Northwest Conifers

Subalpine Fir – Abies lasiocarpa Speaker

Subalpine fir

Subalpine fir at Lookout Mountain


USGS Distribution Map

Needles: Curved upward, white lines above & below

Cones: 2-4" long, upright at tree top, purple to gray

Bark: Smooth, gray

Where: 4000 ft. to the timberline


Needles: The needles curve upward in a uniform manner. They have white lines on both sides, two on the lower surface and one on top. The top of the tree forms a distinctive spire with short branches.


Needle top and bottom

Cones: The purple cones sit upright on the branch and fall apart at maturity, leaving a cone core spike on the branch. The  cones often ooze a white resin.

Subalpine fir

Where it grows: Subalpine Fir grows in the Cascades and Olympics, often at or near the timberline in open areas and on windy ridges where it is small and sometimes contorted. It also grows throughout the Rocky Mountains and northward to Alaska. Although Subalpine Fir is shade-tolerant, it does not compete well with other conifers growing in the shade.

Similar tree: Pacific Silver Fir often grows near the timberline and has a similar spire-like appearance, but has white lines only on the lower side of the needles.

Uses: While it has few commercial uses, Subalpine Fir is an important component of the subalpine forest community, providing habitat for animals and protecting watersheds that provide our drinking water.

Names: Lasiocarpa means "hairy fruit," a reference to the fibers that protrude from the cone scales (not shown in photo). Other common names: alpine fir, white fir, balsam fir, and Rocky Mountain fir.




Pollen cones

© 2011 Ken Denniston