The grand fir is one of the tallest firs, reaching heights of 300 feet. It is easily distinguished from other Pacific Northwest firs by its sprays of lustrous needles in two distinct rows. They are usually horizontally spread so that both the upper and lower sides of the branches are clearly visible. The needles are 1 to 1 1/2 inches long with glossy dark green tops and two highly visible white lines of stomata on the undersides.
It grows from British Columbia inland to Montana and south into northern California.
It grows in dry to moist coniferous forests in rain shadow areas, often in association with Douglas-fir. It commonly ranges from river flats to fairly dry slopes from low to middle elevations.
It was occasionally used as a fuel. Some interior tribes such as the Okanagan, also made canoes from its bark. Pitch was applied to bows for a secure grip and rubbed on paddles and scorched for a good finish. A brown dye from its bark was used in making baskets by the Straits Salish tribe, along with a pink dye made by mixing the brown dye with red ochre. Knots were shaped, steamed and carved into halibut hooks by several coastal tribes.
Grand fir bark, sometimes mixed with stinging nettles, was boiled and the concoction used for bathing and as a general tonic. The Lushoot tribe boiled needles to make a medicinal tea for colds. The Ditidaht sometimes brought boughs inside as a air freshener and burned them as an incense and to make a purifying smoke to ward off illnesses. These people also crushed and mixed the bark of grand fir, red alder and western hemlock and made an infusion that was rank for internal injuries. The Hesquiat mixed the pitch of young trees with oil and rubbed it on the scalp as a deodorant and to prevent balding.
Douglas-fir is not related to the true firs.
This wide ranging species grows from 70 to 250 feet tall. The branches are spreading to drooping, the buds sharply pointed and the bark is very thick, fluted, ridged, rough and dark brown.
The needles are dark green or blue green, 1 to 1 1/2 inches long, soft to the touch and radiate out in all directions from the branch. They have a sweet fragrance when crushed.
Pollen strobili are small and reddish-brown. Young cones are small, oval shaped and hang downward. They are reddish-brown to gray, 3" long and do not dissipate to spread seed as do true firs (Abies sp.). The cones open in the late summer to disperse the seeds and will continue to hang on the trees through the fall.
In the wild, the trees are tall, beautifully symmetrical and grow to over 200 feet in height. The bark is smooth with resin blisters when young and changes to brownish-gray plates with age. The needles are roughly 4-sided (similar to spruce), over 1 inch long, bluish-green but appearing silver because of 2 white rows of stomata on the underside and 1-2 rows on the upper surface. The needles are generally twisted upward so that the lower surface of branches are exposed.
Long considered an excellent Christmas tree because of its beauty, stiff branches and long keepability, the species is growing in popularity (between 25% and 30% of the fresh tree market in the Pacific Northwest). It is also widely used in the greenery business to make wreaths, door swags, garland and other Christmas products.
The wood is moderately strong and light weight. It is valued for its light color and uniform straight grain. The earlywood (spring wood) is creamy white to light brown and the latewood (summer wood) gradually changes to reddish brown or lavender tinged. The heartwood is indistinct.
The wood is easy to work. Its warm, light color and straight grain makes ideal interior finish material for siding, paneling and doors. It is often sold separately for appearance applications and as Hem-Fir (Hemlock-Fir) for construction applications.
In many respects, Fraser fir and balsam fir are quite similar. Fraser fir is a uniformly pyramid-shaped tree which reaches a maximum height of about 80 feet and a diameter of 1-1.5 feet. Strong branches are turned slightly upward which gives the tree a compact appearance.
Leaves (needles) are flattened, dark-green with a medial groove on the upper side and two broad silvery-white bands on the lower surface. These bands consist of several rows of stomata (pores).
Leaves are 1/2 to one inch long, have a broad circular base, and are usually dark green on the upper surface and lighter on the lower surface.
On lower branches, leaves are two-ranked (occurring in two opposite rows). On upper twigs, leaves tend to curl upward forming a more "U-shaped" appearance.
Bark is usually gray or gray-brown, thin, smooth with numerous resin blisters on young trees. As trees become older, the bark tends to develop into thin, papery scales.
The combination of form, needle retention, dark blue-green color, pleasant scent and excellent shipping characteristics has led to Fraser fir being a most popular Christmas tree species. It requires from 7 to 10 years in the field to produce a 6-7 feet tree.
The range of the Balsam fir is almost entirely in Canada and stretches from Newfoundland to Alberta. In the wild, firs take the shape of tall, narrow pyramids about 23 metres high. The wood of the tree is valued by the pulp and paper industry, while its thick, oily sap is used to make some medicines. Fir trees hold their needles well and are a good choice if the decorated tree is to be left standing for a long period of time.
Balsam bark is smooth on young trees and dotted with blisters filled with resin. The small, blunt cones are oblong, about six centimeters long and two and a half centimeters wide and appear in bunches. They stand upright on the branch. The needles are two to three centimeters in length, are rounded at the tip and are a dark, shiny green in colour. Unlike spruce needles, fir needles are flat and will not roll between your fingers.
Norway spruce is one of the most important species on the European Continent. Although not native to the Western hemisphere, the species and a number of its varieties are commonly planted here, particularly in southeastern Canada and northeastern United States. Originally, a number of plants were established as ornamentals, with Christmas tree plantings being established more recently. It has escaped cultivation in several localities and is considered naturalized in some of these areas. Male and female flowers are found on the same tree and are produced in late spring.
Norway Spruce produces cones 4-7 inches in length, with wedge-shaped scales. These cones are the largest of any spruce species. Cones mature in one year and ripen from September to November.
For Christmas trees, overall color of Norway spruce is fair to excellent, but needle retention is considered poor unless the trees are cut fresh and kept properly watered. Growth during the first 10 years after field planting is relatively slow and 8 to 11 years are required to grow a 6-7 foot tree.