Tree Profiles Red Fir Abies Magnifica

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Red fir is a large, evergreen, coniferous tree belonging to the family ‘Pinaceae’ or ‘pine’. Its scientific name is Abies magnifica and it is also known as California red fir or Shasta red fir. The tree often reaches a height of 150 to 180 feet, while it can have a diameter of around 1.25 to 1.75 meters. However, certain species of red fir can grow as tall as 70 meters and may even have a diameter of around 3 meters.


The name California red fir implies that the tree is an endemic tree for that particular region, although it can also be found in many parts of the North Western USA including in Southern Oregon. However, it is limited to the higher elevations and its coverage extends from central and southern Cascade Mountains of Oregon southward to Lake County in the Coast Ranges of northwest California and Kern County in the southern Sierra Nevada. Yet, according to ‘encyclopedia of life’, the only other place red fir can be seen apart from the above states is the western border of Nevada.


Red fir leaves appear as flattened needles which are around 1 inch in length. A bluish white bloom can be seen on all surfaces while the base curve makes the leaf resemble a hockey stick. Red fir leaves are spirally arranged and are usually upswept. The flowers on the other hand are arranged in male cones and female cones. The male cones usually appear purple to dark red, while the female cones appear reddish brown.

When it comes to fruits, the cones are usually 6 to 9 inches long and take a cylindrical shape, as it emerges upright on the twig. As the seeds ripen, the cone scales falls off and the appearance turns to purple when the cones are mature. Twigs, on the other hand, usually appear stiff and reddish brown in color. In comparison, buds are usually small, rounded and brown in color, while the terminal buds occur in clusters of three or more.

The bark will change its appearance from ashy white to dark reddish brown as it becomes old, deeply ridged and furrowed.


The areas covered by the red fir trees in the high country are major sources of water and therefore its importance as a forest tree has been known for many centuries. However, from recent times, the wood of red fir trees has been used for construction purposes. At the same time, some are also used for making pulpwood in papermaking. In addition, young red fir fetches a good price as it can be used as a top notch Christmas tree. However, in order to culture such trees, it takes a longer time than other tree types used for Christmas trees.

More about this author: Dr Pandula Siribaddana

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