Abies alba, the European silver fir or silver fir, is a fir native to the mountains of Europe, from the Pyrenees north to Normandy, east to the Alps and the Carpathians, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Serbia, and south to Italy, Bulgaria, Albania and northern Greece; it is also commonly grown on Christmas tree plantations in the North East region of North America spanning New England in the USA to the Maritime provinces of Canada.
Abies alba is a large evergreen coniferous tree growing to 40–50 m (130–160 ft) (exceptionally 60 m (200 ft)) tall and with a trunk diameter up to 1.5 m (4 ft 11 in). The largest measured tree was 60 m tall and had a trunk diameter of 3.8 m (12 ft). It occurs at altitudes of 300–1,700 m (980–5,580 ft) (mainly over 500 m (1,600 ft)), on mountains with rainfall over 1,000 millimetres (39 in) per year.
The leaves are needle-like, flattened, 1.8–3.0 cm (0.71–1.18 in) long and 2.0 mm (0.079 in) wide by 0.5 mm (0.020 in) thick, glossy dark green above, and with two greenish-white bands of stomata below. The tip of the leaf is usually slightly notched at the tip. The cones are 9–17 cm (3.5–6.7 in) long and 3–4 cm (1.2–1.6 in) broad, with about 150-200 scales, each scale with an exserted bract and two winged seeds.
When cultivated on Christmas Tree plantations, the tree naturally forms a symmetrical triangle shape. The trees are full and dense with strong evergreen fragrance, and are known to be one of the longest lasting after being cut. In the forest the evergreen tends to form stands with other firs and beeches.
Silver fir is an important component species in the Dinaric calcareous block fir forest in the western Balkan Peninsula. In Italy, the silver fir is an important component of the mixed broadleaved-coniferous forest of the Apennine Mountains, especially in northern Apennine. The fir prefer a cold and humid climate, in northern exposition, with a high rainfall (over 1500 mm per year). In the oriental Alps of Italy, silver firs grow in mixed forests with Norway spruce, beech, and other trees.
A resinous essential oil can be extracted. This pine-scented oil is used in perfumes, bath products, and aerosol inhalants. Its branches (including the leaves, bark and wood) were used for production of spruce beer.
Silver fir is the species first used as a Christmas tree, but has been largely replaced by Nordmann fir (which has denser, more attractive foliage), Norway spruce (which is much cheaper to grow), and other species.
The wood is strong, lightweight, light-colored, fine grained, even-textured and long fibered. The timber is mainly used as construction wood, furniture, plywood, pulpwood and paper manufacture.
Abies is derived from Latin, meaning ‘rising one’. The name was used to refer to tall trees or ships.
Alba means ‘bright’ or ‘dead white.