Donald E. Beck
Fraser fir (Abies fraseri), also called southern balsam fir and she-balsam, is a small- to medium-size tree. It is the only fir endemic to the southern Appalachian Mountains. The largest tree on record measures almost 86 cm (34 in) in d.b.h., 26.5 m (87 ft) tall, and has a crown spread of 15.8 m (52 ft). Because of the high elevation at which Fraser fir grows, its primary value is for watershed protection and scenic attraction.
Abies fraseri, Fraser fir, also called southern balsam fir and she-balsam, is an evergreen, coniferous, small- to medium-sized tree in the Pinaceae (pine) family. It is the only fir endemic to the southern Appalachian Mountains, where it is restricted to high elevations in southwestern Virginia, western North Carolina, and eastern Tennessee. Because of the high elevation at which Fraser fir grows, its primary value is for watershed protection and scenic attraction.
Extensive stands of Fraser fir have been damaged by the balsam woolly adelgid (Adelges piceae), which was first was discovered in North Carolina in 1957 and has since spread to all areas of Fraser fir. Mortality progressed rapidly from 11,000 trees in 1958 to about 1.75 million by 1970. Fir mortality has been extensive in all areas except Mount Rogers in Virginia. Adelgids attack branches, twigs, nodes, and bud bases of fir, but stem attack is the predominant form of infestation. Death usually follows 2 to 5 years after infestation of the bole because of direct translocation impairment.
Trees weakened by adelgids are often attacked and further damaged by bark beetles, wood wasps, and other wood-boring insects, which also may introduce fungal pathogens. Incidence of root rot caused by Armillaria mellea was shown to increase with increasing severity of adelgid damage. Damaged and weakened trees are also more susceptible to windthrow and top breakage.
Mortality from adelgids and associated damage agents has been estimated at 80% across the tree’s range. Due to this precipitous decline, Fraser fir now appear on the Federal Endangered Species Act list of species of concern, is listed as vulnerable on IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature) Red List, is categorized as threatened in Tennessee, and is on the watch list/declining in North Carolina.
It is not clear whether the species can recover. Although openings created by adelgid kill usually contain numerous fir seedlings, it is not yet known whether these, too, will be attacked when they reach maturity. Unless new methods of adelgid control are found, the status of Fraser fir in natural stands is extremely uncertain.
The remaining stands of Fraser fir have very limited commercial value. However, their location in the cool climate of the loftiest peaks and ridges makes them extremely valuable for watershed protection, as they hold the shallow soil to the steep wet slopes. They are also a unique scenic attraction in a region of growing recreational appeal.
Growing and harvesting this species for Christmas trees and boughs is a multimillion-dollar business in the southern Appalachians. Because of its thick green foliage, beautiful shape, fragrance, and needles that are retained unusually well, Fraser fir is unequaled as a Christmas tree, and has frequently been used as the official White House Christmas tree for the President of the U.S. It is also used widely as an ornamental yard tree.
Fraser fir seeds and terminal buds are eaten extensively by the red squirrel and other mammals. Various songbird species eat the seeds.
Regularity: Regularly occurring
Global Range: A southern Appalachian endemic, occurring above 1500 m from southern Virginia to western North Carolina and eastern Tennessee. Also planted for forestry and Christmas trees, and reported to be persisting in Georgia (although not native there). Cultivated but not persisting in West Virginia.
the southern Appalachian Mountains of southwestern Virginia, western
North Carolina, and eastern Tennessee .
Occurrence in North America
- The native range of Fraser fir.
Fraser fir is a native, evergreen coniferous tree. It is small to
medium sized; the largest on record is 87 feet (26.5 m) tall and 34
inches (86 cm) d.b.h. The usual range is from 50 to 60 feet (15-18 m)
tall and less than 12 inches (30 cm) d.b.h. Average age at death is 150
Fraser fir is very shallow rooted . The bark is nearly smooth, with
blisters containing an oleoresin; the bark becomes more scaly on older
trunks. Pollen cones are usually less than 0.4 inch (1 cm) in length,
ovulate cones are 1.6 to 2.2 inches (4-5.5 cm) long .
Habitat and Ecology
Comments: High elevation peaks (>1500 m) in the southern Appalachians. Often occurs with red spruce (Picea rubens), but the relative dominance of fir increases above 1900 m, and A. fraseri occurs in almost pure forest stands on exposed summits and ridges.
Fraser fir occurs in a cool-temperate, rain-forest climate with a
well-distributed mean annual precipitation ranging from 75 to 100 inches
(1,900-2,540 mm). Fog is present for 65 percent or more of the growing
season, actual moisture levels are therefore higher than measured
precipitation indicates .
Fraser fir occurs on soils with a wide variation in color, depth, and
amount of organic matter; they are usually shallow and rocky, and
bedrock is within 20 to 32 inches of the mineral soil . At upper
elevations where dense and stagnant stands have formed, soils are
usually podsolic and highly acidic. In a spruce-fir forest at 6,500
feet (1,980 m) in elevation, soil pH was 3.6 at the surface and 3.8 6
inches (15 cm) below the surface .
Fraser fir generally occurs at elevations ranging from 5,500 feet (1,676
m) to 6,684 feet (2,037 m). It may occur as low as 4,500 feet (1,372 m)
on north slopes and protected coves. At lower elevations, Fraser fir is
a minor component in spruce-fir forests; it increases in frequency with
Key Plant Community Associations
At the highest elevations Fraser fir forms nearly pure stands; American
mountain ash (Sorbus americana) is usually its only canopy associate.
At mid- and lower elevations Fraser fir occurs with eastern hemlock
(Tsuga canadensis), yellow buckeye (Aesculus octandra), and sugar maple
(Acer saccharum). Mountain maple (A. spicatum), striped maple (A.
pensylvanicum), and serviceberry (Amelanchier spp) are common understory
associates. Shrub associates include hobblebush (Viburnum alnifolium),
witherod (V. cassinoides), redberry elder (Sambucus pubens), southern
mountain cranberry (Vaccinium erythrocarpum), catawba rhodendron
(Rhodendron catawbiense), and smooth blackberry (Rubus canadensis)
[2,21]. In red spruce-Fraser fir forests, Fraser fir typically makes up
10 to 70 percent of the relative basal area and from 20 to 90 percent of
the relative density .
Publications that name Fraser fir as a dominant or codominant species in
forest classifications include the following:
Ground vegetation patterns of the spruce-fir area of the Great Smoky
Mountains National Park 
Vegetation of the Great Smoky Mountains 
This species is known to occur in the following ecosystem types (as named by the U.S. Forest Service in their Forest and Range Ecosystem [FRES] Type classification):
FRES11 Spruce - fir
Habitat: Cover Types
This species is known to occur in association with the following cover types (as classified by the Society of American Foresters):
17 Pin cherry
30 Red spruce - yellow birch
32 Red spruce
34 Red spruce - Fraser fir
Habitat: Plant Associations
This species is known to occur in association with the following plant community types (as classified by Küchler 1964):
K097 Southeastern spruce - fir forest
Soils and Topography
Soils are shallow and rocky, with bedrock within 50 to 80 cm (20 to 32 in) of the mineral soils surface (23). The upper 5 to 10 cm (2 to 4 in) of the mineral soil are typically black and greasy, underlaid by a leached gray or yellowish-brown sandy subsoil. Organic surface layers are occasionally thick but usually quite thin, ranging from 2 to 7 cm (0.8 to 2.8 in). The soils are extremely acid; the A horizon pH is about 3.5 and the B horizon pH 3.8 to 4.2. Soil under fir stands above 1920 m (6,300 ft) may be very shallow, with only 15 to 20 cm (6 to 8 in) of a black A horizon lying directly on bedrock (7). Most soils on which Fraser fir grows are Inceptisols.
Fraser fir grows at elevations as low as 1372 m (4,500 ft) on north slopes and protected coves but is found mostly above 1676 m (5,500 ft). It grows at 2037 m (6,684 ft) on top of Mount Mitchell, the highest point in eastern North America.
Fog is a very important environmental factor, reducing transpiration and adding measurably to precipitation as fog drip (21). During the growing season, fog may be present on 65 percent or more of the days.
Habitat & Distribution
Known Pests: balsam woolly adelgid
Associated Forest Cover
Shrubs associated with Fraser fir include hobblebush (Viburnum alnifolium), witherod (V. cassinoides), redberry elder (Sambucus pubens), southern mountain cranberry (Vaccinium erythrocarpum), minnie-bush (Menziesia pilosa), southern bush-honeysuckle (Diervilla sessilifolia), catawba (purple) rhododendron (Rhododendron catawbiense), smooth gooseberry (Ribes rotundifolium), and smooth blackberry (Rubus canadensis).
Diseases and Parasites
All damaging agents are insignificant in comparison to the balsam woolly adelgid (Adelges piceae). It was discovered in North Carolina in 1957 on Mount Mitchell and has since spread to all areas of Fraser fir (1,2,3,4,9,17,18). Mortality progressed rapidly from 11,000 trees in 1958 to about 1.75 million by 1970. Fir mortality has been extensive in all areas except Mount Rogers in Virginia, where infestations dating back to the mid-1960's were first discovered in 1979. Adelgids attack branches, twigs, nodes, and bud bases of fir, but stem attack is the predominant form of infestation. Death usually follows 2 to 5 years after infestation of the bole because of direct translocation impairment.
Further damage by other organisms is associated with attack by the balsam woolly adelgid (11, 12). Weakened trees are often attacked by bark beetles, wood wasps, and other wood-boring insects, which also may introduce fungal pathogens (12). Incidence of root rot caused by Armillaria mellea was shown to increase with increasing severity of adelgid damage. Damaged and weakened trees are also more susceptible to windthrow and top breakage.
Various chemical insecticides have been found effective against the balsam woolly adelgid, but none has been found technically or economically feasible for use over large forested areas (14). Chemical insecticides are useful, however, for small and accessible stands of high value. Control by a variety of introduced predators has been ineffective.
Openings created by adelgid kill usually contain numerous fir seedlings (5), but the long-term consequences of adelgid attack are unknown. Unless new methods of adelgid control are found, the status of Fraser fir in natural stands is extremely uncertain.
Number of Occurrences
Note: For many non-migratory species, occurrences are roughly equivalent to populations.
Estimated Number of Occurrences: 6 - 80
Comments: Fraser fir is a glacial relict species that occurs on 7-10 mountain crests in the southern Appalachians. Mapped broadly, these might be considered 7-10 occurrences. Mapped more finely, there is considered to be 1 occurrence in Virginia, 10 extant and 10 historical occurrences in Tennessee (many of which connect with North Carolina occurrences), and approximately 25-30 occurrences of pure fir stands or fir stands mixed with spruce +\- hardwoods (depending on elevation) in North Carolina; North Carolina figures are approximate as this species is mapped only as a component of natural community occurrences at present.
Plant Response to Fire
In 1955, an escaped campfire burned approximately one acre of red
spruce-Fraser fir forest in the Plott Balsam Mountains of western North
Carolina. The community was sampled in the early 1980's and was found
to have a tree layer similar in composition to that of postharvest,
second-growth spruce-fir stands that have been recovering for 30 to 50
years. Density and basal area of trees were lower than in the
postharvest communities. Fraser fir was of greater importance than red
spruce. Pin cherry (Prunus pensylvanica) was of greater importance in
the postfire community than expected, contributing to a reduced amount
of reproduction. The reproduction layer was dominated by Fraser fir and
yellow birch (Betula alleghaniensis), indicating that the site had not
yet fully recovered. Other plant species were found to differ from
those that typically occur in logged or logged and burned red
spruce-Fraser fir forests. Return to a closed-canopy Fraser fir-red
spruce-yellow birch forest is estimated to require many more decades.
The authors speculated that severe fires on steep rocky sites followed
by poor regeneration may be instrumental in the formation of shrubby
heath balds .
The most common, immediate postfire invaders in red spruce-Fraser fir
forests are pin cherry, American mountain-ash, and yellow birch.
Hobblebush and smooth blackberry can form very dense patches after fire
disturbance. In a red spruce-Fraser fir postfire community in the Great
Smoky Mountains National Park, yellow birch and pin cherry were still
dominant after 30 years. Fraser fir and red spruce were slow to
establish, and were represented by a few scattered 5- to 10-foot tall
(1.5-3 m) individuals .
Tree without adventitious-bud root crown
Secondary colonizer - off-site seed
Fraser fir occurs in habitats that are rarely subject to wildfire.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that forest fires often stop when they reach
the spruce-fir forest boundary . In the southern Appalachians, fuel
moistures and humidity are usually high, and therefore fires are not
intense or widespread [26,29].
More info for the terms: climax, succession, tree
Obligate Climax Species
Once established, Fraser fir seedlings grow best in full light. Fraser
fir is, however, very shade tolerant and can grow under dense canopies
in a suppressed state for many years. Under these conditions, Fraser
fir may only be 2 to 3 feet (0.6-0.9 m) in height after 20 years of
growth. In full sun, Fraser fir can be 8.2 feet (2.5 m) after 11 years.
When released after years of suppression, growth of Fraser fir can be
very rapid . Fraser fir often forms dense, stagnant pole-sized
stands at higher elevations .
In the red spruce-Fraser fir forests of the southern Appalachians,
windfalls that create small gaps (less than [200 sq m]) are the most
important and widely distributed disturbance, with a return interval of
111 to 178 years [7,29]. Gap capture is largely dependent on advance
reproduction; Fraser fir seedling and sapling densities are higher in
gaps than in the understory. There is a probable reciprocal replacement
between red spruce and Fraser fir . Similarly, in a study of the
dynamics of tree replacement in red spruce-Fraser fir forests, saplings
of Fraser fir were more numerous than those of red spruce, and were
found in higher densities under red spruce trees . Both species
require multiple release events in order to reach the canopy .
Fraser fir was found in late seral to climax communities developed
during primary succession on rocky slopes .
Sexual reproduction: Seed production in Fraser fir begins at about 15
years of age. Good seed crops are produced every other year, with light
crops in intervening years. Seeds are wind dispersed, with 50 percent
falling at least 900 feet (274 m) from the source; seeds can be carried
up to 1 mile (1.6 km) from the source .
Seed germination is good on mineral soil, moss, peat, and litter.
Decaying stumps and logs have higher than average rates of seedling
establishment and appear to be the best substrates for germination
[2,7,22]. Germination on surface litter usually results in seedling
mortality due to drought. Stratification does not enhance germination
rates . Seed longevity in the soil is unknown; viability may
decrease after only 1 year of artificial storage . Natural
reforestation is limited where harvesting or fire has opened canopies
and increased the rate of desiccation of the moss and peat layer .
Asexual reproduction: Fraser fir sometimes reproduces by layering when
lower branches come into contact with moist soil. This is not an
important reproductive mechanism .
Growth Form (according to Raunkiær Life-form classification)
Immediate Effect of Fire
information on the intensity of fire needed to kill Fraser fir is
Reaction to Competition
The best means of regenerating fir is probably some method of partial cutting to establish advance reproduction. Harvest methods such as shelterwood or group selection seem ideally suited to accommodate its needs for early shelter but open conditions for later growth. Because of its extreme tolerance, it could probably be handled under a single-tree selection system as well.
Life History and Behavior
Fraser fir cones open in mid-May to early June. Cones ripen from
September to mid-October, and seed dispersal follows maturation .
Reproductive bud differentiation coincides with rapid vegetative growth
and cone development .
Persistence: PERENNIAL, Long-lived, EVERGREEN
Fraser fir seeds germinate well on mineral soil, moss, peat, decaying stumps and logs, and even on litter that is sufficiently moist. When seeds germinate on surface litter, the seedlings usually die during dry weather. Moss and peat commonly remain damp, however, and the appearance of moss on the forest floor indicates sufficient moisture to make germination possible with survival throughout the growing season (19).
Stratification of Fraser fir seeds may not be wholly necessary. Stratification for 60 days in peat moss at 3° C (38° F) increased the speed of germination but did not affect the number of seeds germinating. Germination and initial establishment are best under a forest cover. The greatest obstacle to natural reforestation is the desiccation of the moss and peat layer after cutting or fire, followed by surface drying of the mineral soil. Once established, growth is best in full light. Under a dense canopy, Fraser fir may be only 0.6 to 0.9 m (2 to 3 ft) tall in 20 years. In old-growth, all-aged stands, it may take 40 years to attain sapling size. In the absence of shade, it grows much faster. Planted seedlings in cutover forest averaged 2.5 m (8.2 ft) tall in 11 years, with 0.6 m (2 ft) of growth in the 11th year. Under favorable conditions of weed control and fertilization, Christmas tree plantings grow to 1.8 m (6 ft) in 6 to 8 years.
Seed Production and Dissemination
Flowering and Fruiting
Growth and Yield
Age at natural death is around 150 years (23). Old-growth stands of mixed spruce-fir may carry very high basal areas of 57 to 60 m²/ha (250 to 260 ft²/acre) with 1,977 to 2,347 trees/ha (800 to 950/acre) 2.5 cm (1.0 in) in d.b.h. and larger (7). In such stands the fir may average 25 to 28 cm (10 to 11 in) in d.b.h. Yields of mixed spruce-fir over large acreages have been reported to average 210 to 350 m³/ha (15,000 to 25,000 fbm/acre), some stands yielding 560 to 700 m³/ha (40,000 to 50,000 fbm/acre) (24). Pulpwood yields averaged 252 to 315 m³/ha (40 to 50 cords/acre). In such stands, fir constituted one-fourth or less of the total volume.
At the highest elevations where fir forms essentially pure stands, it is most frequently 9 to 12 m (30 to 40 ft) tall, and most canopy stems are 18 to 23 cm (7 to 9 in) in d.b.h. Stems as large as 31 cm (12 in) in d.b.h. are very rare in such stands (31).
Molecular Biology and Genetics
Artificial crosses of Abies balsamea x A. fraseri have been made successfully. A cultivar, A. fraseri cv. prostrata, is a dwarf shrub with horizontally spreading branches used for ornamental purposes (18).
Barcode data: Abies fraseri
Statistics of barcoding coverage: Abies fraseri
Public Records: 2
Specimens with Barcodes: 2
Species With Barcodes: 1
IUCN Red List Assessment
Red List Category
Red List Criteria
- 1997Vulnerable(Walter and Gillett 1998)
National NatureServe Conservation Status
Rounded National Status Rank: N2 - Imperiled
NatureServe Conservation Status
Rounded Global Status Rank: G2 - Imperiled
Reasons: A glacial relict southern Appalachian endemic occurring above 1500 m from southern Virginia to North Carolina and Tennessee, in 7-10 mountain areas. Historically a local a canopy dominant in its best-developed sites. Following moderate losses due to logging and land-clearing in the late 1800's and early 1900's, the species has more recently experienced catastrophic decline due to an introduced insect pest (the balsam woolly adelgid), for which there is currently no effective mitigation. Adelgid impacts are somewhat exacerbated by other threats such as pollution and trampling. The future of the species is unknown; the survival of all native stands is in jeopardy.
Global Short Term Trend: Decline of 30 to >90%
Comments: Abies fraseri declined following habitat alteration by logging and associated land-clearing activities in the late 1800's and early 1900's; burned areas were slow to or failed to regenerate evergreen forest. Significant areas in lower elevations were affected. Catastrophic losses occurred after initial infestations of balsam wooly adelgid; nearly all mature fir have died. Fir regeneration is compromised by continued infestation, by understory competition that decreases fir seedling establishment, by very low germination rates in seed crops that occur only every 2-4 years, and by low dispersal distance. Future survival of Fraser fir as a species depends on the reproductive ability of the emerging second generation fir; failure to replenish the seedling pool in the understory threatens the stability of future fir populations.
Global Long Term Trend: Decline of 70-90%
Comments: Long term decline of >70%, includes logging and the conversion of habitat, as well as decline due to the balsam wolly adelgid.
Degree of Threat: Very high - high
Comments: Abies fraseri is threatened across its limited range by the insect parasite, balsam woolly adelgid, which has caused substantial direct and indirect effects (Ammon 1970, Eager 1984, White 1984, Witter 1988, Witter & Ragenovich 1986, Zedaker et al 1988) . Adelgid infestation causes selective mortality of adult fir trees. Heavy mortality of the fir canopy trees has caused changes in understory vegetation (Boner 1979, Busing & Clebsch 1988, Busing et al 1988, DeSelm & Boner 1984, Nicholas 1992, Nicholas & White 1985, Nicholas, Eager & Peine 1999, Pauley & Clebsch 1990, Smith 1997, Smith & Nicholas 1998); there is more competition from the invading shrub and herb species. Further, infestation reduces the seed viability of the few surviving old-growth fir trees (Fedde 1973, Nicholas et al 1992) and increases their susceptibility to fungal infection. Infestation can also prevent saplings from attaining reproductive age. The decimation of fir populations threatens the genetic viability of the species. Harvest of saplings and collection of what viable seed that may be produced may decrease the remaining genetic variability even further. The direct stress of adelgid populations on mature Fraser fir trees is compounded by stresses imposed by the increasing recreational use of its montane habitat. Recreation activity can cause a decrease in plant cover leading to soil erosion, and potentially, an increase in tree loss due to windfall. It may also open a window for invasion by exotic plants. Erosion due to heavy hiking traffic and grazing can expose root systems of trees which perhaps leaves them more susceptible to disease infection. Major openings in the forest canopy (from logging or fire, etc.) are a serious hazard due to the exposure of the soil to erosion; regeneration is slow to occur following such a disturbance. Also at some risk of habitat loss and fragmentation, with a small portion of this species' habitat having been lost on private land through development. Threatened by pollution, as acid deposition seems to have impacted regeneration (Southern Appalachian Species Viability Project 2002).
Biological Research Needs: Continue to evaluate effective control measures for woolly adelgid. Evaluate the remaining genetic diversity of the species across its range (especially with regard to resistance factors exhibited by fir stands on Mt. Rogers (southwest Virginia)). Assess the reproductive ability of second-generation fir stands and determine minimum reproduction required to maintain survival of individual stands. Assess the effects of diseases introduced by root and trunk injury on individual trees and overall canopy health.
Harvest methods that are recommended for Fraser fir include shelterwood
or group selection; single tree selection may also be feasible .
Fraser fir is subject to windthrow .
Diseases and infesting agents of Fraser fir include various heart rots,
root rots, and the twospotted spider mite. The worst problem, however,
is the introduced balsam woolly adelgid, which weakens trees and makes
them more susceptible to attack by other agents . Infestation by
balsam woolly adelgid was first noted in North Carolina in 1957.
Extensive mortality caused by balsam woolly adelgid infestations has
been noted since the 1960's; a large number of mature Fraser fir have
died as a result of this infestation. Many seedlings and saplings have
been killed or growth suppressed , although young Fraser fir have
not been found to support reproducing adults (early instar stages only)
. Dominance of red spruce and birch (Betula spp.) increases in
spruce-fir stands in North Carolina that have been damaged by this pest
. The continuing presence of Fraser fir in natural forests will
depend on a complex of survival, growth, and new reproduction. Current
seedlings will need to survive infestations, compete with a dense
understory of smooth blackberry, and reach reproductive age and height.
At present, seedlings are infested but appear to be overcoming the
effects. Smooth blackberry reduces the early survival of Fraser fir
seedlings, and decreases the number of suitable microsites for seedling
In some areas high levels of fir recruitment occur after balsam woolly
adelgid infestations .
Nitrogen fertilizers may enhance cone production. One study determined
that although nitrogen does appear to increase cone production, it is
usually not the limiting nutrient; phosphorus and magnesium are the most
limiting to cone yield .
Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems
Other uses and values
attraction. Fraser fir is also grown for Christmas trees and is planted
as an ornamental .
Wood Products Value
Fraser fir of little economic importance for timber .
low in preference for white-tailed deer .
Importance to Livestock and Wildlife
Growing and harvesting this species for Christmas trees and boughs is a multimillion-dollar business in the southern Appalachians. Because of its thick green foliage, beautiful shape, fragrance, and needles that are retained unusually well, Fraser fir is unequaled as a Christmas tree (29,32). It is also used widely as an ornamental yard tree.
Fraser fir seeds and terminal buds are eaten extensively by the red squirrel.
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Abies fraseri is closely related to Balsam fir (Abies balsamea), of which it has occasionally been treated as a subspecies (as A. balsamea subsp. fraseri (Pursh) E.Murray) or a variety (as A. balsamea var. fraseri (Pursh) Spach).
|This section contains wording that promotes the subject in a subjective manner without imparting real information. (January 2015)|
The species Abies fraseri is named after the Scottish botanist John Fraser (1750–1811), who made numerous botanical collections in the region. It is sometimes misspelled "Frasier," "Frazer" or "Frazier."
The Fraser fir is quickly becoming the most premium species of the cut Christmas tree market. The Fraser has many desirable characteristics, especially its amazing needle retention; it's colloquially referred to as the "no shed" tree. The Fraser fir is also characterized by heavy density, with rich colors of platinum silver and deep bluish green.
The Fraser fir is in high demand on the export market. It has received greater exposure on the world market than any other tree. In 2009 Steve Jobs placed two fresh cut Frasers in the window of every Apple store in the world. The trees were sourced from North Pole Xmas Trees, a supplier from Nashua N.H.
In the past, it was also sometimes known as "she-balsam" because resin could be "milked" from its bark blisters, in contrast to the "he balsam" (red spruce) which could not be milked. It has also occasionally been called balsam fir, inviting confusion with A. balsamea.
Abies fraseri is a small evergreen coniferous tree growing to between 30 and 50 feet (10–15 m) tall (rarely to 80 ft [25 m]) with a trunk 16 to 20 inches (40–50 cm) across (rarely up to 30 in, 75 cm). The crown is conical, with straight branches either horizontal or angled 40° upward from the trunk; it is dense when the tree is young, but becomes more open as it ages. The bark is thin and smooth, gray-brown with numerous resin blisters on young trees, becoming fissured and scaly with age. The foliage is strongly turpentine-scented.
The leaves are needle-like, arranged spirally on the twigs but twisted at the base to spread in two rows; they are 0.4 to 0.9 inches (10–23 mm) long and 79 to 87 mil (2–2.2 mm) broad, flat and flexible with a rounded or slightly notched tip, dark green to glaucous green above, often with a small patch of stomata near the tip, and with two silvery white stomatal bands on the underside.
The cones are erect, cylindric, 1.4 to 2.75 inches (3.5–7 cm) long (rarely to 3.2 in [8 cm]) and 1.0 to 1.2 inches (2.5–3 cm) broad (rarely as broad as 1.5 in [4 cm]) broad, dark purple, turning light brown when mature, with long reflexed green, yellow or pale purple bract scales, and often resinous. The cones disintegrate when mature at four to six months old to release the winged seeds.
Reproduction and Growth
Fraser fir is monecious, meaning that both male and female flowers (strobili) occur on the same tree. Flower buds usually open from mid-May to early June. Female flowers are borne mostly in the top few feet of the crown and on the outer ends of branches. Male flowers are borne below female flowers, but mostly in the top half of the crown. Seed production may begin when trees are 15 years old. Seeds germinate well on mineral soil, moss, peat, decaying stumps and logs, and even on litter that is sufficiently moist.
The Fraser fir, Abies fraseri, is restricted to the southeastern Appalachian Mountains in southwestern Virginia, western North Carolina and eastern Tennessee, where it occurs at high elevations, from 3,900 feet to the summit of Mount Mitchell, the highest point in the region at 6,683 feet (1,200 m up to 2,037 m). It lives in acidic moist but well-drained sandy loam, and is usually mixed with Picea rubens (red spruce). Other trees it grows with include Tsuga caroliniana (Carolina hemlock), Betula alleghaniensis (yellow birch), Betula papyrifera (paper birch), and Acer saccharum (sugar maple). The climate is cool and moist, with short, cool summers and cold winters with heavy snowfall.
Abies fraseri is severely damaged by a non-native insect, the balsam woolly adelgid (Adelges piceae). The insect's introduction and spread led to a rapid decline in Fraser fir across its range, with over 80 percent of mature trees having been killed. The rapid regeneration of seedlings with lack of canopy has led to good regrowth of healthy young trees where the mature forests once stood. However, when these young trees get old enough for the bark to develop fissures, they may be attacked and killed by the adelgids as well.
For this reason, the future of the species is still uncertain, though the Mount Rogers (Virginia) population has largely evaded adelgid mortality. The decline of the Fraser fir in the southern Appalachians has contributed to loss of moss habitat which supports the spruce-fir moss spider.
Cultivation and uses
Although not important as a source of timber, Fraser fir is widely used as a Christmas tree. Its mild fragrance, shape, strong limbs, and ability to retain its soft needles (which do not prick easily when hanging ornaments) for a long time when cut make it one of the best trees for this purpose. Fraser fir has been used more times as the White House Christmas tree (the official Christmas tree of the President of the United States's White House) than any other tree.
It is grown in plantations in Scotland and sold by the thousands throughout the United Kingdom and Ireland. It is also cultivated from seedlings in several northern states in the USA and adjacent parts of Quebec province, especially for the Christmas tree trade.
The combination of form, needle retention, dark blue-green color, pleasant scent and excellent shipping characteristics has led to Fraser fir being a most popular Christmas tree species. Growing and harvesting this species for Christmas trees and boughs is a multimillion-dollar business in the southern Appalachians. North Carolina produces the majority of Fraser fir Christmas trees. It requires from 7 to 10 years in the field to produce a 6–7 feet tree. In 2005, the North Carolina General Assembly passed legislation making the Fraser Fir the official Christmas tree of North Carolina.
- Farjon, A. (2011). "Abies fraseri". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 3.1. International Union for Conservation of Nature. Retrieved 2013-11-10.
- "The Plant List: A Working List of All Plant Species". Retrieved 3 October 2014.
- Farjon, A. (1990). Pinaceae. Drawings and Descriptions of the Genera. Koeltz Scientific Books ISBN 3-87429-298-3.
- Liu, T.-S. (1971). A Monograph of the Genus Abies. National Taiwan University.
- Flora of North America: Abies fraseri
- Gymnosperm Database: Abies fraseri
- Frankenberg, D. (2000). Exploring North Carolina's Natural Areas: Parks, Nature Preserves, and Hiking Trails. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press. ISBN 0-8078-4851-4. p343
- Sutton, M., & Sutton, A. (1985). Eastern forests (Audubon Society Nature Guides). New York: Knopf. ISBN 0-394-73126-3. p363
- Abies fraseri (Pursh) Poir, Silviculture Manual Volume 1, US Department of Agriculture Forest Service, Retrieved 20 October 2014
- Abies fraseri (Pursh) Poir. The National Christmas Tree Association, Retrieved 20 Oct 2014
- Hendrix, Steve, "A Christmas tree’s remarkable journey", The Washington Post, December 21, 2011.
- Fraser Fir North Carolina Department of Agriculture. Retrieved 24 November 2010
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Names and Taxonomy
Poiret. It is a member of the family Pinaceae and is very closely
related to balsam fir (A. balsamea) . Fir trees in Virginia and
West Virginia are intermediate between balsam fir and Fraser fir; the
putative hybrid is recognized as Abies x phanerolepis (Fern.) Liu
(synonymous with Abies intermedia Full.) [18,20].
balsam Fraser fir
southern balsam fir
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