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The Silver Fir

UK Garden Centre - Information about the Silver Fir tree

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Family Pinaceae
Abies alba

It is recorded that a specimen of the Silver Fir was planted in Harefield Park, near Uxbridge, in the year 1603, and this is usually regarded as the date of its introduction to England.
The home of the Silver Fir is in the mountain regions of Central and Southern Europe. On the Pyrenees it is found at an elevation of 6,500 feet. Specimens have been recorded in Southern Germany that have attained a height of nearly two hundred feet, but in this country a more usual stature is from one hundred to one hundred and twenty feet, with a bole girth between ten and twenty feet.
Its trunk is straight and erect, tapering gently, and covered with smooth bark, of a greyish brown colour, which in aged specimens becomes rugged and fissured longitudinally, and of a silvery grey colour.
Until the Silver Fir is about twelve years old its growth is slow, and its annual increase is only a few inches, but later it will be as many feet. During this early stage spring frosts often destroy the leader-shoot, but its place is taken by another shoot, and soon the symmetry of the tree is restored. It retains its lower branches for a period of forty or fifty years, but after that age they begin to fall off. Whilst the tree is growing up – which is, roughly speaking, during its first two hundred years – the crown forms a slender bush; but its vertical growth completed, the crown grows laterally, and becomes flat-topped. Its life period covers about four hundred years. It is a deep-rooting species, with a branching taproot, and succeeds best in an open soil that is moist without being wet.
The leaves are flat and slender, not in bundles, as in the Scots Pine, but arranged along the branchlets in two or three dense ranks. They are dark, rich green above, about an inch long, and on the flattened underside there is a bluish-white stripe on each side of the midrib, which gives a silvery appearance to the foliage when upturned, as is usual on the fertile branches. These leaves endure from six to nine years.
The flowers appear in May at the tips of the branches. The male flowers are about three-quarters of an inch long, and consist of two or three series of overlapping scales, enclosing the yellow stamens.
The cones are cylindrical, with a blunt top, always erect, six to eight inches long, and from one and a quarter to two inches in diameter. On the back of each of the broad scales there is a long, slender, pointed bract, which extends beyond the scale and turns downward. At first these cones are green, and then become reddish, and when mature are brown; but maturity is not reached until eighteen months after their appearance. The angular seeds are furnished with a broad wing twice their length. They are shed by the cones in the spring following their maturity, the scales falling at the same time and leaving the core of the cone on the tree.
As a rule, the tree does not produce fertile seeds until it is about forty years of age, but seedless cones are formed from its twentieth year. Although the flowers of both sexes are found on the same tree, it may be that for a series of years only cones are produced.
The timber, which has an irregular grain, is strong, and does not warp; but it is soft, and not enduring where it is exposed to the weather. It is yellowish-white is colour, and is largely used for interior work.


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