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Subalpine / Corkbark Fir
Subalpine / Corkbark Fir14 locationsPlant
.: PrestonSands :.
Jun 15 2008
High Peak Road #507
Featured Detail Photo mini map Featured Full Photo.: PrestonSands :.
Jun 15 2020
Aspen Nature Loop
Coniferophyta - Conifer
FamilyPinaceae - Pine
Elevation6500 - 12000
Prime BloomNone
BloomsSummer - Summer
Images Bing, Google
GroupNative Pine Species of New Mexico and Arizona

Abies lasiocarpa (Hook.) Nutt.

ABLA Range
ABLA Range
Common Names: Subalpine Fir, Alpine Fir, Rocky Mountain Fir, Corkbark Fir

Habitat: subalpine zone of high mountains to timberline throughout Arizona above 8000 feet, sometimes found at lower elevations in cool micro-climates; forms spruce-fir forest with Engelmann Spruce

Cones: dark blue to dark violet, 2.25 to 4 inches long, cylindrical, standing upright on top branches

Short Description: 50 to 100 feet tall, 1 to 2.5 foot diameter trunk; 2 rows of flat, forward growing needles, 1 to 1.75 inches long, dark green or bluish-green, with whitish lines; bark is whitish or gray and "cork-like" with a spongy feel, sometimes with with sap blisters, bark becoming fissured and scaly with age

Comments: becomes shrub-like at timberline; also a popular Christmas Tree

General: Pine Family (Pinaceae). Native, evergreen trees growing to 20 meters tall with a sharp, spirelike crown, the upper several feet often less than 30 cm in diameter, the plants often reduced to a prostrate shrub on exposed sites near timberline. Bark is smooth, grayish-white, with resin blisters, becoming furrowed only when the tree approaches a foot in diameter (or var. arizonica, see below, with a softer, corky trunk); branches with bark splitting to reveal a reddish-brown layer; leaf scars with periderm red (or tan in var. arizonica). Needles are 1.8-3 cm long, flattened, grooved and bluish-green waxy on the upper surface, 1-ranked and tending to turn upward so that the foliage of a particular branch appears flattened and as though no leaves were attached to the lower sides of the twigs; resin canals median, located between the upper and lower epidermis. Seed cones are 6-12 cm long, 2-4 cm wide, dark purple, erect and only on the uppermost branches. The common name refers to the distribution of the species in the subalpine zone.

Variation within the species: Taxonomy of the species is not settled. Abies bifolia A. Murr. may be treated within A. lasiocarpa or as a separate species (evidence summarized by Hunt 1993). A southern population system (Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado) is sometimes recognized as A. lasiocarpa var. arizonica (Merriam) Lemmon (corkbark fir), or it may be identified as part of A. bifolia. Abies lasiocarpa in the broad sense is distinguished from A. balsamea by 4-5 stomatal rows on the upper surface at midleaf (vs. mostly 7 rows in A. balsamea).

Subalpine fir is widespread in western North America, from southeastern Alaska, Yukon, and Mackenzie south to California, in the Rocky Mountains to northeastern Arizona and New Mexico.

The wood is white, soft, brittle, and quick to decay, used for rough construction and boxes, doors, frames, poles, and fuel. Small trees are extensively used for Christmas trees. Subalpine fir is a forest pioneer on severe and disturbed sites. By providing cover, it assists in rehabilitating the landscape and protecting watersheds. Subalpine fir grows in forests that occupy the highest water yield areas in much of the western United States and are thus highly significant in water management and conservation. Native Americans used pitch and bark preparations for wounds and the wood, bark, and boughs for roof shingles, baskets and bedding. The pitch was also used to coat canoe seams and rubbed on bowstrings as a sealant and protectant.

Trees of subalpine fir may begin to produce cones when 20 years old, but under closed-forest conditions, seed production is not significant until trees are older. Corkbark fir does not begin to bear cones until about 50 years old. Maximum seed production occurs in dominant trees 150-200 years old.

Germination and early survival are generally best on exposed mineral soil and moist humus, but a wide variety of other seedbed types also provide adequate conditions. Spring planting is most successful. Subalpine fir invades and establishes on open, severe or disturbed sites near timberline 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.

Subalpine fir is relatively slow growing. Seedlings average less than 38 cm in height after 15 years in the open. Heart rot is a severe problem, and many trees die or are complete culls at an early age. Of those reaching maturity, trees 25-51 cm in diameter are often 150-200 years old, and trees older than 250 years are not uncommon. Some trees in Olympic National Park, Washington, have been determined to be over 400 years old (by ring count).

Periodic thinning increases the yield and size of individual trees, but the fir component of subalpine spruce-fir stands is likely to be greatly reduced by repeated thinning, so that the stand at the time of final harvest will be almost pure Spruce. In the Cascades, the European balsam woolly adelgid has caused significant mortality to subalpine fir, virtually eliminating it from some stands in Oregon and southern Washington. Windthrow is a common problem in subalpine fir, presumably because of its relatively shallow root system. Pruning should be kept to a minimum, for when older branches are removed, new growth seldom develops and, consequently, the trees become ragged and unkempt.
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