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Abies lasiocarpa (Hook.) Nutt.

Brief Summary

    Abies lasiocarpa: Brief Summary
    provided by wikipedia

    Abies lasiocarpa, commonly called the subalpine fir or Rocky Mountain fir, is a western North American fir tree.

    Brief Summary
    provided by Silvics of North America
    Pinaceae -- Pine family

    Robert R. Alexander, Raymond C. Shearer, and Wayne D. Shepperd

    Subalpine fir, the smallest of eight species of true fir indigenous to the western United States, is distinguished by the long, narrow conical crown terminating in a conspicuous spikelike point.

    Two varieties are recognized: the typical variety (Abies lasiocarpa var. lasiocarpa) and corkbark fir (Abies lasiocarpa var. arizonica). The latter, readily distinguished by its peculiar, whitish, corky bark, is restricted to the Rocky Mountains of southern Colorado and the Southwest. Other common names for the typical variety include balsam, white balsam, alpine fir, western balsam fir, balsam fir, Rocky Mountain fir, white fir, and pino real blanco de las sierras; for corkbark fir, alamo de la sierra (44).

Comprehensive Description

    Abies lasiocarpa
    provided by wikipedia

    Abies lasiocarpa, commonly called the subalpine fir or Rocky Mountain fir, is a western North American fir tree.


    Abies lasiocarpa is native to the mountains of Yukon, British Columbia and western Alberta in Western Canada; and to southeastern Alaska, Washington, Oregon, Idaho, western Montana, Wyoming, Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, northeastern Nevada, and the Trinity Alps of the Klamath Mountains in northwestern California in the Western United States.

    It occurs at high altitudes, from 300–900 metres (980–2,950 ft) in the north of the range (rarely down to sea level in the far north), to 2,400–3,650 metres (7,870–11,980 ft) in the south of the range; it is commonly found at and immediately below the tree line.

    Subalpine fir in Olympic National Park in mid-September
    Subalpine fir in Mount Rainier National Park in late September

    It is a medium-sized tree growing to 20 metres (66 ft) tall, exceptionally to 40–50 metres (130–160 ft) tall, with a trunk up to 1 metre (3.3 ft) across, and a very narrow conic crown. The bark on young trees is smooth, gray, and with resin blisters, becoming rough and fissured or scaly on old trees. The leaves are flat and needle-like, 1.5–3 cm (581 18 in) long, glaucous green above with a broad stripe of stomata, and two blue-white stomatal bands below; the fresh leaf scars are reddish. They are arranged spirally on the shoot, but with the leaf bases twisted to be arranged to the sides of and above the shoot, with few or none below the shoot. The cones are erect, 6–12 cm (2 144 34 in) long, dark blackish-purple with fine yellow-brown pubescence, ripening brown and disintegrating to release the winged seeds in early fall.


    There are two to three taxa in subalpine fir, treated very differently by different authors:

    • The Coast Range subalpine fir Abies lasiocarpa in the narrow sense, is the typical form of the species, occurring in the Pacific Coast Ranges, the Olympic Mountains and the Cascade Range from southeast Alaska (Panhandle mountains) south to California.
    • The Rocky Mountains subalpine fir is very closely related and of disputed status, being variously treated as a distinct species Abies bifolia, as a variety of Coast Range subalpine fir Abies lasiocarpa var. bifolia, or not distinguished from typical A. lasiocarpa at all. It occurs in the Rocky Mountains from southeast Alaska (eastern Alaska Range) south to Colorado. It differs primarily in resin composition, and in the fresh leaf scars being yellow-brown, not reddish. The Flora of North America treats it as a distinct species (see external links, below); the USDA includes it within A. lasiocarpa without distinction.
    • The corkbark fir Abies lasiocarpa var. arizonica occurs in Arizona and New Mexico. It differs in thicker, corky bark and more strongly glaucous foliage. In resin composition it is closer to A. bifolia than to typical A. lasiocarpa, though the combination "Abies bifolia var. arizonica" has not been formally published. The Flora of North America includes it within A. bifolia without distinction; the USDA treats it as a distinct variety of A. lasiocarpa. The cultivar 'Compacta' has gained the Royal Horticultural Society's Award of Garden Merit.[2]


    The wood is used for general structural purposes and paper manufacture. It is also a popular Christmas tree. Corkbark fir is a popular ornamental tree, grown for its strongly glaucous-blue foliage.

    Some Plateau Indian tribes drank or washed in a subalpine fir boil for purification or to make their hair grow.[3]


    1. ^ Farjon, A. (2013). "Abies lasiocarpa". The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. IUCN. 2013: e.T42289A2970039. doi:10.2305/IUCN.UK.2013-1.RLTS.T42289A2970039.en. Retrieved 9 January 2018..mw-parser-output cite.citation{font-style:inherit}.mw-parser-output q{quotes:"""""'"'"}.mw-parser-output code.cs1-code{color:inherit;background:inherit;border:inherit;padding:inherit}.mw-parser-output .cs1-lock-free a{background:url("//upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/6/65/Lock-green.svg/9px-Lock-green.svg.png")no-repeat;background-position:right .1em center}.mw-parser-output .cs1-lock-limited a,.mw-parser-output .cs1-lock-registration a{background:url("//upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/d/d6/Lock-gray-alt-2.svg/9px-Lock-gray-alt-2.svg.png")no-repeat;background-position:right .1em center}.mw-parser-output .cs1-lock-subscription a{background:url("//upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/a/aa/Lock-red-alt-2.svg/9px-Lock-red-alt-2.svg.png")no-repeat;background-position:right .1em center}.mw-parser-output .cs1-subscription,.mw-parser-output .cs1-registration{color:#555}.mw-parser-output .cs1-subscription span,.mw-parser-output .cs1-registration span{border-bottom:1px dotted;cursor:help}.mw-parser-output .cs1-hidden-error{display:none;font-size:100%}.mw-parser-output .cs1-visible-error{font-size:100%}.mw-parser-output .cs1-subscription,.mw-parser-output .cs1-registration,.mw-parser-output .cs1-format{font-size:95%}.mw-parser-output .cs1-kern-left,.mw-parser-output .cs1-kern-wl-left{padding-left:0.2em}.mw-parser-output .cs1-kern-right,.mw-parser-output .cs1-kern-wl-right{padding-right:0.2em}
    2. ^ RHS Plant Selector Abies lasiocarpa var. arizonica 'Compacta' Hornibr. AGM / RHS Gardening
    3. ^ Hunn, Eugene S. (1990). Nch'i-Wana, "The Big River": Mid-Columbia Indians and Their Land. University of Washington Press. p. 351. ISBN 0-295-97119-3.

    Further reading


    provided by Fire Effects Information System Plants
    Subalpine fir is the mostly widely distributed fir in North America,
    spanning more than 32 degrees of latitude [11].  It occurs chiefly in
    mountainous areas from the Yukon interior near treeline and along the
    coast of southeastern Alaska south through western Alberta and British
    Columbia to southern Colorado and scattered mountain ranges of Arizona
    and New Mexico [54,75].  In the western portion of its range, subalpine
    fir does not occur along the western slope of the Coast Range in
    southern British Columbia or along the Coast Ranges of Washington and
    Oregon but does occur on Vancouver Island and in the Olympic Mountains
    of Washington [11].  It occurs on both slopes of the Cascade Mountains
    as far south as southern Oregon [11].  The two varieties are distributed
    as follows [11,75]:

    A. l. var. lasiocarpa (typical variety) - almost the same as the species,
    but not in central and southeastern Arizona. 

    A. l. var. arizonica - from central Colorado to southwestern New Mexico, and
    in southeastern and central Arizona. 

    Subalpine fir and corkbark fir occur together in scattered mountain
    ranges in southwestern Colorado, northern, western, and southwestern New
    Mexico, and in the high mountains of Arizona [11].

    Distributions of corkbark fir (A) and the typical variety (B). Maps courtesy of USDA, NRCS. 2018. The PLANTS Database.
    National Plant Data Team, Greensboro, NC [117] [2018, March 22].

    provided by eFloras
    B.C., Yukon; Alaska, Calif., Oreg., Wash.
    Occurrence in North America
    provided by Fire Effects Information System Plants
         AK  AZ  CO  ID  MT  NV  NM  OR  UT  WA
         WY  AB  BC  YT
    Regional Distribution in the Western United States
    provided by Fire Effects Information System Plants
    More info on this topic.

    This species can be found in the following regions of the western United States (according to the Bureau of Land Management classification of Physiographic Regions of the western United States):

        1  Northern Pacific Border
        2  Cascade Mountains
        5  Columbia Plateau
        6  Upper Basin and Range
        8  Northern Rocky Mountains
        9  Middle Rocky Mountains
       11  Southern Rocky Mountains
       12  Colorado Plateau
    provided by Silvics of North America
    Subalpine fir is a widely distributed North American fir. Its range extends from 32° N. latitude in Arizona and New Mexico to 64° 30 N. in Yukon Territory, Canada. Along the Pacific coast, the range extends from southeastern Alaska, south of the Copper River Valley (lat. 62° N.), the northwestern limit; east to central Yukon Territory (lat. 64° 30' N.), the northern limit; south through British Columbia along the east slopes of the Coast Range to the Olympic Mountains of Washington, and along both slopes of the Cascades to southern Oregon. It is not found on the west slopes of the Coast Range in southern British Columbia or along the Coast Range in Washington and Oregon, but it does occur on Vancouver Island (219). It is also found locally in northeastern Nevada and northwestern California (43). Except where noted above, subalpine fir is a major component of high elevation Pacific Northwest forests.

    In the Rocky Mountain region, subalpine fir extends from the interior valleys of British Columbia west of the Continental Divide and south of the Peace River (lat. 55° N.), south along the high elevations of the Rocky Mountain system to southern New Mexico and Arizona. In the north, its range extends from the high mountains of central British Columbia, western Alberta, northeastern Washington, northeastern Oregon, Idaho, Montana, to the Wind River Mountains of western Wyoming. In Utah, it commonly occurs in the Uinta and Wasatch Mountains, but is less abundant on the southern plateaus. The range extends from southern Wyoming, through the high mountains of Colorado and northern New Mexico, and westward through northeastern Arizona to the San Francisco Mountains (2,9). Subalpine fir is a major component of the high-elevation forests of the Rocky Mountains.

    Corkbark fir is found mixed with subalpine fir on scattered mountains in southwestern Colorado; northern, western, and southwestern New Mexico; and in the high mountains of Arizona (44).

    - The native range of subalpine fir.


    provided by eFloras
    The only unique populations in this species come from coastal Alaska (A. S. Harris 1965; C. J. Heusser 1954). They are found at lower elevations (0--900 m) and appear to be isolated with no reported introgression between them and the coastal mountain populations. The population on the Prince of Wales Island has distinct terpene patterns and needs morphological and developmental studies to see if these patterns contrast with neighboring populations.

    The only unique populations in this species come from coastal Alaska (A. S. Harris 1965; C. J. Heusser 1954). They are found at lower elevations (0--900 m) and appear to be isolated with no reported introgression between them and the coastal mountain populations. The population on the Prince of Wales Island has distinct terpene patterns and needs morphological and developmental studies to see if these patterns contrast with neighboring populations.

    Through central British Columbia and northern Washington, Abies lasiocarpa introgresses with A . bifolia . These trees may have morphologic features resembling either species and may have intermediate terpene patterns; they are best classified as interior subalpine fir ( A . bifolia ´ lasiocarpa ). At the southern end of its range, A . lasiocarpa possibly hybridizes with A . procera (R.S. Hunt and E.von Rudloff 1979). Abies lasiocarpa shares with A . procera a red periderm, crystals in the ray parenchyma (R.W. Kennedy et al. 1968), and reflexed tips of the bracts, features not shared with A . bifolia .

    Abies lasiocarpa usually exists in small stands at high elevations and is not often observed. Its differences in comparison to A . bifolia have prompted studies (W.H. Parker et al. 1979) to see if it is A . bifolia introgressed with the sympatric A . amabilis . Abies lasiocarpa and A . amabilis , however, are separated by many morphologic features, and no hybrids have been found (W.H. Parker et al. 1979).

    provided by Fire Effects Information System Plants
    More info for the terms: monoecious, tree

    Subalpine fir is a native, coniferous, evergreen tree.  It is the
    smallest of the eight species of fir native to the western United
    States.  Five growth forms, each apparently an adaptation to a
    particular environment, are described below [9,54]:

    1.  The typical form is found throughout much of the subalpine zone.
    These trees have an extremely narrow and dense crown with short
    branches.  Trees growing in openings retain their lower branches, which
    often droop and extend down to the ground.  Trees growing in the
    overstory may be clear of lower branches for 20 to 30 percent of the
    tree's height.

    2.  A somewhat broad-crowned, bullet-shaped tree is more typical of
    older specimens and drier climates. 

    3.  A mature tree with a layered apron is occasionally found in some

    4.  A flag form tree often occurs at timberline.  These individuals are
    characterized by an upright trunk that extends above a krummholzlike
    mat.  Branches on the trunk generally grow only along the leeward side
    of the trunk, giving the plant a flaglike appearance.

    5.  The krummholz form is typical of alpine areas above timberline.  In
    these areas, because of cold temperatures and severe winds, subalpine
    fir grows in dwarfed, shrubby mats along the ground, and is often much
    broader than it is tall.

    The typical form often grows to heights of 60 to 100 feet (18-30 m), and
    trunk diameters reach 18 to 24 inches (46-61 cm) [39].  Trees up to 130
    feet (40 m) tall and 30 inches (76 cm) in diameter have been found but
    are rare [39].  Subalpine fir grows very slowly; 150- to 200-year-old
    trees are usually only 10 to 20 inches (25-50 cm) in diameter [39].
    Trees seldom live more than 250 years because they are very susceptible
    to heart rots [9].

    Needles are blunt tipped, flattened, and 1 to 1.2 inches (2.5-3 cm) long
    [25,57].  Bark on young trees is thin, gray, and smooth, with numerous
    resin vesicles; on older trees it is shallowly fissured and scaly [9].
    Corkbark fir is generally recognized by its creamy-white, thick, corky
    bark [25].  The root system generally is shallow but under favorable
    conditions may develop relatively deep laterals [9].

    Subalpine fir is monoecious.  Single or small bunches of erect female
    cones occur in the upper part of the crown on the upper side of young
    branches.  Dense clusters of the smaller male cones occur lower on the
    crown on the underside of 1-year-old twigs.  Subalpine fir seeds are
    0.23 to 0.28 inch (6-7 mm) long and have broad wings about 0.4 inch (1
    cm) long [25,121].  Corkbark fir seeds are about 70 percent larger than
    subalpine fir seeds [39].
    provided by eFloras
    Trees to 20m; trunk to 0.8m diam.; crown spirelike. Bark gray, thin, smooth, furrowed in age. Branches stiff, straight; twigs opposite to whorled, greenish gray to light brown, bark splitting as early as 2 years to reveal red-brown layer, somewhat pubescent; fresh leaf scars with red periderm. Buds hidden by leaves or exposed, tan to dark brown, nearly globose, small, resinous, apex rounded; basal scales short, broad, equilaterally triangular, glabrous or with a few trichomes at base, not resinous, margins crenate to dentate, apex sharp-pointed. Leaves 1.8--3.1cm ´ 1.5--2mm, spiraled, turned upward, flexible; cross section flat, prominently grooved adaxially; odor sharp (ß-phellandrene); abaxial surface with 4--5 stomatal rows on each side of midrib; adaxial surface bluish green, very glaucous, with 4--6 stomatal rows at midleaf, rows usually continuous to leaf base; apex prominently or weakly notched to rounded; resin canals large, ± median, away from margins and midway between abaxial and adaxial epidermal layers. Pollen cones at pollination ± purple to purplish green. Seed cones cylindric, 6--12 ´ 2--4cm, dark purple, sessile, apex rounded; scales ca. 1.5 ´ 1.7cm, densely pubescent; bracts included (specimens with exserted, reflexed bracts are insect infested). Seeds 6 ´ 2mm, body brown; wing about 1.5 times as long as body, light brown; cotyledon number 4--5. 2 n =24.
    Physical Description
    provided by USDA PLANTS text
    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 blue-green, Leaves not blue-green, Leaves white-striped, 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 pubescent, Twigs not viscid, Twigs without peg-like projections or large fascicles after needles fall, Berry-like cones orange, Woody seed cones > 5 cm long, Bracts of seed cone included, Seeds brown, Seeds winged, Seeds unequally winged, Seed wings prominent, Seed wings equal to or broader than body.

Diagnostic Description

    provided by eFloras
    Pinus lasiocarpa Hooker, Fl. Bor.-Amer. 2: 163. 1838


    provided by Silvics of North America
    Subalpine fir grows in the coolest and wettest forested continental area of western United States (58). Temperatures range from below -45° C (-50° F) in the winter to more than 32.2° C (90° F) in the summer. Although widely distributed, subalpine fir grows within a narrow range of mean temperatures. Mean annual temperatures vary from -3.9° C (25° F) to 4.4° C (40° F), with a July mean of 7.2° C to 15.6° C (45° F to 60° F), and a January mean of -15.0° C to -3.9° C (5° F to 25° F) (10,26,47) (table 1). Average precipitation exceeds 61 cm (24 in), much of which falls as snow. More than half the precipitation occurs from late fall to late winter in the Pacific Northwest and west of the Continental Divide in the Rocky Mountains north of Utah and Wyoming. East of the Divide, in the Rocky Mountains north of New Mexico and Arizona, the heaviest precipitation comes in late winter and early spring. In the Rocky Mountains and associated ranges in Arizona and New Mexico, most precipitation comes during late summer and early fall (5,10,58). However, cool summers, cold winters, and deep winter snowpacks are more important than total precipitation in differentiating where subalpine fir grows in relation to other species.

    Table 1- Climatological data for four regional subdivisions within the range of subalpine fir. Average temperature

    Frost each period Location Annual July January Annual Precip. Annual snowfall °C °F °C °F °C °F cm in cm in days Pacific Northwest -1 to 4 30-35 7-13 45-55 -9 to -4 15-25 61-254+ 24-100+ 1524+ 600+ 30-60 U.S. Rocky Mountains   Northern¹ -4 to 2 25-35 7-13 45-55 -15 to -9 5-15 61-152 24-60 635+ 250+ 30*-60   Central² -1 to 2 30-35 10-13 50-55 -12 to -9 10-15 61-140 24-55 381-889+ 150-350+ 30*-60   Southern³ -1 to 4 30-40 10-16 50-60 -9 to -7 15-20 61-102+ 24-40+ 508 200+ 30*-75 ¹Includes the Rocky Mountains north of Wyoming and Utah, and associated ranges in eastern Washington and Oregon.
    ²Includes the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, Wyoming and Utah.
    ³Includes the Rocky Mountains and associated ranges of New Mexico and Arizona, and the plateaus of southern Utah.
    *Frost may occur any month of the year.
    provided by eFloras
    Coastal, subalpine coniferous forests; 1100--2300m.
    Habitat characteristics
    provided by Fire Effects Information System Plants
    More info for the terms: association, climax, habitat type, tundra

    Subalpine fir is a middle to upper elevation mountain conifer.  It
    generally occupies sites with a short growing season caused by cold
    winters, cool summers, frequent summer frosts, and heavy snowpack.  It
    forms extensive forests between warm and dry lower elevation forests of
    Douglas-fir, white fir (Abies concolor), grand fir, lodgepole pine, or
    blue spruce (Picea pungens) and higher elevation alpine tundra
    [23,29,112,125].  At its lower elevational limits, subalpine fir is
    often restricted to streambottoms, ravines, frosty basins, or north
    exposures.  It increasingly occupies westerly and easterly aspects with
    increasing elevation and may occupy all aspects at upper timberline

    Stand condition and associated conifers:  Throughout its range,
    subalpine fir is most commonly associated with Engelmann spruce.  These
    two species frequently occur as codominants forming widespread subalpine
    forests.  In the central and southern Rocky Mountains, Engelmann spruce
    commonly makes up 70 percent of overstory trees, with subalpine fir
    dominating the understory [9].  Within spruce-fir forests of this
    region, Engelmann spruce tends to be more important at higher elevations
    and on wetter sites, while subalpine fir is more abundant on drier lower
    elevation sites [9].  In the northern Rocky Mountains, subalpine fir
    typically dominates climax stands, but Engelmann spruce becomes
    increasingly important on moist, cool sites [23,91].  Other associates
    which vary by latitude and elevation are listed below [39]:

    Location              Elevation   Associates

    northern Rocky Mtns   low         western white pine (Pinus monticola),
                                      Douglas-fir, western larch (Larix
                                      occidentalis), grand fir, western hemlock
                                      (Tsuga heterophylla), western redcedar
                                      (Thuja plicata)
                           high       lodgepole pine, subalpine larch (Larix
                                      lyallii), whitebark pine (Pinus
                                      albicaulis), mountain hemlock
    central Rocky Mtns     low        lodgepole pine, Douglas-fir, aspen
                                      (Populus tremuloides), blue spruce
                           high       whitebark pine, limber pine (Pinus
                                      flexilis), bristlecone pine (P. aristata)
    southern Rocky Mtns    low        white fir, Douglas-fir, blue spruce, aspen
                           high       corkbark fir
    Cascade Mtns           low        Pacific silver fir, mountain hemlock,
                                      lodgepole pine 
                           high       mountain hemlock, whitebark pine

    Understory associates:  Understory vegetation is extremely variable,
    changing with elevation, exposure, and soil moisture.  Habitat type and
    plant association guides describe characteristic understory plants for
    differing sites.

    Elevation:  Alexander and others [11] described the following
    elevational ranges for subalpine fir:

    Coast Range of southeastern Alaska - subalpine fir is found from sea
    level to 3,500 feet (0-1,067 m). 

    Coast Range and interior plateaus of Yukon Territory and British
    Columbia - subalpine fir is found from 2,000 to 5,000 feet (610-1,524

    Olympic and Cascade Mountains of Washington and Oregon - subalpine fir
    is generally found from 4,000 to 6,000 feet (1,219-1,829 m), but may be
    found as low as 2,000 feet (610 m) along cold streambottoms and on lava
    flows, and as high as 8,000 feet (2,438 m) on sheltered slopes.

    Rocky Mountains of British Columbia and Alberta south of the Peace River
    - subalpine fir is found from 3,000 to 7,000 feet (914-2,134 m) but is
    more abundant above 5,000 feet (1,524 m).

    Rocky Mountains of Montana and Idaho and associated ranges of eastern
    Oregon and Washington - subalpine fir grows from 2,000 to 11,000 feet
    (610-3,353 m) but is most common at 5,000 to 9,000 feet (1,524-2,743 m).

    Rocky Mountains of Wyoming, Utah, and Colorado - subalpine fir occurs
    from 8,000 to 11,500 feet (2,438-3,506 m) but is most common at 9,000 to
    11,000 feet (2,743-3,353 m).

    Rocky Mountains of New Mexico and Arizona - subalpine fir occurs from
    8,000 to 12,000 feet (2,438-3,658 m) but is usually found on north
    slopes from 9,500 to 11,000 feet (2,896-3,353 m).
    Habitat: Cover Types
    provided by Fire Effects Information System Plants
    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):

       201  White spruce
       202  White spruce - paper birch
       205  Mountain hemlock
       206  Engelmann spruce - subalpine fir
       208  Whitebark pine
       209  Bristlecone pine
       210  Interior Douglas-fir
       212  Western larch
       213  Grand fir
       215  Western white pine
       216  Blue spruce
       217  Aspen
       218  Lodgepole pine
       219  Limber pine
       223  Sitka spruce
       224  Western hemlock
       226  Coastal true fir - hemlock
       253  Black spruce - white spruce
    Habitat: Ecosystem
    provided by Fire Effects Information System Plants
    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):

       FRES20  Douglas-fir
       FRES22  Western white pine
       FRES23  Fir - spruce
       FRES24  Hemlock - Sitka spruce
       FRES25  Larch
       FRES26  Lodgepole pine
       FRES44  Alpine
    Habitat: Plant Associations
    provided by Fire Effects Information System Plants
    More info on this topic.

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

    More info for the term: forest

       K004  Fir - hemlock forest
       K012  Douglas-fir forest
       K015  Western spruce - pine forest
       K018  Pine - Douglas-fir forest
       K020  Spruce - fir - Douglas-fir forest
       K021  Southwestern spruce - fir forest
       K052  Alpine meadows and barren
    Key Plant Community Associations
    provided by Fire Effects Information System Plants
    More info for the terms: climax, codominant, forest, grassland, series, shrubland, woodland

    Forests in which subalpine fir attains climax dominance or codominance
    are widespread throughout the mountains of western North America.  The
    subalpine fir series generally occupies cold, high elevation mountain
    forests.  Engelmann spruce (Picea engelmannii) is usually associated
    with subalpine fir.  It occurs as either a climax codominant or as a
    persistent, long-lived seral species in most subalpine fir habitat

    Published classification schemes listing subalpine fir as a dominant
    part of the vegetation in habitat types (hts), community types (cts),
    plant associations (pas), ecosystem associations (eas), site types (sts)
    or dominance types (dts) are presented below:

    Area                    Classification          Authority

    AK: -----               general veg. cts        Viereck & Dyrness 1980
    AZ: San Francisco       forest, alpine &
          Peaks RNA           meadow cts            Rominger & Paulik 1983
    AZ, NM: -----           forest & woodland hts   Layser & Schubert 1979
            Apache, Gila,
              Cibola NFs    forest hts              Fitzhugh & others 1987
            s of Mogollon
              Rim           forest hts              Develice & Ludwig 1983b
    n AZ, n NM              forest hts              Larson & Moir 1987
    CO: Arapaho &
          Roosevelt NFs     forest hts              Hess & Alexander 1986
        Gunnison &
          Uncompahgre NFs   forest hts              Komarkova & others 1988
        Routt NF            forest hts              Hoffman & Alexander 1980
        White River-        grassland, shrubland,
          Arapaho NF          & forestland hts      Hess & Wasser 1982
        White River NF      forest hts              Hoffman & Alexander 1983
    w CO                    riparian pas            Baker 1989a
    ID: Sawtooth, White
          Cloud, Boulder,
          & Pioneer Mtns    general veg. cts        Schlatterer 1972
    c ID                    forest hts              Steele & others 1981
    n ID                    forest hts              Cooper & others 1987
    se ID                   aspen cts               Mueggler & Campbell 1986
    e ID, w WY              forest hts              Steele & others 1983
    MT: -----               forest hts              Pfister & others 1977
        -----               riparian dts            Hansen & others 1988
    c, e MT                 riparian cts, hts       Hansen & others 1990
    nw MT                   riparian hts, cts       Boggs & others 1990
    sw MT                   riparian rst, cts, hts  Hansen & others 1989
    NM: Cibola NF           forest hts              Alexander & others 1987
        Lincoln NF          forest hts              Alexander & others 1984
    n NM, s CO              forest hts              Develice & Ludwig 1983a
    n NM, s CO              forest hts              Develice  & others 1986
    OR: Wallowa-Whitman NF  steppe & forest pas     Johnson & Simon 1987
        Eagle Cap
          Wilderness        general veg. cts        Cole 1982
    OR, WA: -----           general veg. cts        Franklin & Dyrness 1973
            Blue Mtns       general veg. pas        Hall 1973
    UT: -----               aspen cts               Mueggler & Campbell 1986
    c, s UT                 forest hts              Youngblood & Mauk 1985
    n UT                    forest hts              Mauk & Henderson 1984
    WA: Okanogan NF         forest pas              Williams & Lillybridge 1983
        Mount Rainier NP    forest pas              Franklin & others 1988   
        North Cascades NP   forest pas              Agee & Kertis 1987
    e WA, n ID              forest hts, cts         Daubenmire & Daubenmire 1968
    WY: Bridger-Teton NF    aspen cts               Youngblood & Mueggler 1981
        Medicine NF         forest hts              Alexander & others 1986
        Bighorn Mtns        forest hts              Hoffman & Alexander 1976
        Wind River Mtns     forest hts              Reed 1976

    USFS R-2                general veg. pas        Johnston 1987
    USFS R-2                general veg. hts,pas    Wasser & Hess 1982
    USFS R-4                aspen cts               Mueggler 1988

    w-c AB                  forest cts              Corns 1983
    BC: -----               grassland, forest hts   McLean 1970
        -----               general veg. eas        Pojar & others 1984
    nw BC                   forest eas              Haeussler & others 1985

    Soils and Topography
    provided by Silvics of North America
    Information on soils where subalpine fir grows is limited. In the Pacific Coast region, soil parent materials are mixed and varied. Zonal soils in the subalpine fir zone are Cryorthods (Podzolic soils), or Haplorthods (Brown Podzolic soils) with well developed but ultimately thin humus layers. Haploxerults and Haplohumults (Reddish-Brown Lateritic soils), developed from volcanic lava; Xerochrepts (Regosolic soils), developed from shallow residual material; and Lithic (Lithosolic soils) are also common in some localities. Dystrandepts (Bog soils) and Haplaquepts (Humic Gley soils) occur on poorly drained sites. Soils are more acid than in lower elevation forests, with pH typically ranging from 4.5 to 5.9 (22,61).

    In the central and southern Rocky Mountains subalpine zone, soil materials vary according to the character of the bedrock from which they originated. Crystalline granite rock predominates, but conglomerates, shales, sandstones, basalts, and andesites commonly occur. Glacial deposits and stream alluvial fans are also common along valley bottoms. Of the great soils group, Cryorthods (Podzolic Soils) and Haplorthods (Brown Podzolic Soils) occur extensively on all aspects. Cryochrepts (Sols Bruns Acides) occur extensively on the drier aspects. Aquods (Ground-Water Podzolic Soils) are found in the more poorly drained areas. Cryoboralfs (Gray-Wooded Soils) have fine-textured parent material and support low-density timber stands. Haploboralls (Brown Forest Soils) occur mostly in the lower subalpine zone along stream terraces and side slopes. Lithics (Lithosolic Soils) occur whenever bedrock is near the surface. Aquepts (Bog Soils) and Haplaquepts (Humic Gley Soils) occur extensively in poorly drained upper stream valleys (31,61).

    Regardless of the great soils groups that occur in the subalpine zone of the west, subalpine fir is not exacting in its soil requirements. It is frequently found growing on soils that are too wet or too dry for its common associates. Good growth is made on lower slopes, alluvial floodplains, and glacial moraines; and at high elevations on well drained, fine- to medium-textured sand and silt loams that developed primarily from basalt, andesite, and shale. Growth is poor on shallow and coarse-textured soils developed from granitic and schistic rock, conglomerates, and coarse sandstones, and on saturated soils, but subalpine fir establishes on severe sites, such as lava beds, tallus slopes, and avalanche tracks, before any of its common associates. Under these conditions it may pioneer the site for other species or it may exclude the establishment of other species (9,23).

    Subalpine fir grows near sea level at the northern limit of its range, and as high as 3658 m (12,000 ft) in the south. In the Coast Range of southeastern Alaska, it is found from sea level to 1067 m (3,500 ft); in the Coast Range and interior plateaus of Yukon Territory and British Columbia, at 610 to 1524 m (2,000 to 5,000 ft); and in the Olympic and Cascade Mountains of Washington and Oregon, generally at 1219 to 1829 m (4,000 to 6,000 ft), but as low as 610 m (2,000 ft) along cold stream bottoms and on lava flows, and as high as 2438 m (8,000 ft) on sheltered slopes (9,57).

    In the Rocky Mountains of British Columbia and Alberta south of the Peace River, subalpine fir grows at 914 to 2134 m (3,000 to 7,000 ft), but it is more abundant above 1524 m (5,000 ft); in the Rocky Mountains of Montana and Idaho and associated ranges in eastern Washington and Oregon, at 610 to 3353 m (2,000 to 11,000 ft), but it is more common at 1524 to 2743 m (5,000 to 9,000 ft) (40,41); in the Rocky Mountains of Wyoming, Utah, and Colorado, usually at 2743 to 3353 m (9,000 to 11,000 ft), but it may be found as low as 2438 m (8,000 ft) and to timberline at 3505 m (11,500 ft); and in the Rocky Mountains and associated ranges of New Mexico and Arizona, at 2438 to 3658 m (8,000 to 12,000 ft), but usually on north slopes at 2896 to 3353 m (9,500 to 11,000 ft) (9,12,46,52).


    Associated Forest Cover
    provided by Silvics of North America
    In the Rocky Mountains, subalpine fir is most typically found in mixture with Engelmann spruce (Picea engelmannii) and forms the relatively stable Engelmann Spruce-Subalpine Fir (Type 206) forest cover type. It is also found in varying degrees in 16 other cover types (56):

    SAF Type No. Type Name 201 White Spruce 202 White Spruce-Paper Birch 205 Mountain Hemlock 208 Whitebark Pine 209 Bristlecone Pine 210 Interior Douglas-Fir 212 Western Larch 213 Grand Fir 215 Western White Pine 216 Blue Spruce 217 Aspen 218 Lodgepole Pine 219 Limber Pine 223 Sitka Spruce 224 Western Hemlock 226 Coastal True Fir-Hemlock Differences in elevation and latitude affect temperature and precipitation, influencing the composition of the forests where subalpine fir grows (16). In Alaska and the Coast Range of British Columbia south through the Coast Range of Washington and Oregon, mountain hemlock (Tsuga mertensiana) is its common associate. In Alaska and northern British Columbia, Alaska-cedar (Chamaecyparis nootkatensis) mixes with it; and where it approaches sea level, it mingles with Sitka spruce (Picea sitchensis). From southern British Columbia southward through much of the Cascades, Pacific silver fir (Abies amabilis), mountain hemlock, and lodgepole pine (Pinus contorta) are the most common associates under closed forest conditions. Major timberline associates are mountain hemlock and whitebark pine (Pinus albicaulis). Engelmann spruce is not a constant associate of subalpine fir except on the east slopes of the northern Cascades, and on exceptionally moist, cool habitats scattered throughout the southern and western Cascades. Engelmann spruce is a major associate of subalpine fir in the mountains of eastern Washington and Oregon. Less common associates in the Pacific Northwest include western hemlock, noble fir (Abies procera), grand fir (Abies grandis), western white pine (Pinus monticola), western larch (Larix occidentalis), and alpine larch (Larix Iyallii) (2,9).

    From the mountains and interior plateaus of central British Columbia southward through the Rocky Mountain system, where subalpine fir frequently extends to timberline, its most constant associate is Engelmann spruce. Less common associates include: in British Columbia and western Alberta, white spruce (Picea glauca), balsam poplar (Populus balsamifera), paper birch (Betula papyrifera), and aspen (Populus tremuloides); in the Rocky Mountains of Montana and Idaho at its lower limits, western white pine, interior Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii var. glauca), western hemlock (Tsuga heterophylla), western larch, grand fir, and western redcedar (Thuja plicata); and at higher elevations, lodgepole pine, alpine larch, mountain hemlock, and whitebark pine. In the Rocky Mountains of Wyoming, Utah, and Colorado, near its lower limits, associates are lodgepole pine, interior Douglas-fir, aspen, and blue spruce (Picea pungens); and at higher elevations, whitebark pine, limber pine (Pinus flexilis), and bristlecone pine (Pinus aristata); and in the Rocky Mountains and associated ranges of New Mexico and Arizona, near its lower limits, white fir (Abies concolor), interior Douglas-fir, blue spruce, and aspen; and at higher elevations, corkbark fir. Subalpine fir frequently extends to timberline in the Rocky Mountains. Other species that accompany it to timberline are whitebark pine, mountain hemlock, and occasionally Engelmann spruce in the Rocky Mountains north of Utah and Wyoming; Engelmann spruce in the Rocky Mountains north of Wyoming, Utah, and Colorado; and Engelmann spruce and corkbark fir in the Rocky Mountains and associated ranges south of Wyoming and Utah (2,9).

    At timberline in the Rocky Mountains, subalpine fir and Engelmann spruce form a wind Krummholz I to 2 m (3 to 7 ft) high. On gentle slopes below timberline, subalpine fir, Engelmann spruce, and occasionally lodgepole pine grow in north-south strips 10 to 50 m (33 to 164 ft) wide and several hundred meters long approximately at right angles to the direction of prevailing winds. These strips are separated by moist subalpine meadows 25 to 75 m (82 to 246 ft) wide where deep snow drifts accumulate (14).

    Undergrowth vegetation is more variable than tree associates. In the Pacific Northwest and the Rocky Mountains and associated ranges north of Utah and Wyoming, common undergrowth species include: Labrador tea (Ledum glandulosum), Cascades azalea (Rhododendron albiflorum), rusty skunkbrush (Menziesia ferruginea), woodrush (Luzula hitchcockii), Rocky Mountain maple (Acer glabrum), twinflower (Linnaea borealis), dwarf huckleberry (Vaccinium caespitosum) and blue huckleberry (V. globulare) (cool, moist sites); queens cup (Clintonia uniflora), twistedstalk (Streptopus amplexiflolius), and sweetscented bedstraw (Galium triflorum) (warm, moist sites); grouse whortleberry (V. scoparium), fireweed (Epilobium angustifolium), mountain gooseberry (Ribes montigenum), heartleaf arnica (Arnica cordifolia), beargrass (Xerophyllum tenax), boxleaf myrtle (Pachystima myrsinites), elksedge (Carex geyeri), and pine grass (Calamagrostis rubescens (cool, dry sites); creeping juniper (Juniperus communis), white spirea (Spiraea betulaefolia), Oregongrape (Berberis repens), a mountain snowberry (Symphoricarpos oreophilus), and big whortleberry (V. membranaceum) (warm, dry sites); and marsh-marigold (Caltha biflora), devilsclub (Oplopanax horrida), and bluejoint reedgrass (Calamagrostis canadensis) (wet sites) (6,22).

    Undergrowth characteristically found in the Rocky Mountains and associated ranges south of Idaho and Montana includes: mountain bluebells (Mertensia ciliata) and heartleaf bittercress (Cardamine cordifolia) (cool, moist sites); thimbleberry (Rubus parviflorus) (warm, moist sites); red buffaloberry (Shepherdia canadensis), Oregongrape, creeping juniper, mountain snowberry (warm, dry sites); and Rocky Mountain whortleberry (V myrtillus), grouse whortleberry, fireweed, heartleaf arnica, groundsel (Senecio sanguiosboides), polemonium (Polemonium delicatum), daisy fleabane (Erigeron eximius), elksedge, boxleaf myrtle, prickly currant (Ribes lacustre), sidebells pyrola (Pyrola secunda), and mosses (cool, dry sites) (6).

Diseases and Parasites

    Damaging Agents
    provided by Silvics of North America
    Subalpine fir is susceptible to windthrow. Although, this tendency is generally attributed to a shallow root system, soil depth, drainage, and stand conditions influence the development of the root system. The kind and intensity of cutting and topographic exposure to wind also influence the likelihood of trees being windthrown (5).

    Subalpine fir is attacked by several insects (39). In spruce-fir forests, the most important insect pests are the western spruce budworm (Choristoneura occidentalis) and western balsam bark beetle (Dryocoetes confusus). The silver fir beetle (Pseudohylesinus sericeus) and the fir engraver (Scolytus ventralis) may at times be destructive locally (25). In the Cascades, the balsam woolly adelgid (Adelges piceae), introduced from Europe, is the most destructive insect pest. This insect has caused significant mortality to subalpine fir, virtually eliminating it from some stands in Oregon and southern Washington (22).

    Fir broom rust (Melampsorella caryophyllacearum) and wood rotting fungi are responsible for most disease losses (13,29,53). Important root and butt rots are Gloeocystidiellum citrinum, Coniophora puteana, Armillaria mellea, Coniophorella olivaea, Polyporus tomentosus var. circinatus, and Pholiota squarrose. Important trunk rots are Haematostereum sanguinolentum, Phellinus pini, and Amylostereum chailletii. Wood rots and broom rust weaken affected trees and predispose them to windthrow and windbreak (5).

    Subalpine fir bark is thin, especially on young trees, and lower limbs persist after death (9). These characteristics make subalpine fir susceptible to death or severe injury from fire.

General Ecology

    Broad-scale Impacts of Plant Response to Fire
    provided by Fire Effects Information System Plants
    More info for the term: prescribed fire

    For further information on subalpine fir response to fire, see Fire Case Studies. Hamilton's Research Project Summary and Research Papers
    (Hamilton 2006a, Hamilton 2006b)provide information on prescribed fire and
    postfire response of plant community species, including subalpine fir,
    that was not available when this species review was originally written.
    Fire Ecology
    provided by Fire Effects Information System Plants
    More info for the terms: crown fire, fire regime, forest, frequency, fuel, lichens, tree

    Plant adaptations to fire:  Subalpine fir is very fire sensitive and
    generally suffers high mortality even from low intensity fires.  It
    relies on wind-dispersed seeds which readily germinate on fire-prepared
    seedbeds to colonize burned areas.  The occasional mature tree which
    survives fire, those escaping fire in small, unburned pockets, and trees
    adjacent to burned areas provide seeds to colonize burned sites.  In
    subalpine habitats, scattered subalpine fir trees often escape fire
    because of discontinuous fuels, broken and rocky terrain, and the moist
    and cool environment [78,87,91].

    Fire regime:  Subalpine fir habitat types vary from cold and wet at
    higher elevations to warm and moist or cool and dry at lower elevations.
    This environmental gradient influences the mean fire return interval
    (MFRI).  Relatively dry lower elevation subalpine fir habitat types have
    more frequent and less intense fires than moist middle and upper
    elevation subalpine fir habitat types [12,91].  Such forests in the
    Bitterroot National Forest in Montana have a MFRI of 17 to 28 years
    [14].  Fires at this frequency kill subalpine fir and keep these forests
    dominated by seral conifers such as lodgepole pine, Douglas-fir, or
    western larch.  Moist, middle and upper elevation subalpine fir habitat
    types, however, generally experience high intensity stand-replacing
    fires at intervals of 100 years or more.  Mean fire return intervals for
    middle and upper elevation subalpine fir habitat types in several areas
    are presented below:

    Location                  Community dominants           MFRI    Reference
    Kananaskis Park, AB      subalpine fir, spruce,          90       [12]
                             lodgepole pine        
    northern Cascades, WA    subalpine fir                 154        [2]
    northern Cascades, WA    subalpine fir-lodgepole pine  109        [2]
    Olympic NP, WA           subalpine fir                 150        [116]
    Yellowstone NP, WY       subalpine fir                 300-350    [98]
    Coram Exp. Forest, nw MT western larch, Douglas-fir,   117-146    [129]
                             lodgepole pine, subalpine fir

    Fuels and fire behavior:  The fuel structure in subalpine-fir-dominated
    stands promotes highly destructive stand-destroying fires.  Fuel loads
    in subalpine fir stands are greater than in lower elevation montane
    stands because the cool and moist environment slows the decomposition of
    organic matter allowing fuels to accumulate more rapidly [1].  Fuel beds
    tend to be irregular, with over twice as much fuel accumulating under
    the narrow-crowned trees as between them [116].  The needles are small
    and fine and form a compact fuel bed in which fire spreads slowly [34].
    These concentrated, slow burning fuels frequently produce flames high
    enough to reach subalpine fir's low-growing dead branches [116].  Thus
    crowning is common in subalpine fir stands.

    Once a crown fire begins, it spreads easily because subalpine fir has a
    tendency to grow in dense stands and has highly flammable foliage.  A
    lightning strike on May 7, 1987, in a subalpine fir-mountain hemlock
    stand in Mount Rainier National Park started a crown fire even though
    the ground was still partially snow covered.  The fire spread slowly
    through the tree crowns by (1) igniting lichens draped along the fine
    branches, (2) preheating and igniting the foliage, and (3) spreading to
    a nearby tree by igniting its lichens [62].

    Find fire regime information for the plant communities in which this
    species may occur by entering the species name in the FEIS home page under
    "Find FIRE REGIMES".
    Fire Management Considerations
    provided by Fire Effects Information System Plants
    Subalpine fir is very fire sensitive and is often killed even by surface
    fires.  Following timber harvest, on sites where subalpine fir is not a
    preferred species, light surface fires may be used to kill subalpine
    fir and promote the establishment of other conifers [93]. 

    Fuels remain moist in many high elevation subalpine fir habitat types
    during most of the year, leaving only a short time period during certain
    years when prescribed burning can take place [63,91].

    Subalpine fir seeds germinate poorly in soils under burned slash piles
    [130] but readily germinate on mineral soil seedbeds prepared by
    broadcast burning [16,107].
    Fire Management Implications
    provided by Fire Effects Information System Plants
    More info for the terms: cone, seed

    High intensity crown fires which are common in subalpine fir forests,
    kill all or nearly all seed trees within a burned area.  If subalpine
    fir is to naturally regenerate on this type of burn, seeds must come
    from adjacent unburned stands.  Because subalpine fir seeds are
    dispersed over relatively short distances, initial seedling
    establishment is restricted to the burn's edge.  Subalpine fir cone
    production can be erratic from year to year, with the best regeneration
    occurring during good seed crop years.
    Growth Form (according to Raunkiær Life-form classification)
    provided by Fire Effects Information System Plants
    More info on this topic.

    More info for the terms: phanerophyte, therophyte

       Undisturbed State: Phanerophyte (mesophanerophyte)
       Undisturbed State: Phanerophyte (microphanerophyte)
       Undisturbed State: Phanerophyte (nanophanerophyte) Krummholz form
       Burned or Clipped State: Therophyte
    Immediate Effect of Fire
    provided by Fire Effects Information System Plants
    More info for the term: lichen

    Subalpine fir is one of the least fire-resistant western conifers.  It
    is very susceptible to fire because it has (1) thin bark that provides
    little insulation for the cambium, (2) bark which ignites readily, (3)
    shallow roots which are susceptible to soil heating, (4) low-growing
    branches, (5) a tendency to grow in dense stands, (6) highly flammable
    foliage, and (7) moderate to heavy lichen growth [37,111].

    Subalpine fir forests are normally subject to highly destructive crown
    fires that occur at 100-year or longer intervals.  Such fires typically
    kill all subalpine fir trees.  Subalpine fir is also very susceptible to
    surface fires because fine fuels which are often concentrated under
    mature trees burn slowly and girdle the thin-barked bole [34].
    Life Form
    provided by Fire Effects Information System Plants
    More info for the term: tree

    Plant Response to Fire
    provided by Fire Effects Information System Plants
    More info for the terms: cone, seed, tree, wildfire

    Following fire, subalpine fir reestablishes via seeds dispersed by wind
    from trees surviving in protected pockets or from trees adjacent to
    burned areas.  Subalpine fir readily establishes on burned mineral soil
    seedbeds [107].  Ash does not affect germination, but if it is deep, it
    can prevent a seedling's roots from reaching mineral soil [85].
    Although seedling establishment is often favored by shade, it will
    establish in full sunlight following fire [87].

    The rate of establishment is quite variable, and depends on the
    proximity of the seed source (because the heavy seeds are dispersed over
    short distances) and seed production during the year of the fire and
    immediate postfire years.  In general, subalpine fir seedling
    establishment is very slow in areas suffering large, continuous crown
    fires but is relatively rapid on small burned-over areas where a seed
    source is nearby [90,124,128].  Three years after a late August wildfire
    in northern Colorado, in a dense, mature stand composed of Engelmann
    spruce, subalpine fir, and lodgepole pine, subalpine fir had established
    15,200 seedlings per acre (37,500/ha) on small burns that were less than
    one-tenth of an acre in size.  But on areas within the middle of the
    main burn, subalpine fir had established only 12 seedling per acre
    (30/ha) 3 years after the fire [16].  In Colorado, Peet [90] found a
    75-year-old burn that had few conifer seedlings even though an
    old-growth subalpine fir-Engelmann spruce stand was 218 yards (200 m)

    Reinvasion into large burns is slow because much of the seed source is
    destroyed.  However, sometimes sporadic survivors provide a limited seed
    source so that a small number of seedlings establish quickly following
    fire.  When this occurs, large quantities of seeds are dispersed several
    decades later as the early invading seedlings mature and reach cone
    bearing age [128].

    On areas where subalpine fir is abundant and lodgepole pine scarce
    before burning, subalpine fir establishes quickly following fire if
    sufficient numbers of seed trees survive or are near the burn.  However,
    if lodgepole pine is present prior to burning, it usually seeds in
    aggressively and assumes a dominant role because it quickly overtops any
    fir seeding in at the same time [34].  Subalpine fir can be suppressed
    for several decades in seral lodgepole stands which develop following
    fire; one-hundred-year-old individuals may be only 3 feet (0.9 m) tall
    [90].  It may take 50 to 150 years after a fire for substantial
    subalpine fir establishment under dense lodgepole pine stands

    In the Olympic Mountains, tree seedling establishment following fires in
    closed mountain hemlock-subalpine fir forests was higher during wet
    growing seasons than during dry growing seasons.  Establishment rates
    were higher near the edge of a fire or near survivors than in areas
    removed from a seed source [4].  On many burned areas, subalpine fir did
    not establish seedlings for several years because of poor seed crops.
    On some burns there was a lag time of 40 to 50 years after fire before
    there was substantial seedling establishment.  This was a result of
    early invading trees maturing and dispersing seeds [4].

    High elevation subalpine fir stands that have burned often remain open
    for several decades or more [18,31].  The harsh environment near
    treeline makes it difficult for tree seedlings to establish and survive
    [18].  Grasses and sedges may form a mat in subalpine meadows which
    prevents tree seeds from reaching mineral soil [109].
    Post-fire Regeneration
    provided by Fire Effects Information System Plants
    More info for the terms: secondary colonizer, seed

       crown-stored residual colonizer; short-viability seed in on-site cones
       secondary colonizer; off-site seed carried to site after year 2
       off-site colonizer; seed carried by wind; postfire years 1 and 2
    Reaction to Competition
    provided by Silvics of North America
    In the Rocky Mountains and Pacific Northwest where subalpine fir and Engelmann spruce form the spruce-fir type, and mountain hemlock and other true firs are absent or limited in number, subalpine fir is very shade-tolerant (22). It is much more tolerant than spruce and other common associates such as lodgepole pine, aspen, blue spruce, and interior Douglas-fir (11). However, in most of the Cascades and in the Rocky Mountains, where subalpine fir grows with the more shade-tolerant Pacific silver fir, grand fir, and mountain hemlock, some ecologists classify it as intolerant relative to these associates (22).

    Subalpine fir, together with Engelmann spruce, forms a climax or long-lived seral forest vegetation throughout much of its range. In the Rocky Mountains of British Columbia and Alberta and south of Montana and Idaho, subalpine fir and Engelmann spruce occur as either codominants or in pure stands of one or the other. Spruce, however, is most likely to form pure stands, especially at upper elevations. In the Rocky Mountains of Montana and Idaho and the mountains of eastern Oregon and Washington, subalpine fir is a major climax. Engelmann spruce may be either a major climax or a persistent long-lived seral. Pure stands of either species may occur, but subalpine fir is more likely to form pure stands, especially at high elevations (2).

    Although subalpine fir is a dominant element in several climax or near-climax vegetation associations, these forests differ from the typical climax forest in that most of them are not truly all-aged. For example, in spruce-fir forests, some stands are single-storied while others are two-, three-, and multi-storied. Multi-storied stands may result from past disturbances such as fire, insect epidemics, or cutting, or they may result from the gradual deterioration of single- and two-storied stands associated with normal mortality from wind, insects, and diseases (5). On the other hand, some multi-storied stands appear to have originated as uneven-aged stands and are successfully perpetuating that structure (3,27).

    Where subalpine fir is a component of the climax vegetation, the natural tendency is for subalpine fir to reestablish itself when destroyed and temporarily replaced by other vegetation (27). Throughout most of the Cascades and in the Rocky Mountains where subalpine fir grows with the other true firs and/or mountain hemlock, it is seral. Subalpine fir also is a pioneer on difficult sites, where its ability to reproduce by layering allows it to colonize more readily than its common associates (22).

    The ecophysiology of subalpine fir in relation to common associated species is becoming better understood (33,34,35,36). What is known about the general water relations of subalpine fir can be summarized as follows: (1) needle water vapor conductance (directly proportional to stomatal opening) is controlled primarily by visible irradiance and absolute humidity difference from needle to air (evaporative demand) with secondary effects from temperature and water stress; (2) nighttime minimum temperatures below 3.9° C (39° F) retard stomatal opening the next day; (3) stomata function well from early spring to late fall, and high transpiration rates occur even with considerable snowpack on the ground; (4) leaf water vapor conductance is lower than that of Engelmann spruce, lodgepole pine, and aspen, the common associates of central Rocky Mountain subalpine forests; (5) subalpine fir trees have a larger total needle area per unit of sapwood water-conducting tissue than the other three species; and (6) subalpine fir trees have a slightly lower needle area per unit of bole or stand basal area than Engelmann spruce, but greater than lodgepole pine or aspen. At equal basal area, annual canopy transpiration of subalpine fir is about 35 percent lower than spruce, but 15 percent higher than lodgepole pine, and 100 percent higher than aspen. These high rates of transpiration cause subalpine fir to occur primarily on wet sites, generally in association with Engelmann spruce (37,38).

    Both even- and uneven-aged silvicultural. systems can be used in stands where subalpine fir is a component (1,5,8). The appropriate even-aged cutting methods are clearcutting and shelterwood cutting and their modifications. The seed-tree method cannot be used because of susceptibility of subalpine fir to windthrow. The uneven-aged cutting methods are individual tree and group selection and their modifications. In spruce-fir stands, shelterwood and individual-tree- selection methods will favor subalpine fir over Engelmann spruce, lodgepole pine, and interior Douglas-fir (4). In stands where subalpine fir grows with Pacific silver fir, grand fir, and/or mountain hemlock, clearcutting and group shelterwood or group selection cutting will favor subalpine fir (22).

    Regeneration Processes
    provided by Fire Effects Information System Plants
    More info for the terms: climax, duff, forest, layering, litter, natural, seed, stratification, tree

    Cone and seed production:  Subalpine fir can begin producing cones when
    20 years old and 4 or 5 feet (1.2-1.5 m) tall, but under closed forest
    conditions seed production is generally not significant until trees are
    older and taller [11].  Corkbark fir generally does not produce cones
    until about 50 years old [39].  Nearly all cones are produced on the
    uppermost part of the crown.  Maximum seed production is by dominant
    trees between 150 and 200 years old [39].  Yearly seed production is
    very erratic; good seed crops are produced every 3 to 5 years, with
    light crops or crop failures in between [39,40,54,86].  Corkbark fir is
    also a poor seed producer, having more crop failure years than good seed
    crop years [9].  Subalpine fir averages 34,800 seeds per pound
    (76,700/kg), while corkbark fir seeds average 22,300 per pound
    (49,150/kg) [41].

    Seed predation:  Insect pests reduce seed yields by feeding on cones and
    seeds; however, the magnitude of loss is variable [11].  Red squirrels
    cut and cache large quantities of subalpine fir cones [9].  After
    dispersal, numerous small rodents and birds consume seeds from the

    Dispersal:  Mature subalpine and corkbark fir seeds have a large wing
    and are dispersed primarily by wind in the fall as cones disintegrate on
    the tree.  Seeds travel primarily in the direction of prevailing winds,
    but upslope drafts can influence dispersal at low and middle elevations
    [9].  Studies in Colorado showed that about one-half of subalpine fir
    seeds dispersed into clearcuts fell within 100 feet (30 m) of the
    clearcut's windward edge, while the remainder fell within 260 feet (80
    m) of the edge [86].  Some seeds are also dispersed by red squirrels
    which cut and cache cones before they disintegrate; seeds commonly
    germinate from these middens, forming thickets [71].

    Germination and viability:  Seeds overwinter under or in snow.  This
    cold, moist stratification is required for germination [41].
    Germination begins in the spring a few days after snowmelt and is
    usually completed within a few weeks [9,106].  Percent germination is
    low due to unsound seed; about 31 to 38 percent for subalpine fir and 26
    to 33 percent for corkbark fir [39,41].  Under natural conditions seeds
    remain viable for 1 year [41].  Stratification procedures for stored
    seeds have been described in detail [41,74].

    Seedling establishment and survival:  Seedlings establish best on
    mineral soil seedbeds but will also establish on other surfaces
    including litter, duff, and decaying wood [11].  Because Engelmann
    spruce requires a mineral soil seedbed, subalpine fir seedlings usually
    outnumber spruce seedlings in the understory of spruce-fir stands.
    Thus, even though it is short-lived, many ecologists consider subalpine
    fir better able to regenerate under climax conditions than Engelmann
    spruce.  Subalpine fir is very shade tolerant and easily establishes
    under a closed canopy.  Throughout the Rocky Mountains subalpine fir is
    reproducing abundantly under conditions of dense shade and is often
    abundant as seedlings and saplings in spruce-fir forests, even where
    Engelmann spruce dominates the overstory [11,67].

    At higher elevations, seedling survival is sometimes greater on duff
    seedbeds because the duff helps protect seedlings from high-intensity
    summer rain storms and frost heaving [35].  At lower elevations,
    seedling densities are often greater on mineral soils [35].  In a
    spruce-fir forest in southeastern Wyoming, Knapp and Smith [67] found
    that 42 percent of subalpine fir seedlings were on litter deeper than 1
    inch (2.5 cm), compared with only 5 percent of Engelmann spruce
    seedlings.  Subalpine fir is able to establish in duff because of its
    rapid root growth.  Comparing seedlings grown in a greenhouse, subalpine
    fir's taproot length (29 mm) 2 weeks after germination was over 200
    percent greater than the taproot length of Engelmann spruce (9.4 mm)

    Growth:  Subalpine fir seedlings grow very slowly.  One-year-old
    seedlings are frequently less than 1 inch (2.5 cm) tall [11].  One study
    found 15-year-old seedlings averaged only 11 inches (28 cm) in height on
    burned-over slopes, 10 inches (25 cm) on cut-over dry slopes, and 6
    inches (15 cm) on cut-over wet flats [11].  Under favorable conditions
    trees reach a height of 4 to 5 feet (1.2-1.5 m) in 20 to 40 years [11].
    Under a closed canopy, trees 4 to 6 feet tall (1.2-1.8 m) are often 35
    to 50 years old.

    Vegetative reproduction:  Near timberline subalpine fir frequently
    reproduces by layering, probably as a result of heavy snow, wind, and
    cold temperatures which restrict growth away from the ground.  Layering
    often results in clusters of subalpine fir growing near timberline [13].
    Under closed forest canopy, reproduction by layering is negligible.
    Rooting Habit
    provided by Silvics of North America
    Subalpine fir has a shallow root system on sites that limit the depth of root penetration, and where the superficial lateral root system common to the seedling stage persists to old age. Under more favorable conditions, subalpine fir develops a relatively deep lateral root system (9).

    Season/Severity Classification
    provided by Fire Effects Information System Plants
    Site Description
    provided by Fire Effects Information System Plants
    More info for the terms: duff, fuel, snag

    The burned site is a southwest facing gentle slope at an elevation of
    5,596 to 5,776 feet (1,706-1,761 m).  A total of 27 acres (10.9 ha) were

    Climate:  The climate is typical of most areas within the subalpine
    zone.  The winters are cold and wet and the summers cool and dry.  Frost
    and freezing temperatures can occur during any month of the year.  Over
    70 percent of precipitation falls as snow between October and March.

    Soil and duff:  The two stands have similar soils, but the soil in the
    snag area is more fertile and better developed.  In both areas soils
    are derived from basalt residium, have a clay-loam texture, and average
    6 inches (15.2 cm) deep.  The effective rooting depth was about 20
    inches (51 cm) in the thicket area, and 20 to 40 inches (51-102 cm) in
    the snag area.  On both areas, duff was generally from 1 to 4 inches
    (0.4-1.6 cm) thick.  The mean depth of duff was 2.3 inches (5.94 cm) on
    the thicket area, and 1.9 inches (4.92 cm) on the snag area. 

    Fuel loading:  Prior to burning, mean fuel loads were as follows:

              fuels                    thicket area          snag area
                                    tons/acre tonnes/ha  tons/acre tonnes/ha

    dead and down wood
     0.0-0.25 inch (0.0-0.6 cm)        0.6       1.3        0.9       2.0
     0.26-0.99 inch (0.61-2.5 cm)      2.1       4.6        2.9       6.4
     1.0-3.0 inches (2.6-7.6 cm)       4.4       9.8        5.1      11.4
     > 3.0 inches (7.6 cm) rotten     17.4      38.9       30.9      69.2
     > 3.0 inches (7.6 cm) solid      17.0      38.1       50.1     112.2
    litter                            41.4      92.7       89.8     201.2
    duff                              32.5      72.8       30.0      67.1
    Successional Status
    provided by Fire Effects Information System Plants
    More info on this topic.

    More info for the terms: climax, herbaceous, seed, severity, succession

    In the Rocky Mountains, subalpine fir is a shade-tolerant climax species
    favored by long fire-free intervals.  Its seedlings outcompete spruces,
    lodgepole pine, and Douglas-fir when light intensities are less than 50
    percent of full sunlight, but cannot compete with these conifers under
    brighter light [11].  In Montana and Idaho and in the mountains of
    eastern Washington and eastern Oregon, subalpine fir often forms pure
    stands at climax, but it may also mix with Engelmann spruce, which,
    although considered to be seral to subalpine fir, outlives it and
    persists to climax.  In the Rocky Mountains north and south of Montana
    and Idaho, Engelmann spruce and subalpine fir may codominate at climax

    Throughout much of the Cascade Mountains subalpine fir grows as a
    shade-intolerant, seral species and is gradually replaced by more
    shade-tolerant associates such as Pacific silver fir, grand fir, and
    mountain hemlock [43].  It often invades recently disturbed areas with
    lodgepole pine.  It also pioneers harsh sites on raw geologically young
    surfaces such as lava flows and talus slopes and on climatically harsh
    sites near timberline [43].

    In areas where subalpine fir is a climax dominant, succession following
    disturbance varies depending upon the severity and type of disturbance,
    elevation, and the availability of conifer seeds.  Subalpine fir may
    establish immediately following disturbances if mature trees survive to
    provide seeds and seral species such as lodgepole pine and aspen are
    scarce.  Near treeline, it may take 100 years or more for subalpine fir
    to establish seedlings following fire because an increase in herbaceous
    species prevents seeds from reaching mineral soil and the harsh climate
    kills many seedlings that do establish [18,109].  Aspen and lodgepole
    pine are the most common seral species.  They often form pure stands and
    completely dominate low and middle elevation stands within the subalpine
    fir zone following large fires [5,68].  These species grow rapidly and
    quickly overtop any subalpine fir seedlings that may establish at the
    same time.  Aspen stands can sometimes persist for decades or even
    centuries when conifer seed trees are eliminated [29].  When lodgepole
    pine establishes immediately following stand-destroying fires, it often
    forms even-aged dense stands that dominate for 100 to 300 years.
    Because it is very shade tolerant, subalpine fir eventually establishes
    under the pine canopy, usually within 100 years, and attains dominance
    as the pine stand begins to break up [90,98].

    In many of the warmer and lower elevation subalpine fir habitat types,
    subalpine fir has not achieved climax dominance because of repeated
    fires which favor shade-intolerant seral conifers.  Many of these
    habitat types are in midsuccessional stages.  Lodgepole pine, western
    larch, western white pine, or Douglas-fir dominate the overstory, but
    subalpine fir seedlings and saplings occur in the understory [93,113].


    provided by Fire Effects Information System Plants
    More info on this topic.

    More info for the terms: cone, phenology, seed

    Subalpine fir requires 2 years to complete its reproductive cycle [115].
    Cones are initiated in the spring of the first year as microscopic
    primordia within vegetative buds.  Bud differentiation occurs in
    midsummer, and separate seed-cone and pollen-cone buds develop until
    each becomes dormant in the fall [115].  During the spring of the second
    year, cone buds resume growth and conelets are recognizable in the early
    spring.  During the second year, reproduction phenology generally
    proceeds as follows:

    Phenological event  Location      Timing of event           Reference

    flowering           sw MT, nw WY   mid-June - early July    
    cones full size         "               late August         
    seeds dispersed         "         early Sept - early Oct     [41,101]

    flowering           nw MT, n ID   mid-June - early July     
    cones full size         "         late July - early Aug     
    seeds dispersed         "               mid-Sept             [41,101]

    flowering               OR         late May - early July    
    seed dispersal          "             early Oct               [41]

    male bud burst      Linn, OR         early to mid-May       
    female bud burst        "            mid to late May        
    pollen shed             "                 June              
    seed dispersal begins   "              early October          [45]

    flowering        AZ, San Fran.Peaks     late June           
    cone ripening           "           mid-Sept - early Oct    
    seed dispersal          "           late Sept - early Oct     [41]


    Flowering and Fruiting
    provided by Silvics of North America
    Subalpine fir flowers are monoecious. Male flowers, usually abundant, are borne in pendulous clusters from the axils of the needles on the lower branchlets. Female flowers are fewer, borne erect and singly on the uppermost branchlets of the crown. Male flowers ripen, and pollen is wind-disseminated, during late spring and early summer. Cones are indigo blue when they open in mid-August to mid-October. Seed ripens from mid-September to late-October (45,60).

    Seed Production and Dissemination
    provided by Silvics of North America
    Subalpine fir may begin to produce cones when trees are 1.2 to 1.5 m (4 to 5 ft) tall and 20 years old, but under closed-forest conditions, seed production is not significant until trees are older and taller. Corkbark fir does not begin to bear cones until about 50 years old. Maximum seed production for subalpine and corkbark fir occurs in dominant trees 150 to 200 years old (9,60).

    Subalpine fir is a good seed producer in the Pacific Northwest and in the Rocky Mountains of Idaho and Montana, with good to heavy crops borne every 3 years, and light crops or failures in between (24,42). It is as good a seed producer as most associated true firs, but not as good as the hemlocks and Engelmann spruce. In one 11-year study at four locations in the Cascades, subalpine fir cone crops, based on the following criteria, were rated medium to very heavy in 6 years and very light to failure in the other 5 (24).

    Number of cones/tree Crop rating 0 Failure 1-9 Very Light 10-19 Light 20-49 Medium 50-99 Heavy 100+ Very heavy In the Rocky Mountains south of Idaho and Montana, seed production of subalpine and corkbark fir has generally been poor, with more failures than good seed years. In one study in Colorado covering 42 area-seed-crop years, subalpine fir was an infrequent seed producer. Some seed was produced in only 8 of the years, while the other 34 were complete failures (50). Similar results have been obtained from other seed-production studies in Colorado. However, because these studies were designed to sample seed production in spruce-fir stands and because Engelmann spruce made up 90 percent or more of the dominant stand basal area, these results only indicate subalpine fir seed production in spruce-fir stands, not of individual dominant fir trees (9).

    A number of cone and seed insects of subalpine fir have been identified but their relative importance, frequency of occurrence, and the magnitude of losses are not known (39). Some seed is lost from cutting and storing of cones by pine squirrels (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus fremonti), and, after seed is shed, small mammals, such as deer mice (Clethrionomys gapperi), mountain voles (Microtus montanus), and western chipmunks (Eutamias minimus), consume some seeds (5). However, the amount of seed lost to mammals, birds, and other causes are not known.

    Cones disintegrate when they are ripe. Scales fall away with the large, winged seeds, leaving only a central, spikelike axis. Dissemination beginning in September usually is completed by the end of October in the Rocky Mountains. In the Pacific Northwest, seed dissemination begins in October and usually continues into November, but pitched-up cones may extend dissemination into December. Nearly all seed is dispersed by the wind (21,60).

    Subalpine fir seeds are fairly large, averaging 76,720/kg (34,800/lb). Little information is available on seed dispersal distances. Studies designed to measure Engelmann spruce seed dispersal show similar dispersal patterns for subalpine fir. Prevailing winds influence the dispersal pattern, with about half the seeds falling into openings within 30 m (100 ft) of the windward timber edge. Seedfall continues to diminish until about two-thirds the way across the opening, and then levels off before slightly increasing about 15 m (50 ft) from the leeward timber edge (50). Thermal upslope winds are important in seed dispersal in mountainous terrain at mid- to lower-elevations (54).

    Subalpine fir seed viability is only fair: average germinative capacity is 34 percent and vitality transient (60). Observations and limited studies in the Rocky Mountains indicate that germinative capacity is often less than 30 percent (55). Some lots of stored seeds exhibit embryo dormancy, which can be broken by stratification in moist sand or peat at 5° C (41° F) for 60 days (9,60).

    Seedling Development
    provided by Silvics of North America
    Under natural conditions, fir seeds lie dormant under the snow and germinate the following spring. Although germination and early survival of subalpine fir are generally best on exposed mineral soil and moist humus, the species is less exacting in its seedbed requirements than most of its common associates. Subalpine fir has been observed to germinate and survive on a wide variety of other seedbed types including the undisturbed forest floor, undecomposed duff and litter, and decaying wood (9,15,19). Subalpine fir also invades and establishes on severe sites such as recent bums, lava flows, talus slopes, avalanche tracks, and climatically severe regions near timberline (22). Subalpine fir succeeds on these open sites because of its ability to establish a root system under conditions too severe for its less hardy associates, and its ability to reproduce by layering.

    Although subalpine fir grows under nearly all light intensities found in nature, establishment and early survival are usually favored by shade. In the absence of Pacific silver fir, grand fir, and mountain hemlock, subalpine fir will survive under closed-forest conditions with less light than Engelmann spruce, noble fir, and white spruce (22). When grown with Pacific silver and grand fir, and/or mountain hemlock, subalpine fir does not compete successfully under closed-forest conditions. It does not compete well with the spruces, lodgepole pine, or interior Douglas-fir when light intensity exceeds 50 percent of full shade (9).

    Subalpine fir is restricted to cold, humid habitats because of low tolerance to high temperatures. Newly germinated subalpine fir seedlings tolerate high solar radiation, but they are susceptible to heat girdling and drought. Seedlings are also killed or damaged by spring frosts, competing vegetation, frost heaving, damping off, snowmold, birds, rodents, and trampling and browsing by large animals, but losses are not different than for any common associate (5).

    The number of seeds required to produce a first-year seedling, and an established seedling (at least 3 years old), and the number of first-year seedlings that produce an established seedling vary considerably, depending upon seed production, distance from source, seedbed, and other environmental conditions. In one study in Colorado, covering the period 1961 to 1975 and a wide variety of conditions, an average of 150 seeds (range 35 to 290) was required to produce a first-year seedling. An average of 755 seeds (range 483 to 1,016) was required to produce a 4- to 13-year-old established seedling. For every established 4- to 13-year-old seedling, an average of 10 first-year seedlings were required, with a range of as few as 4 to as many as 14 (50).

    Early root growth of subalpine fir is very slow. The root length of first-year seedlings in one study in British Columbia averaged only 6.8 cm (2.7 in) (20). No comparable data are available in the United States, but first-year penetration of corkbark fir in Arizona averaged 8.6 cm (3.4 in) (32).

    Shoot growth is equally slow at high elevations. Many first-year seedlings are less than 2.5 cm (I in) tall. Annual height growth of seedlings during the first 10-15 years usually averages less than 2.5 cm (1 in).

    In one study, seedlings 15 years old averaged only 28 cm (11 in) in height on burned-over slopes, 25 cm (10 in) on cutover, dry slopes, and 15 cm (6 in) on cutover, wet flats (30). In another study, seedlings grown on mineral soil averaged only 58.8 cm (24 in) after 21 years (28). Trees reach 1.2 to 1.5 m (4 to 5 ft) in height in 20 to 40 years under favorable environmental conditions. However, trees less than 13 cm (5 in) in diameter are often 100 or more years old at higher elevations, and trees 1.2 to 1.8 m (4 to 6 ft) high and 35 to 50 years old are common under closed-forest conditions (40,51).

    At lower elevations, seedling shoot growth has been better. In one study in the Intermountain West, average annual height growth of subalpine fir seedlings for the first 10 years after release was 11.4 cm (4.5 in) on clearcuts and 8.1 cm (3.2 in) on partial cuts (48).

    Vegetative Reproduction
    provided by Silvics of North America
    Subalpine fir frequently reproduces by layering where the species is a pioneer in developing forest cover on severe sites such as lava flows and talus slopes or near timberline (22). Under closed-forest conditions, reproduction by layering is of minor importance.


    Growth and Yield
    provided by Silvics of North America
    On exposed sites near timberline, subalpine fir is often reduced to a prostrate shrub, but under closed-forest conditions it attains diameters of 30 to 61 cm (12 to 24 in) and heights of 14 to 30 m (45 to 100 ft), depending upon site quality and stand density. Trees larger than 76 cm (30 in) in diameter and 39.6 m (130 ft) in height are exceptional (57).

    Growth is not rapid; trees 25 to 51 cm (10 to 20 in) in diameter are often 150 to 200 years old under closed-forest conditions. Trees older than 250 years are not uncommon. But, because the species suffers severely from heartrot, many trees either die or are complete culls at an early age. Few data are available on the yields of subalpine fir in natural stands. It usually grows in mixed stands and comprises only a minor part of the volume. In the Rocky Mountains and Pacific Northwest, where it grows in association with Engelmann spruce, subalpine fir usually makes up only 10 to 20 percent of the saw log volume, which may range from less than 12,350 to more than 98,800 fbm/ha (5,000 to 40,000 fbm/acre) (30,49). In the Pacific Northwest and Rocky Mountains, where subalpine fir grows with other true firs and/or mountain hemlock, few trees reach minimum merchantable size before being crowded out of the stand (22). Subalpine fir in the Rocky Mountains grows in pure stands most often on sites so severe that it has little commercial value. In the Pacific Northwest, pure stands on commercial sites typically occur on southerly slopes and are usually less than 150 years old. These stands are not extensive but are distinctive (21).


    provided by Silvics of North America
    Population Differences Information on subalpine fir population differences is virtually nonexistent. Undoubtedly, any species with the range in elevation and latitude of subalpine fir will exhibit differences in growth, phenology, dormancy, resistance to heat and cold, etc, among different populations.

    Races and Hybrids Corkbark fir is the only recognized natural geographical variety of subalpine fir (43). Like many species with wide distribution, it has probably developed unknown races and hybrids, and there is some evidence that natural introgressive hybridization between subalpine and balsam fir occurs where they grow together in Canada. Horticultural and ornamental cultures have been recognized (45). These include:

    1. Abies lasiocarpa cv beissneri a dwarf tree bearing distorted branches and twisted needles. 2. A. 1. cv coerulescens a beautiful tree with specially intensive bluish needles. 3. A. 1. cv compacta. A dwarf tree of compact habit.


    Management considerations
    provided by Fire Effects Information System Plants
    More info for the terms: seed, seed tree, selection, tree, tussock, woodland

    Timber harvest:  Shelterwood and individual tree selection silvicultural
    methods favor subalpine fir over Engelmann spruce, lodgepole pine (Pinus
    contorta), and Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii); clearcutting and
    group selection cutting favor subalpine fir over Pacific silver fir
    (Abies amabilis), grand fir (A. grandis), and mountain hemlock (Tsuga
    mertensiana) where they grow together [11].  The seed tree method is
    generally not used because of the susceptibility of subalpine fir to
    windthrow [11].  In the Rocky Mountains, clearcutting and shelterwood
    cutting have been the most commonly used harvesting methods in
    old-growth Engelmann spruce-subalpine fir stands because these stands
    tend to be even-aged and overmature [8].  Uneven-aged silviculture can
    pose a problem because residual subalpine fir trees damaged during
    thinning operations are susceptible to attack by decay fungi.
    Silvicultural systems and cutting methods for managing subalpine fir
    have been discussed in detail [7,8,9,11].

    Pests and diseases:  Subalpine fir is attacked by numerous insects.  The
    most destructive seem to be the western spruce budworm, western balsam
    bark beetle, and balsam woolly aphid [11].  Subalpine fir is one of the
    most common hosts of the western spruce budworm.  This pest generally
    attacks low and middle elevation subalpine fir forests but is largely
    absent from high elevation forests [21].  The balsam woolly aphid has
    virtually eliminated subalpine fir from some stands in the Cascades
    [11].  Other insect pests include the Douglas-fir tussock moth, western
    black-headed budworm, and fir engraver beetle.

    Subalpine fir is susceptible to annosus root disease, caused by the
    fungus Heterobasidion annosum, which results in root and butt decay.
    Outbreaks of this disease are often centered around large 20-year-old or
    older fir stumps that contain the fungus' fruiting bodies [102].
    Subalpine fir is most seriously affected by this disease in the northern
    and central Rocky Mountains [123], and is affected to a lesser extent in
    the Pacific Northwest [102].  Subalpine fir is susceptible to several
    other wood rotting fungi that cause heart, trunk, butt, or root rots,
    including brown stringy rot, red heart rot, red ring rot, shoestring
    rot, brown cubical rot, white spongy root rot, and white pocket rot
    [39].  Trees weakened by wood rots often become infested by fir engraver
    beetles and usually succumb to windfall and breakage [11].  Fir broom
    rust is another common problem in Engelmann spruce-subalpine fir stands
    and causes bole deformation, spike tops and wind breakage, and makes
    trees more susceptible to decay fungi [11].

    Habitat for threatened and endangered species:  Old-growth subalpine fir
    stands in northern Idaho may provide critical habitat for woodland
    caribou [23].  Numerous subalpine fir habitat types, especially those
    containing huckleberries (Vaccinium spp.), provide critical habitat for
    grizzly bears [127].


    Cover Value
    provided by Fire Effects Information System Plants
    More info for the term: cover

    Big game:  Subalpine fir habitat types provide excellent hiding cover
    for deer, elk, mountain goats, moose, and bear [10,113].  Certain low
    elevation subalpine fir forests may be used by elk during calving, and
    high elevation subalpine fir forests by bighorn sheep during lambing and
    lamb rearing [113].  Dense stands provide cool summertime shade for big
    game animals [71].  In Yellowstone National Park, grizzly bear daybeds
    are often found in subalpine fir stands [19].

    Small mammals and birds:  Small subalpine firs provide good year-round
    hiding cover.  Dense thickets of small trees are often nearly
    impenetrable and provide hiding places for small mammals such as
    snowshoe hares and porcupines [13,71].  Blue grouse often overwinter in
    subalpine trees and rely almost exclusively on them for escape cover
    [103].  Subalpine fir snags are used by numerous cavity-nesting birds,
    but are generally less preferred than those of associated conifers

    The degree to which subalpine fir provides environmental protection
    during one or more seasons for wildlife species is as follows [30]:

                           CO    MT    WY    UT
    Pronghorn             ----  ----  poor  poor
    Elk                   good  fair  good  good
    Mule deer             good  fair  good  good
    White-tailed deer     ----  ----  poor  ----
    Small mammals         good  good  good  good
    Small nongame birds   good  fair  good  good
    Upland game birds     good  good  good  fair
    Waterfowl             ----  ----  poor  poor
    Importance to Livestock and Wildlife
    provided by Fire Effects Information System Plants
    More info for the terms: cover, woodland

    Subalpine-fir-dominated stands generally do not produce enough forage
    for livestock but do provide browse and cover for large and small
    wildlife species.  Mule deer, elk, moose, woodland caribou, black bear,
    and grizzly bear often use subalpine fir habitats as summer range
    [10,23,113]].  Subalpine fir forests are generally not suitable winter
    range for deer and elk because of heavy snowpack, but some lower
    elevation subalpine fir habitat types are used by moose and woodland
    caribou during the winter [23,61,89].  Subalpine fir forests support
    numerous species of small mammals and birds.  The snowshoe hare, flying
    squirrel, red squirrel, porcupine, pine marten, fisher, lynx, and
    several species of mice, voles, chipmunks, and shrews all inhabit
    subalpine fir forests [26,104,113].  Numerous species of birds nest and
    feed in subalpine fir forests, including several woodpeckers,
    flycatchers, kinglets, nuthatches, juncos, thrushes, chickadees,
    crossbills, the pine siskin, owls, and grouse [104,113].

    The young growth of subalpine fir is sometimes eaten by mule deer, elk,
    bighorn sheep, and snowshoe hares, but it is not an important food item.
    Subalpine fir comprises only a small portion of the summer diet of
    mountain goats but can be a major food source in the winter and spring
    [99].  Throughout much of Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming, subalpine fir is
    an important winter food of moose [89].  On moose winter range near
    Jackson Hole, Wyoming, an average of 13 to 18 percent of small subalpine
    fir trees were browsed by moose, and 44 to 78 percent of the branches on
    trees browsed were utilized [61].  In Yellowstone National Park, grizzly
    bears sometimes strip the bark of subalpine fir to feed on the
    underlying cambium [19].  The winter diet of blue grouse consists
    primarily of conifer needles.  These grouse often winter in subalpine
    stands and may feed heavily on the needles and buds of subalpine fir

    Subalpine fir seeds are eaten by several species of small mammals and
    birds.  Red squirrels eat seeds from cached subalpine fir cones [71].
    Fir seeds are also eaten by chipmunks and mice.  Several birds,
    including chickadees, nuthatches, crossbills, the pine siskin, and the
    Clark's nutcracker remove and eat the seeds from fir cones [49,77].
    Because subalpine fir seeds are large, comprising about 26 percent of a
    cone's weight, they are an energy-efficient food source for small birds
    [49].  Small birds may make considerable use of fir seeds, but their
    foraging is scattered and sporadic throughout subalpine forests [49].
    Nutritional Value
    provided by Fire Effects Information System Plants
    Subalpine fir is low in protein value but fair in energy value [30].
    Percent composition of subalpine fir browse collected near Jackson Hole,
    Wyoming, was as follows [61]:

      date              crude        ether       crude      nitrogen
    collected          protein      extract      fiber    free extract
     11/25              5.57         7.53        20.19      50.26

    A study in Montana found the following concentration of elements in
    subalpine fir needles and twigs [110]:

          1-yr-old green needles    twigs < 0.25 inch (0.64 cm) in diameter
         (micrograms/gram [mean])           (micrograms/gram [mean])
    Ca             9722                               5840
    Cu                7.4                                7.9
    Fe               64                                182
    K              5553                               7031
    Mg              819                               1038
    Mn             1020                                587
    N             10690                               4962
    Na              103                                124
    P              1450                               2254
    Zn               43                                  5
              (percent [mean])                    (percent [mean])
    Ash               3.5                                3.5
    Other uses and values
    provided by Fire Effects Information System Plants
    Subalpine fir is sometimes used as a landscape plant to produce
    screenings or windbreaks [114].  In the Pacific Northwest it is
    sometimes transplanted into rock gardens or simulated subalpine settings

    Native Americans used various parts of subalpine fir for numerous
    purposes.  A hair tonic was prepared by mixing powdered needles with
    deer grease.  Finely ground needles were also sprinkled on open cuts.
    Sticky resin collected from the bark was boiled and used as an
    antiseptic for wounds or as a tea for colds.  Boughs were placed in
    rooms for their aroma, and pulverized needles were used as a body scent
    or as perfume for clothing [53].

    Resin from the bark is used in the optical industry and in laboratories
    as a cement for lenses and microscope slides [71].
    provided by Fire Effects Information System Plants
    The palatability of subalpine fir to domestic livestock is low [30].
    Its palatability to big game animals is generally low also, but in some
    locations it is highly palatable to moose and mountain goats during
    winter and spring [89,99].  The seeds are palatable to numerous small
    mammal species [77].  Red squirrels generally eat subalpine fir seeds
    after other cached conifer seeds have been consumed [71].  The needles
    are highly palatable to blue grouse.

    The relish and degree of use shown by livestock and wildlife species for
    subalpine fir in several western states is rated as follows

                           CO    MT    WY    UT    ID
    Cattle                poor  poor  poor  poor  ----
    Sheep                 poor  poor  poor  poor  ----
    Horses                poor  poor  poor  poor  ----
    Pronghorn             ----  ----  poor  poor  ----
    Elk                   ----  poor  poor  poor  ----
    Moose                 ----  good  good  ----  fair
    Mule deer             ----  poor  poor  poor  ----
    White-tailed deer     ----  ----  poor  ----  ----
    Small mammals         ----  fair  fair  good  ----
    Small nongame birds   ----  ----  fair  good  ----
    Upland game birds     ----  fair  fair  good  ----
    Waterfowl             ----  ----  poor  poor  ----
    Special Uses
    provided by Silvics of North America
    Throughout much of the Rocky Mountains, subalpine fir has no special or unique properties. In the high Cascades and in the Rocky Mountains of Idaho and Montana, it is a forest pioneer on severe and disturbed sites. By providing cover, subalpine fir assists in protecting watersheds and rehabilitating the landscape. Forests in which subalpine fir grows occupy the highest water yield areas in much of the West.

    The species also provides habitat for various game and nongame animals, forage for livestock, recreational opportunities, and scenic beauty. However, these properties are indigenous to the sites where subalpine fir grows rather than to any special properties associated with the species (1,5).

    Fir is used as lumber in building construction, boxes, crates, planing mill products, sashes, doors, frames, and food containers. It has not been widely used for pulpwood because of inaccessibility, but it can be pulped readily by the sulfate, sulfite, or groundwood processes (59).

    Value for rehabilitation of disturbed sites
    provided by Fire Effects Information System Plants
    More info for the terms: forest, seed, tree

    Subalpine fir can be planted on disturbed sites within forest vegetation
    types where it naturally occurs [92].  It is generally recommended for
    cool and moist sites within subalpine areas [120].  Its erosion control
    potential is listed as medium in Utah and Montana, and high in Colorado
    [30].  Because this wide-ranging tree exhibits a large degree of genetic
    variation, seed or nursery stock for rehabilitation projects should come
    from a local source.  Transplanting nursery stock is generally more
    successful than direct seeding [92].  Seedlings exhibit very slow
    initial growth and are therefore usually outplanted as 2- to 3-year-old
    seedlings [41].  Wild seedlings may also be transplanted [120].  A
    maximum spacing of 10 x 10 feet (3 x 3 m) has been recommended for
    seedlings or transplants [120].  Methods for collecting, processing,
    testing, storing, and planting subalpine fir seeds have been discussed
    in detail [32,41].
    Wood Products Value
    provided by Fire Effects Information System Plants
    Subalpine fir wood is odorless, light-weight, soft, and low in bending
    and compressive strength [11].  It is easy to work, glues well, and
    holds nails and screws fairly well.  The wood is primarily used for
    products such as lumber for home construction and for prefabricated wood
    products [9].  Subalpine fir has excellent pulping properties [9].  Use
    for poles and pilings requires large amounts of preservatives because
    the wood decays rapidly [108].


    Common Names
    provided by Fire Effects Information System Plants
    subalpine fir
    alpine fir
    western balsam fir
    white balsam
    balsam fir
    white fir
    Rocky Mountain fir
    pino real blanco
    cork-bark fir
    corkbark fir
    Arizona fir
    provided by Fire Effects Information System Plants
    Abies balsamea ssp. lasiocarpa (Hook.) Boivin
    Abies balsamea var. fallax (Engelm.) Boivin
    provided by Fire Effects Information System Plants
    The genus Abies consists of about 40 species of evergreen trees found in
    the northern hemisphere. Nine species of Abies, including subalpine
    fir, are native to the United States [75]. The currently accepted
    scientific name of subalpine fir is Abies lasiocarpa (Hook.) Nutt.
    [75]. Subalpine fir is widely distributed and exhibits geographic
    variation. Two varieties are recognized based on morphological
    differences [75]:

    Abies lasiocarpa var. arizonica, corkbark fir

    Abies lasiocarpa var. lasiocarpa, typical variety of subalpine fir

    Subalpine fir hybridizes with balsam fir (A. balsamea) where their
    ranges overlap in the Canadian Rockies [41].