as “least concern.”

(Gymnosperm Database 2011 Harlow et al. 1991, IUCN 2011, PFAF 2011, Walentowski et al. 2005, Wikipedia 2011)

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