Mature silver firs form slender columns that can soar well over 100 feet in height.
The corkscrew silver fir has short, twisted stems with pendulous foliage - these handsome individuals make their home at Cincinnati's Spring Grove Cemetery and Arboretum.
European silver fir, or just silver fir, is one of the tallest of the firs, attaining heights of 165 ft (50 m), although its strikingly columnar shape leaves it with a spread of only 12-20 ft (3.6-6 m). The horizontal branches are whorled about the straight trunk. Silver fir needles are dark green above and silver beneath, about an inch (25 mm) long and arranged along the shoots in a V pattern. The yellowish female cones are cylindrical and stand upright on the branches, about 4-6 in (10-15 cm) long, and spiny. They ripen in autumn, turning brown and falling apart to release the seeds while the central stem of the cone remains on the branch. Silver fir differs from the North American white fir (Abies concolor) in having needles less than 1.25 in (30 mm) in length as opposed to needles more than 1.6 in (40 cm) long, and in having young shoots that are gray-brown as opposed to yellow-green.
Among the dozen or so cultivars of silver fir are the tall, pencil-like 'Columnaris'; the dwarf 'Compacta'; the weeping 'Pendula'; 'Aurea', with needles partly yellow; 'Fastigiata' with branches ascending at acute angles; and 'Contorta' and 'Tortuosa', both of which are irregularly growing, twisted and weeping forms sometimes called corkscrew silver firs. There also are several dwarf, bushy and variegated selections.
Silver fir is native to the mountains of central and southeastern Europe, including the Pyrenees, the Ardennes and the Black Forest of Germany.
Culture Light: Although silver fir is tolerant of some shade when young, it grows best in full sun.
Moisture: Silver fir likes a neutral to slightly acidic, well drained soil. It likes a moist soil and does not take kindly to prolonged dry spells. Soils that dry out quickly and exposure to drying winds are no friends of the silver fir. Hardiness: USDA Zones 4 - 7. Silver fir does best where the summers are cool and moist. Propagation: Seeds need a three week or longer period of dormancy before they will germinate.
Silver fir foliage
The tall and commanding silver fir makes an excellent sentinel of a specimen tree, but not just anywhere. Silver firs are adapted to cool, wet mountainsides, and under cultivation they do best on north facing slopes with airborne humidity from a nearby forest. Silver firs don't tolerate air pollution, acid rain or urban environments very well.
A row of silver firs creates a great screen but as they age they gradually drop the lowermost branches. On the other hand, they are relatively slow growing trees.
Silver fir was the original Christmas tree, popularized in Victorian England. Today Norway spruce (Picea abies) and other species are more commonly available during the holidays. This, no doubt, because they are easier to grow in quantity.
The firs (genus Abies) are coniferous evergreens, mostly large, and often dominating mountainous and northern regions of Europe, Asia and North America. There are about 50 species in all. Most are conical in shape with a main trunk that never divides. Firs differ from the spruces and pines (genera Picea and Pinus) in having flat needles that are white or silvery beneath, and upright cones that disintegrate when ripe, leaving a central stalk on the branch. See Floridata's profile on white fir (Abies concolor) for more on how the firs fit in with other members of the pine family, and see the Japanese black pine (Pinus thunbergii) profile for a breakdown of the families of conifers, and the Norway spruce (Picea abies) profile for how to identify the most common genera in the pine family.