These hardy, evergreen trees are natives of North America, reaching as far south as Central America and Taiwan, northern Asia, northern Africa and Europe. Abies are commonly known as Fir trees and belong to Pinaceae, a section of the Conifer family, Coniferae. They are valued for planting as lawn ornaments. They usually grow 80 feet or more high and in their native habitats, 200 or more feet high. Only a few Firs can survive in northeastern America; many thrive in the moister Pacific coast climate. Firs may be distinguished from Spruces by their standing cones; cones of the Spruce are pendant. The cones are often very attractive when young, being a pretty bluish-purple or violet color. Firs are mostly conical when young. They have flattened, linear leaves lined with grayish or white on their lower surfaces. The wood of several Firs is very valuable. It's odorless and from white to yellow and sometimes reddish-brown. The wood is easy to work with, finishes with a smooth surface and takes paint nicely. It has many uses including carpentry, matchwood, box boards, paper pulp and wood wool.
Since it's odorless, it is used to make boxes to hold absorbent products such as cheese, butter, lard and bacon. Canada balsam and Strasbourg turpentine are obtained from bark blisters of A. balsamea and A. alba, respectively. These are used for varnishes, mounting microscopic specimens and in medical practice. The most important timber products are the European A. alba, western North America A. grandis, A. nobilis and A. magnifica and eastern North American A. balsamea.
Firs need deep, moist, acidic soil that has good drainage. Most of them won't tolerate dry, shallow alkaline soil, wind-swept areas or smoky air near large towns. They should be planted in the early fall and spring. Firs are so symmetrical that very little attention to pruning is necessary. Only one leader or main central shoot should be allowed to grow. If upright shoots develop they must be cut off. If it happens that a leading shoot breaks, it is useless to tie up a side branch to form a new, erect leader. The damaged top must be cut off and when new shoots develop, the strongest and best-placed one should be left to form the new leader and all others removed.
Seeds are the best way to raise new Fir trees. Sow them thinly in late spring outside or earlier in a cool greenhouse. The shoots of rare kinds may be grafted onto seedlings of a common kind under glass in the winter or spring.
For this purpose, only shoots of the top of the trees should be used. Grafts that are made from the side branches usually remain small and form unsatisfactory trees. Young Fir trees are very sensitive to light, so they need to be shaded from strong, direct sun until they are two or three years old.