This stately Nordmann fir, also called Caucasian fir, soars above its home at Cincinnati's Spring Grove Cemetery and Arboretum.
Another of the majestic Old World firs, Nordmann fir is a tall, narrow spire of a tree with whorled tiers of regularly arranged horizontal branches. It can get up to 200 ft (60 m) tall, and a tree that tall would have only a 30 ft (9 m) wide canopy, if you can call its width a canopy. Young trees are more cone shaped, becoming columnar with age. (Just the opposite of some people.) The branches are densely packed on the straight trunk all the way from the ground to the top of the tree. The needles are very dense, arranged all around the shoot like a bottle brush, and they overlap the next row of needles toward the branch tip. Bruised needles have a smell like orange peel. Nordmann firs in cultivation seldom exceed 100 ft (30 m) in height.
The cultivar, 'Tortifolia' has twisted, irregular needles; 'Aurea' has golden-yellow needles; 'Nana' is a dwarf form; 'Glauca' has blue-green needles; 'Horizontalis' is dwarf with a short central trunk and wide spreading horizontal branches; 'Golden Spreader' is a shrubby dwarf to 4 ft (1 m) tall and 4 ft (1 m) wide with yellow needles; 'Pendula' and 'Jansen' are weeping forms; 'Procumbens' has no central stem at all and its few branches grow along the ground.
Location Abies nordmanniana grows in the mountains of northern Turkey and the Caucasus of Asia Minor. It and the equally grandiose oriental spruce (Picea orientalis) are often co-dominant trees in the high altitude evergreen forests between the Black and Caspian Seas.
Culture Light: Firs grow best in full sun, but are more tolerant of partial shade than most evergreen conifers. Moisture: Nordmann fir likes the soil a little on the acid side, and moist but well drained. It does not have demanding water requirements: Normal temperate-climate rainfall satisfies this tall beauty. Hardiness: USDA Zones 4 - 6. Nordmann fir tolerates hot summers better than other firs and in situations with good humidity and some shade, it probably can be grown in Zone 7. Propagation: Propagation is usually accomplished from seeds, which may require a period of dormancy. Firs are difficult to start from cuttings. Cultivars are typically grafted.
When crushed, Nordmann fir foliage has a citrus scent.
Like other firs, Nordmann fir does not take kindly to urban conditions and polluted air. But where conditions are favorable, and the climate is right (read: cold and humid) this is a magnificent tree and worthy of any well maintained large lawn or public landscape. These are slow growing trees, and it may take several years to produce the tall, elegant column for which the Nordmann fir is so favored. The upside: Nordmann fir can be grown for several years in a container as a living Christmas tree.
Michael Dirr, arguably the dean of American horticulture, suggests that the Nordmann fir is the handsomest of all the firs.