Northwest Conifers


Pacific Silver Fir – Abies amabilis Speaker

Pacific silver fir


USGS Distribution Map

Pacific silver fir is a high-elevation tree that can reach a height of 200 feet (60 meters). It is easily distinguished from other high-elevation firs by its needles and unique bark.

Needles: Pacific silver fir has needles similar to grand fir, dark green on top with white lines underneath. But the needles point forward and upward rather than lying flat like grand fir needles. Subalpine fir and noble fir have white lines on both the upper and lower sides of the needles.

Cones: The cones sit upright on the branch and turn from green to purple. Like other firs, the cones fall apart at maturity, leaving a cone core spike on the branch. You won't find cones on the ground, but you might see some of these scales:

Cone scale

Note that the short bracts are hidden inside the cone. 

Bark: Young bark is gray and smooth with resin blisters. Older bark breaks into gray, scaly plates, distinguishing it from the furrowed bark on other native firs.

Pacific silver fir

Where it grows: Pacific silver fir grows at mid to higher elevations of the Cascades, in the Olympic Mountains, and in a few locations in the Coast Range in Oregon and Washington. It often grows in pure stands of large trees and sometimes near the timberline, mixed with subalpine fir and mountain hemlock. It also grows in southeast Alaska, Vancouver Island and along the coast of British Columbia.Like grand fir, Pacific silver fir is more shade tolerant that our other native firs. Look for it growing in the understory in stands of towering mountain hemlock. 

Uses: Native people used the boughs for floor bedding, chewed the pitch as gum, and used the wood for firewood. Today the wood is mostly used as a source of pulp for making paper.

Names: The common name reflects the color of the lower surface of the needles and the silvery bark. David Douglas named it amabilis, which means "lovely." Other common names: White fir, red fir, lovely fir, amabilis fir, and Cascades fir.



Needles - lower surface



Pollen cones

New pollen cones

Old pollen cones

Pollen cone after shedding pollen

© 2011 Ken Denniston