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Overview

Brief Summary

Pinaceae -- Pine family

    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.

  • Burns, Russell M., and Barbara H. Honkala, technical coordinators. 1990. Silvics of North America: 1. Conifers; 2. Hardwoods.   Agriculture Handbook 654 (Supersedes Agriculture Handbook 271,Silvics of Forest Trees of the United States, 1965).   U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Washington, DC. vol.2, 877 pp.   http://www.na.fs.fed.us/spfo/pubs/silvics_manual/table_of_contents.htm External link.
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Donald E. Beck

Source: Silvics of North America

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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.

(Beck 1990)

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Distribution

National Distribution

United States

Origin: Native

Regularity: Regularly occurring

Currently: Present

Confidence: Confident

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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.

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Range Description

Endemic to the USA where it occurs in western North Carolina, eastern Tennessee, and SW Virginia (Appalachian Mts.).
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Fraser fir is restricted to disjunct populations at higher elevations in
the southern Appalachian Mountains of southwestern Virginia, western
North Carolina, and eastern Tennessee [2].
  • 2. Beck, Donald E. 1990. Abies fraseri (Pursh) Poir. Fraser fir. In: Burns, Russell M.; Honkala, Barbara H., technical coordinators. Silvics of North America. Volume 1. Conifers. Agric. Handb. 654. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service: 47-51. [13367]

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Occurrence in North America

NC TN VA

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Fraser fir has a disjunct distribution, restricted to high elevations in  the southern Appalachian Mountains of southwestern Virginia, western North  Carolina, and eastern Tennessee.

     
- The native range of Fraser fir.

  • Burns, Russell M., and Barbara H. Honkala, technical coordinators. 1990. Silvics of North America: 1. Conifers; 2. Hardwoods.   Agriculture Handbook 654 (Supersedes Agriculture Handbook 271,Silvics of Forest Trees of the United States, 1965).   U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Washington, DC. vol.2, 877 pp.   http://www.na.fs.fed.us/spfo/pubs/silvics_manual/table_of_contents.htm External link.
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Donald E. Beck

Source: Silvics of North America

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Physical Description

Morphology

Description

Trees to 25m; trunk to 0.75m diam.; crown spirelike. Bark gray, thin, smooth, with age developing appressed reddish scales at trunk base. Branches diverging from trunk at right angles; twigs opposite, pale yellow-brown, pubescence reddish. Buds exposed, light brown, conic, small, resinous, apex acute; basal scales short, broad, equilaterally triangular, glabrous, resinous, margins entire, apex sharp-pointed. Leaves 1.2--2.5cm × 1.5--2mm, 2-ranked, particularly in lower parts of tree, to spiraled, flexible; cross section flat, grooved adaxially; odor turpentinelike, strong; abaxial surface with (8--)10(--12) stomatal rows on each side of midrib; adaxial surface dark lustrous green, sometimes slightly glaucous, with 0--3 stomatal rows at midleaf, these more numerous toward leaf apex; apex slightly notched to rounded; resin canals large, ± median, away from margins and midway between abaxial and adaxial epidermal layers. Pollen cones at pollination reddish yellow or yellowish green. Seed cones cylindric, 3.5--6 ´ 2.5--4cm, dark purple overlaid with yellowish green bracts, sessile, apex round; scales ca. 0.7--1 ´ 1--1.3cm, pubescent; bracts exserted and reflexed over cone scales. Seeds 4--5 ´ 2--3mm, body brown; wing about as long as body, purple; cotyledons ca. 5. 2 n =24.
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Description

More info for the term: tree

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
years [2].

Fraser fir is very shallow rooted [2]. 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 [23].
  • 23. Radford, Albert E.; Ahles, Harry E.; Bell, C. Ritchie. 1968. Manual of the vascular flora of the Carolinas. Chapel Hill, NC: The University of North Carolina Press. 1183 p. [7606]
  • 2. Beck, Donald E. 1990. Abies fraseri (Pursh) Poir. Fraser fir. In: Burns, Russell M.; Honkala, Barbara H., technical coordinators. Silvics of North America. Volume 1. Conifers. Agric. Handb. 654. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service: 47-51. [13367]

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Physical Description

Tree, Evergreen, Monoecious, Habit erect, Trees without or rarely having knees, Primary plant stem smooth, Tree with bark smooth, Tree with bark rough or scaly, Young shoots 3-dimensional, Buds resinous, Leaves needle-like, Leaves alternate, Needle-like leaf margins entire (use magnification), Leaf apex obtuse, Leaf apex mucronulate, Leaves < 5 cm long, Leaves < 10 cm long, Leaves not blue-green, Needle-like leaves flat, Needle-like leaves not twisted, Needle-like leaf habit erect, Needle-like leaf habit drooping, Needle-like leaves per fascicle mostly 1, Needle-like leaf sheath early deciduous, Needle-like leaf sheath persistent, Twigs glabrous, Twigs not viscid, Twigs without peg-like projections or large fascicles after needles fall, Berry-like cones orange, Woody seed cones < 5 cm long, Woody seed cones > 5 cm long, Bracts of seed cone exerted, Seeds purple, Seeds winged, Seeds unequally winged, Seed wings prominent, Seed wings narrower than body, Seed wings equal to or broader than body.
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Stephen C. Meyers

Source: USDA NRCS PLANTS Database

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Diagnostic Description

Synonym

Pinus fraseri Pursh, Fl. Amer. Sept. 2: 639. 1814
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Ecology

Habitat

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.

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Habitat and Ecology

Habitat and Ecology
On the highest slopes and summits of the Appalachian Mountains, between 1,200 m and 2,038 m a.s.l., usually best developed on north-facing slopes. The soils are commonly podzolized and moderately acid. The climate is humid, with cool summers and cold winters with heavy snowfall, annual precipitation varies between 850 mm and 2,000 mm. Fraser Fir occurs in scattered populations, sometimes pure at the highest elevations, but more often mixed with Picea rubens and Betula papyrifera above 1,500 m, at lower elevations also with Tsuga caroliniana, Betula alleghaniensis, Sorbus americana, Acer saccharum and Fraxinus caroliniana. Ericaceae and various herbs are common in the understorey, often thick moss carpets (Hylocomium splendens) cover the forest floor.

Systems
  • Terrestrial
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Habitat characteristics

More info for the term: frequency

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 [2].

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 [2]. 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 [4].

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
altitude [2,3,5].
  • 2. Beck, Donald E. 1990. Abies fraseri (Pursh) Poir. Fraser fir. In: Burns, Russell M.; Honkala, Barbara H., technical coordinators. Silvics of North America. Volume 1. Conifers. Agric. Handb. 654. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service: 47-51. [13367]
  • 3. Busing, Richard T.; Clebsch, Edward E. C.; Eagar, Christopher C.; Pauley, Eric F. 1988. Two decades of change in a Great Smoky Mountains spruce-fir forest. Bulletin of the Torrey Botanical Club. 115(1): 25-31. [4491]
  • 4. Cain, Stanley A. 1931. Ecological studies of the vegetation of the Great Smoky Mountains of North Carolina and Tennessee. Botanical Gazette. 91: 22-41. [10340]
  • 5. Cogbill, C. V.; White, P. S. 1991. The latitude-elevation relationship for spruce-fir forest and treeline along the Appalachian mountain chain. Vegetatio. 94(2): 153-175. [16806]

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Key Plant Community Associations

More info for the terms: basal area, codominant, density, relative density, shrub

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 [3].

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 [7]
Vegetation of the Great Smoky Mountains [30]
  • 30. Whittaker, R. H. 1956. Vegetation of the Great Smoky Mountains. Ecological Monographs. 26(1): 1-79. [11108]
  • 2. Beck, Donald E. 1990. Abies fraseri (Pursh) Poir. Fraser fir. In: Burns, Russell M.; Honkala, Barbara H., technical coordinators. Silvics of North America. Volume 1. Conifers. Agric. Handb. 654. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service: 47-51. [13367]
  • 3. Busing, Richard T.; Clebsch, Edward E. C.; Eagar, Christopher C.; Pauley, Eric F. 1988. Two decades of change in a Great Smoky Mountains spruce-fir forest. Bulletin of the Torrey Botanical Club. 115(1): 25-31. [4491]
  • 7. Crandall, Dorothy L. 1958. Ground vegetation patterns of the spruce-fir area of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Ecological Monographs. 28(4): 337-360. [11226]
  • 21. Oosting, H. J.; Billings, W. D. 1951. A comparison of virgin spruce-fir forest in the northern and southern Appalachian system. Ecology. 32(1): 84-103. [11236]

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Habitat: Ecosystem

More info on this topic.

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

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Habitat: Cover Types

More info on this topic.

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

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Habitat: Plant Associations

More info on this topic.

This species is known to occur in association with the following plant community types (as classified by Küchler 1964):

K097 Southeastern spruce - fir forest

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Soils and Topography

There is considerable variation in color, depth, and organic matter  content in the soils that support Fraser fir. A typical profile has  well-developed organic and A1 horizons and a B horizon  differentiated by color but not by accumulations of clay or iron.

    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.

  • Burns, Russell M., and Barbara H. Honkala, technical coordinators. 1990. Silvics of North America: 1. Conifers; 2. Hardwoods.   Agriculture Handbook 654 (Supersedes Agriculture Handbook 271,Silvics of Forest Trees of the United States, 1965).   U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Washington, DC. vol.2, 877 pp.   http://www.na.fs.fed.us/spfo/pubs/silvics_manual/table_of_contents.htm External link.
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Donald E. Beck

Source: Silvics of North America

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Climate

Fraser fir grows in a cold, moist climate characterized as a  cool-temperate (microthermal) rain forest with a well-distributed mean  annual precipitation of 1900 to 2540 mm (75 to 100 in) and average summer  temperatures of 16° C (60° F) or less. Average annual  temperature varies from 6° C (43° F) at the summit of Mount  Mitchell in North Carolina to 9° C (48° F) at the 1524-m  (5,000-ft) level in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. At Mount  Mitchell, average January-February temperature varies from -2° C (28°  F) to -1° C (30° F), with 147 days below 0° C (32° F).  Average July temperature is 15° C (59° F). The frost-free period  is 130 to 140 days.

    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.

  • Burns, Russell M., and Barbara H. Honkala, technical coordinators. 1990. Silvics of North America: 1. Conifers; 2. Hardwoods.   Agriculture Handbook 654 (Supersedes Agriculture Handbook 271,Silvics of Forest Trees of the United States, 1965).   U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Washington, DC. vol.2, 877 pp.   http://www.na.fs.fed.us/spfo/pubs/silvics_manual/table_of_contents.htm External link.
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Donald E. Beck

Source: Silvics of North America

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Habitat & Distribution

Mountain forests; of conservation concern; 1500m; N.C., Tenn., Va.
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Associations

Known Pests: balsam woolly adelgid

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Associated Forest Cover

Fraser fir is a component of four forest cover types (10): Pin Cherry  (Society of American Foresters Type 17), Red Spruce-Yellow Birch (Type  30), Red Spruce (Type 32), and Red Spruce-Fraser Fir (Type 34). It is a  minor stand component at the lower elevations, increasing in frequency  with altitude to form nearly pure stands at elevations above 1920 m  (6,300 ft). At the highest elevation, mountain-ash (Sorbus americanais practically the only canopy associate (32). At middle and lower  elevations, red spruce (Picea rubens), yellow birch (Betula  alleghaniensis), eastern hemlock (Tsuga canadensis), yellow  buckeye (Aesculus octandra), and sugar maple (Acer saccharumare the most common canopy associates (6,7,8,13,16,32). Mountain maple  (Acer spicatum) and serviceberry (Amelanchier spp.) are  frequent understory trees.

    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).

  • Burns, Russell M., and Barbara H. Honkala, technical coordinators. 1990. Silvics of North America: 1. Conifers; 2. Hardwoods.   Agriculture Handbook 654 (Supersedes Agriculture Handbook 271,Silvics of Forest Trees of the United States, 1965).   U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Washington, DC. vol.2, 877 pp.   http://www.na.fs.fed.us/spfo/pubs/silvics_manual/table_of_contents.htm External link.
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Donald E. Beck

Source: Silvics of North America

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Diseases and Parasites

Damaging Agents

Because of shallow soils and shallow root  systems, Fraser fir is subject to windfall (7). Patches of windthrown  trees are a common sight on exposed ridges. Occasional trees on higher  ridges are struck by lightning. Heart rots are common in older trees and  may increase susceptibility to wind damage. In Christmas tree plantations,  two-spotted spider mite (Tetranychus urticae) can be particularly  damaging, causing discoloration and needle loss. On soils with poor  internal drainage, root rot caused by the fungus Phytophthora spp.  becomes a major problem.

    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.

  • Burns, Russell M., and Barbara H. Honkala, technical coordinators. 1990. Silvics of North America: 1. Conifers; 2. Hardwoods.   Agriculture Handbook 654 (Supersedes Agriculture Handbook 271,Silvics of Forest Trees of the United States, 1965).   U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Washington, DC. vol.2, 877 pp.   http://www.na.fs.fed.us/spfo/pubs/silvics_manual/table_of_contents.htm External link.
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Donald E. Beck

Source: Silvics of North America

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Population Biology

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.

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General Ecology

Plant Response to Fire

More info for the terms: basal area, density, formation, tree

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 [26].

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 [7].
  • 7. Crandall, Dorothy L. 1958. Ground vegetation patterns of the spruce-fir area of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Ecological Monographs. 28(4): 337-360. [11226]
  • 26. Saunders, Paul R.; Smathers, Garrett A.; Ramseur, George S. 1983. Secondary succession of a spruce-fir burn in the Plott Balsam Mountains, North Carolina. Castanea. 48(1): 41-47. [8658]

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Post-fire Regeneration

More info for the terms: root crown, secondary colonizer

Tree without adventitious-bud root crown
Secondary colonizer - off-site seed

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Fire Ecology

More info for the term: wildfire

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 [26]. In the southern Appalachians, fuel
moistures and humidity are usually high, and therefore fires are not
intense or widespread [26,29].
  • 26. Saunders, Paul R.; Smathers, Garrett A.; Ramseur, George S. 1983. Secondary succession of a spruce-fir burn in the Plott Balsam Mountains, North Carolina. Castanea. 48(1): 41-47. [8658]
  • 29. White, Peter S.; MacKenzie, Mark D.; Busing, Richard T. 1985. Natural disturbance and gap phase dynamics in southern Appalachian spruce-fir forests. Canadian Journal of Forest Research. 15: 233-240. [9294]

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Successional Status

More info on this topic.

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 [2]. Fraser fir often forms dense, stagnant pole-sized
stands at higher elevations [4].

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 [29]. 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 [13]. Both species
require multiple release events in order to reach the canopy [29].

Fraser fir was found in late seral to climax communities developed
during primary succession on rocky slopes [7].
  • 2. Beck, Donald E. 1990. Abies fraseri (Pursh) Poir. Fraser fir. In: Burns, Russell M.; Honkala, Barbara H., technical coordinators. Silvics of North America. Volume 1. Conifers. Agric. Handb. 654. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service: 47-51. [13367]
  • 4. Cain, Stanley A. 1931. Ecological studies of the vegetation of the Great Smoky Mountains of North Carolina and Tennessee. Botanical Gazette. 91: 22-41. [10340]
  • 7. Crandall, Dorothy L. 1958. Ground vegetation patterns of the spruce-fir area of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Ecological Monographs. 28(4): 337-360. [11226]
  • 13. Fox, John F. 1977. Alternation and coexistence of tree species. American Naturalist. 111(977): 69-89. [212]
  • 29. White, Peter S.; MacKenzie, Mark D.; Busing, Richard T. 1985. Natural disturbance and gap phase dynamics in southern Appalachian spruce-fir forests. Canadian Journal of Forest Research. 15: 233-240. [9294]

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Regeneration Processes

More info for the terms: layering, litter, peat

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 [2].

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 [2]. Seed longevity in the soil is unknown; viability may
decrease after only 1 year of artificial storage [22]. Natural
reforestation is limited where harvesting or fire has opened canopies
and increased the rate of desiccation of the moss and peat layer [2].

Asexual reproduction: Fraser fir sometimes reproduces by layering when
lower branches come into contact with moist soil. This is not an
important reproductive mechanism [2].
  • 2. Beck, Donald E. 1990. Abies fraseri (Pursh) Poir. Fraser fir. In: Burns, Russell M.; Honkala, Barbara H., technical coordinators. Silvics of North America. Volume 1. Conifers. Agric. Handb. 654. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service: 47-51. [13367]
  • 7. Crandall, Dorothy L. 1958. Ground vegetation patterns of the spruce-fir area of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Ecological Monographs. 28(4): 337-360. [11226]
  • 22. Pauley, Eric F. 1989. Regeneration patterns of Fraser fir on Mt. Collins, Great Smoky Mountains National Park. In: Wood, James D., Jr., compiler. Abstracts, 15th annual scientific research meeting, 1989 May 25-26; Gatlinburg, TN. Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service, Southeast Regional Office: 6. Abstract. [15207]

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Growth Form (according to Raunkiær Life-form classification)

More info on this topic.

More info for the term: phanerophyte

Phanerophyte

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Life Form

More info for the term: tree

Tree

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Immediate Effect of Fire

Fraser fir is probably easily killed by fire [9]. No specific
information on the intensity of fire needed to kill Fraser fir is
available.
  • 9. Duncan, Wilbur H.; Duncan, Marion B. 1988. Trees of the southeastern United States. Athens, GA: The University of Georgia Press. 322 p. [12764]

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Reaction to Competition

Fraser fir is classified as very  tolerant to shade and is considered a climax species. It becomes  established and survives for many years under a dense canopy, growing only  2.5 to 5.1 cm (1 to 2 in) per year. When released, it has a marked  capacity for recovery. Trees suppressed for 50 years or more have grown  rapidly for a time after release (23). Fraser fir tends to form very dense  stands which thin slowly and may stagnate in the pole stage (7).

    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.

  • Burns, Russell M., and Barbara H. Honkala, technical coordinators. 1990. Silvics of North America: 1. Conifers; 2. Hardwoods.   Agriculture Handbook 654 (Supersedes Agriculture Handbook 271,Silvics of Forest Trees of the United States, 1965).   U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Washington, DC. vol.2, 877 pp.   http://www.na.fs.fed.us/spfo/pubs/silvics_manual/table_of_contents.htm External link.
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Rooting Habit

The root system of Fraser fir is usually shallow  because it customarily occupies shallow soils. Root growth is more rapid  and rooting depth greater, however, than that of its frequent associate,  red spruce (8). Roots are able to penetrate to depths greater than 61 cm  (24 in) where soil is available, permitting fir to occupy somewhat drier  sites than red spruce (7).

  • Burns, Russell M., and Barbara H. Honkala, technical coordinators. 1990. Silvics of North America: 1. Conifers; 2. Hardwoods.   Agriculture Handbook 654 (Supersedes Agriculture Handbook 271,Silvics of Forest Trees of the United States, 1965).   U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Washington, DC. vol.2, 877 pp.   http://www.na.fs.fed.us/spfo/pubs/silvics_manual/table_of_contents.htm External link.
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Life History and Behavior

Cyclicity

Phenology

More info on this topic.

Fraser fir cones open in mid-May to early June. Cones ripen from
September to mid-October, and seed dispersal follows maturation [2].
Reproductive bud differentiation coincides with rapid vegetative growth
and cone development [1].
  • 1. Arnold, Roger J.; Jett, J. B.; Allen, H. L. 1992. Identification of nutritional influences on cone production in Fraser fir. Soil Science Society of America Journal. 56(2): 586-591. [18706]
  • 2. Beck, Donald E. 1990. Abies fraseri (Pursh) Poir. Fraser fir. In: Burns, Russell M.; Honkala, Barbara H., technical coordinators. Silvics of North America. Volume 1. Conifers. Agric. Handb. 654. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service: 47-51. [13367]

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Life Cycle

Persistence: PERENNIAL, Long-lived, EVERGREEN

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Reproduction

Vegetative Reproduction

Under natural conditions, layering may  occur when lower branches come in contact with moist soil, but it is not  an important reproductive mechanism. Fraser fir planting stock may be  produced by rooting cuttings under controlled temperatures and moisture. A  high percentage of stem cuttings from young trees can be induced to root.  In one study, rooting was 92 percent in cuttings from 5-year-old trees,  compared with 54 percent from 12-year-olds and 29 percent from  22-year-olds. Rooting of cuttings from 32- to 65-year-old trees averaged 4  to 6 percent and varied with crown position (15). It is possible to  propagate Fraser fir by stump culture (32). When a Christmas tree is cut,  the bottom whorl of limbs is left on the stump. After these turn upward,  the most vigorous limb is allowed to develop into another tree.

  • Burns, Russell M., and Barbara H. Honkala, technical coordinators. 1990. Silvics of North America: 1. Conifers; 2. Hardwoods.   Agriculture Handbook 654 (Supersedes Agriculture Handbook 271,Silvics of Forest Trees of the United States, 1965).   U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Washington, DC. vol.2, 877 pp.   http://www.na.fs.fed.us/spfo/pubs/silvics_manual/table_of_contents.htm External link.
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Seedling Development

Germination is epigeal. It approximates 50  percent of sound seeds and appears to be correlated with length of the  maturation period. Germination of seeds collected on August 31 was 18  percent but increased to 66 percent for seeds gathered during cone  disintegration about September 23 (26). During poor seed years, the yield  and quality of seed decrease and insect damage increases (27,28). In a  good year, seeds averaged 78 percent filled, with only 3 percent infested   by insects. In a poor year, only 36 Percent were filled, and 29 percent of  that were infested by a seed chalcid, Megastigmus specularis.

    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.

  • Burns, Russell M., and Barbara H. Honkala, technical coordinators. 1990. Silvics of North America: 1. Conifers; 2. Hardwoods.   Agriculture Handbook 654 (Supersedes Agriculture Handbook 271,Silvics of Forest Trees of the United States, 1965).   U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Washington, DC. vol.2, 877 pp.   http://www.na.fs.fed.us/spfo/pubs/silvics_manual/table_of_contents.htm External link.
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Seed Production and Dissemination

Seed production may begin  when trees are 15 years old. Good seed crops occur every other year with  light crops in the intervening year. The number of seeds ranges from  119,000 to 174,000/kg (54,000 to 79,000/lb) and averages 134,500 (61,000).  The combination of lightweight winged seeds, steep slopes, and high winds  makes for good seed dispersal. Seeds may be moved as much as 1.6 km (1  mi), with 50 percent falling over 274 m (900 ft) from their source. Fruit  ripens and is dispersed from September through mid-October.

  • Burns, Russell M., and Barbara H. Honkala, technical coordinators. 1990. Silvics of North America: 1. Conifers; 2. Hardwoods.   Agriculture Handbook 654 (Supersedes Agriculture Handbook 271,Silvics of Forest Trees of the United States, 1965).   U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Washington, DC. vol.2, 877 pp.   http://www.na.fs.fed.us/spfo/pubs/silvics_manual/table_of_contents.htm External link.
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Flowering and Fruiting

Fraser fir is monoecious. 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. The fruit is an erect cone, 3.5 to 6 cm (1.4 to 2.4 in) long and  2.5 to 4 cm (1.0 to 1.6 in) wide. The strongly reflexed bracts, much  longer than the scales, distinguish Fraser fir from balsam fir.

  • Burns, Russell M., and Barbara H. Honkala, technical coordinators. 1990. Silvics of North America: 1. Conifers; 2. Hardwoods.   Agriculture Handbook 654 (Supersedes Agriculture Handbook 271,Silvics of Forest Trees of the United States, 1965).   U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Washington, DC. vol.2, 877 pp.   http://www.na.fs.fed.us/spfo/pubs/silvics_manual/table_of_contents.htm External link.
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Growth

Growth and Yield

Fraser fir is a relatively small tree, rarely  more than 24 m (80 ft) tall and 61 cm (24 in) in d.b.h. It is more  frequently 15 to 18 m (50 to 60 ft) tall and less than 30 cm (12 in) in  d.b.h.

    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).

  • Burns, Russell M., and Barbara H. Honkala, technical coordinators. 1990. Silvics of North America: 1. Conifers; 2. Hardwoods.   Agriculture Handbook 654 (Supersedes Agriculture Handbook 271,Silvics of Forest Trees of the United States, 1965).   U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Washington, DC. vol.2, 877 pp.   http://www.na.fs.fed.us/spfo/pubs/silvics_manual/table_of_contents.htm External link.
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Molecular Biology and Genetics

Genetics

Fraser fir was once considered a variety of balsam fir and designated  Abies balsamea var. fraseri Nutt., but the two species are  now differentiated on the basis of cone-bract and cone-scale length. Abies  balsamea has bracts shorter or rarely slightly longer than its scales;  A. fraseri has strongly reflexed bracts much longer than its  scales (20). Abies balsamea var. phanerolepis in West  Virginia and northern Virginia is considered by some to be a natural  hybrid of A. balsamea and A. fraseri because it is  intermediate in range and the two have certain common characteristics.  Others contend that the disjunct Abies subpopulations of the  southern Appalachians are relicts of a once-continuous ancestral fir  population with clinal variation along a north-south gradient  (22,25,30,33).

    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).

  • Burns, Russell M., and Barbara H. Honkala, technical coordinators. 1990. Silvics of North America: 1. Conifers; 2. Hardwoods.   Agriculture Handbook 654 (Supersedes Agriculture Handbook 271,Silvics of Forest Trees of the United States, 1965).   U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Washington, DC. vol.2, 877 pp.   http://www.na.fs.fed.us/spfo/pubs/silvics_manual/table_of_contents.htm External link.
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Molecular Biology

Barcode data: Abies fraseri

The following is a representative barcode sequence, the centroid of all available sequences for this species.


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Statistics of barcoding coverage: Abies fraseri

Barcode of Life Data Systems (BOLDS) Stats
Public Records: 2
Specimens with Barcodes: 2
Species With Barcodes: 1
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Conservation

Conservation Status

National NatureServe Conservation Status

United States

Rounded National Status Rank: N2 - Imperiled

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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.

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IUCN Red List Assessment


Red List Category
EN
Endangered

Red List Criteria
B2ab(ii,iii,iv,v)

Version
3.1

Year Assessed
2013

Assessor/s
Farjon, A.

Reviewer/s
Thomas, P. & Stritch, L.

Contributor/s

Justification
The decline of the population due to an alien pathogen (insect) since the 1960s has been very substantial and is apparently ongoing, probably at a slower rate than initially. Its area of occupancy when calculated on a fairly comprehensive set of herbarium specimen based localities (some may now be dead trees only) even when using a grid size of 4×4 km per locality (22 collections = 16 localities) remains well under 500 km² (the threshold for Endangered) and with a continuing decline this species meets the B2 criterion for Endangered.

History
  • 1998
    Vulnerable
  • 1997
    Vulnerable
    (Walter and Gillett 1998)
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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.

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Population

Population
Small subpopulations are known from six peaks, including the Smoky Mountains National Park.

Population Trend
Decreasing
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Threats

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).

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Major Threats
The disjunct subpopulations of this fir, restricted to the mountain tops and their north-facing slopes of the southern Appalachians, are susceptible to destruction by windfall and fire. However, by far the most damaging agent is an insect, the Balsam Woolly Adelgid (Adelges piceae) discovered in 1957 in Abies fraseri on Mt. Mitchell. This alien pest has spread quickly to all subpopulations causing massive dieback through impairment of translocation flow in the cambium. Millions of trees had died by the 1980s and only one substantial population (Mt. Rogers, Virginia) remained largely unaffected (Beck 1990). After massive die-back competitors such as Picea rubra and Betula sp. can take over dominance in several locations in North Carolina (DeSelm and Boner 1984).
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Management

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.

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Conservation Actions

Conservation Actions
Methods to control this introduced insect are still being researched but none have been fully effective; some small scale protection can be provided by chemical insecticides. The latter strategy is very costly and is only used in plantations for Christmas trees and in some high profile recreation areas. In some stands that have died, there is massive seedling recruitment, and some of these seem to go through new infestations only partially damaged. It is hoped that eventually resistance may build up from these individuals.
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Management considerations

More info for the terms: natural, presence, selection, tree

Harvest methods that are recommended for Fraser fir include shelterwood
or group selection; single tree selection may also be feasible [2].

Fraser fir is subject to windthrow [2].

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 [2]. 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 [10], although young Fraser fir have
not been found to support reproducing adults (early instar stages only)
[22]. Dominance of red spruce and birch (Betula spp.) increases in
spruce-fir stands in North Carolina that have been damaged by this pest
[8]. 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
establishment [22].

In some areas high levels of fir recruitment occur after balsam woolly
adelgid infestations [8].

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 [1].
  • 1. Arnold, Roger J.; Jett, J. B.; Allen, H. L. 1992. Identification of nutritional influences on cone production in Fraser fir. Soil Science Society of America Journal. 56(2): 586-591. [18706]
  • 2. Beck, Donald E. 1990. Abies fraseri (Pursh) Poir. Fraser fir. In: Burns, Russell M.; Honkala, Barbara H., technical coordinators. Silvics of North America. Volume 1. Conifers. Agric. Handb. 654. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service: 47-51. [13367]
  • 8. DeSelm, H. R.; Boner, R. R. 1984. Understory changes in spruce-fir during the first 16-20 years following the death of fir. In: White, Peter S., ed. Southern Appalachian spruce-fir ecosystem: its biology and threats. Research/Resources Management Report SER-71. Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service, Southeast Region: 51-69. [21927]
  • 10. Eagar, Christopher. 1984. Review of the biology and ecology of the balsam woolly aphid in southern Appalachian spruce-fir forests. In: White, Peter S., ed. Southern Appalachian spruce-fir ecosystem: its biology and threats. Research/Resources Management Report SER-71. Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service, Southeast Region: 36-50. [21926]
  • 22. Pauley, Eric F. 1989. Regeneration patterns of Fraser fir on Mt. Collins, Great Smoky Mountains National Park. In: Wood, James D., Jr., compiler. Abstracts, 15th annual scientific research meeting, 1989 May 25-26; Gatlinburg, TN. Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service, Southeast Regional Office: 6. Abstract. [15207]

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Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems

Benefits

Other uses and values

The primary value of Fraser fir is for watershed protection and scenic
attraction. Fraser fir is also grown for Christmas trees and is planted
as an ornamental [2].
  • 2. Beck, Donald E. 1990. Abies fraseri (Pursh) Poir. Fraser fir. In: Burns, Russell M.; Honkala, Barbara H., technical coordinators. Silvics of North America. Volume 1. Conifers. Agric. Handb. 654. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service: 47-51. [13367]

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Wood Products Value

Its limited distribution and occurrence in inaccessible habitats renders
Fraser fir of little economic importance for timber [2].
  • 2. Beck, Donald E. 1990. Abies fraseri (Pursh) Poir. Fraser fir. In: Burns, Russell M.; Honkala, Barbara H., technical coordinators. Silvics of North America. Volume 1. Conifers. Agric. Handb. 654. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service: 47-51. [13367]

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Palatability

Compared with other species used as ornamentals, Fraser fir is ranked
low in preference for white-tailed deer [6].
  • 6. Conover, M. R.; Kania, G. S. 1988. Browsing preference of white-tailed deer for different ornamental species. Wildlife Society Bulletin. 16: 175-179. [8933]

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Importance to Livestock and Wildlife

The red squirrel eats the seeds and the terminal buds of Fraser fir [2].
  • 2. Beck, Donald E. 1990. Abies fraseri (Pursh) Poir. Fraser fir. In: Burns, Russell M.; Honkala, Barbara H., technical coordinators. Silvics of North America. Volume 1. Conifers. Agric. Handb. 654. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service: 47-51. [13367]

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Special Uses

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  (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.

  • Burns, Russell M., and Barbara H. Honkala, technical coordinators. 1990. Silvics of North America: 1. Conifers; 2. Hardwoods.   Agriculture Handbook 654 (Supersedes Agriculture Handbook 271,Silvics of Forest Trees of the United States, 1965).   U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Washington, DC. vol.2, 877 pp.   http://www.na.fs.fed.us/spfo/pubs/silvics_manual/table_of_contents.htm External link.
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Donald E. Beck

Source: Silvics of North America

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Wikipedia

Fraser Fir

Fraser fir (Abies fraseri) is a species of fir native to the mountains of the eastern United States. It 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).[2][3][4][5]

Names[edit]

Fraser fir on the Slopes of Clingman's Dome

The species is named after the Scottish botanist John Fraser (1750–1811), who made numerous botanical collections in the region.[3] It is sometimes misspelled as "Frazer" or "Frazier".

In the past, it was also sometimes known as "she-balsam" because resin could be "milked" from its bark blisters,[6] 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.[7]

Description[edit]

Seedlings of Fraser fir (blue-green, longer needles) and red spruce (green, shorter needles)

The Fraser fir 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 mils of an inch (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.[2][3][4]

The balsam fir variety Abies balsamea var. phanerolepis is regarded by some botanists as a natural hybrid between balsam fir and Fraser fir, as Abies × phanerolepis (Fernald) Liu.[3]

Ecology[edit]

Distribution[edit]

Fraser fir forest, with many trees killed by balsam woolly adelgid

The Fraser fir 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.[2][3]

Pests[edit]

The species 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.[5]

Cultivation and uses[edit]

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.[8] Fraser fir has been used more times as the Blue Room Christmas tree (the official Christmas tree of the President of the United States's White House) than any other type of tree.[citation needed]

It is grown in plantations in Scotland and sold by the thousands throughout the United Kingdom and Ireland.[citation needed] 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.[citation needed]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Farjon, A. (2011). "Abies fraseri". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 3.1. International Union for Conservation of Nature. Retrieved 2013-11-10. 
  2. ^ a b c Farjon, A. (1990). Pinaceae. Drawings and Descriptions of the Genera. Koeltz Scientific Books ISBN 3-87429-298-3.
  3. ^ a b c d e Liu, T.-S. (1971). A Monograph of the Genus Abies. National Taiwan University.
  4. ^ a b Flora of North America: Abies fraseri
  5. ^ a b Gymnosperm Database: Abies fraseri
  6. ^ 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
  7. ^ Sutton, M., & Sutton, A. (1985). Eastern forests (Audubon Society Nature Guides). New York: Knopf. ISBN 0-394-73126-3.  p363
  8. ^ Hendrix, Steve, "A Christmas tree’s remarkable journey", The Washington Post, December 21, 2011.
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Notes

Comments

Some (e.g., B.F. Jacobs et al. 1984) have argued that Fraser fir is at the end of a disjunct cline of balsam fir and perhaps does not deserve separate specific status. A.E. Matzenko (1968) took the opposite view, classifying Fraser fir and balsam fir in different taxonomic series of the genus.
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© Missouri Botanical Garden, 4344 Shaw Boulevard, St. Louis, MO, 63110 USA

Source: Missouri Botanical Garden

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Names and Taxonomy

Taxonomy

The accepted scientific name for Fraser fir is Abies fraseri (Pursh.)
Poiret. It is a member of the family Pinaceae and is very closely
related to balsam fir (A. balsamea) [16]. 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].
  • 20. Little, Elbert L., Jr. 1979. Checklist of United States trees (native and naturalized). Agric. Handb. 541. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service. 375 p. [2952]
  • 16. Jacobs, Brian F.; Werth, Charles R.; Guttman, Sheldon I. 1984. Genetic relationships in Abies (fir) of eastern United States: an electrophoretic study. Canadian Journal of Botany. 62: 609-616. [21399]
  • 18. Klaehn, F. U.; Winieski, J. A. 1962. Interspecific hybridization in the genus Abies. Silvae Genetica. 11: 130-142. [13494]

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Common Names

Fraser fir
Fraser's fir
balsam Fraser fir
southern balsam fir
southern fir
she-balsam
balsam
eastern fir

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Synonyms

Abies balsamea (L.) Mill var. fraseri Nutt.

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