Those of you who have been following this series based on the Celtic tree alphabet may have been wondering where all the vowels are, as all of the letters named after the trees we’ve covered so far have been consonants. Well, in that alphabet, the vowels all go together rather than being sprinkled throughout the alphabet, and this is where we’re up to now. The first vowel is A-like in our Roman alphabet – which was known as Ailim or Silver Fir.

Symbolically, fir trees were associated with honesty, truth, endurance and determination. Its straight growth habit gave it the association with truth – it was straight and true – and its ability to stay green(ish) over winter meant that it represented endurance.

Silver Fir in Nature
Silver Fir in Nature

The Fir Family

Fir trees make up a genus of around 50 species of evergreen coniferous trees in the family Pinaceae. Fir trees belong to the genus Abies. Fir trees happily grow naturally and prolifically in the northern temperate zones of Europe; they are also found in North Africa, Asia and North America. Most firs are long-lived, growing to reproductive maturity around the age of 20 years. Their average lifespan is about 60 years, though some fir trees are still growing at well over 400 years old. Their ability to grow in cold environments that often experience snow endears them to many folks who love their stoic evergreen presence amid the white landscape.

One of these firs is called the Silver Fir, a beautiful fir tree that catches your eye and sharpens any landscape. Whether you want one in your garden, however, maybe another matter.

What Is Silver Fir Good Fir?

Silver fir, like other conifers, can be grown for its wood. Silver fir timber is strong, lightweight, long-fibered, light-coloured, fine-grained and even-textured. The timber is mainly used as a construction wood thanks to its straight growth habit, but it is also used in furniture making and picture frames. It is also commonly used in plywood, pulp, and paper manufacturing.

The Romans used to use the wood to make wooden casks for storing and transporting wine and other substances. This could be an interesting contemporary use for Silver Fir, a use that could be brought back as part of a home business or niche market. Silver fir branches (including the bark, wood, and leaves) were used in the production of spruce beer, so here is another homebrew possibility!

Abies alba contains an essential oil that can be extracted. The essential oil is pine-scented and is used in bath products, aerosol inhalants, and perfumes.

Silver Fir Plant
Silver Fir Plant

Of course, for many people, the quintessential Christmas tree is an Abies alba. Silver Fir was the species first used as a Christmas tree, so I can understand why it is preferred. It is perfect for holding decorations and fills any room with its wonderful freshly cut fragrance.

Silver Fir also produces nectar honeydew, which is a substance rich in sugar. Bees make use of this nectar in addition to pollen to produce honey that is rich in mineral salts. Nectar is essential for bees, and we all know how important bees are to biodiversity.

Health Benefits Of Silver Fir

The bark and the wood of the Silver Fir are rich in antioxidants. Gallic, homovanillic, protocatechuic, p-hydroxybenzoic, vanillic and p-coumaric acids have all been identified in the timber and bark. It also contains three flavonoids known as catechin, epicatechin and catechin tetramethyl ether. Eight lignans are present. These lignans may help to protect against cancer by blocking enzymes that are involved in hormone metabolism and interfering with the growth and spread of tumour cells. The eight lignans in Silver Fir are taxiresinol, 7-(2-methyl-3,4-dihydroxytetrahydropyran-5-yloxy)-taxiresinol, secoisolariciresinol, lariciresinol, hydroxymatairesinol, isolariciresinol, matairesinol and pinoresinol). Studies have shown that an extract from the trunk of Abies alba was shown to prevent atherosclerosis in guinea pigs and to have cardio-protective effects in isolated lab rat hearts.

Silver fir wood extract was also found to reduce postprandial glycemic response in a group of healthy human volunteers. This means that it reduced the concentration of sugar in the blood directly after a meal.

In other words, silver fir has considerable pharmaceutical potential – watch this space for the future!

Size Matters

Although silver fir is a beautiful and useful tree, it might not be best for all gardens because it is enduring and it can get really, really big. The tallest Silver Firs in the UK measure a little over 50 m tall.

Some of the fattest known Silver Firs that are alive and well in the UK today are found at:

  • Dupplin Castle estate in Perth (in the county of Perth and Kinross). The fattest of several big firs at Dupplin has a girth measuring over 6.50 m with a height of around 40 m. These measurements were taken over a decade ago, so they are likely to be larger now.
  • The garden of Inchmarlo in Banchory (in the county of Kincardineshire). In 2018, a silver fir had a girth of 6.7 m at breast height. It also stands at least 45 m tall.
  • Ardkinglas Woodland Garden in Inveraray (in the county of Argyll and Bute). In this woodland garden, you’ll find another monumental Silver Fir which is fondly known as “The Three Sisters”. The name was given to it because the trunk divides into three boles at about 3 m off the ground. In 2019, this tree had a girth of 6.95 mat breast height.
Picea Nordmanniana - Nordmann's Silver Fir
Picea Nordmanniana – Nordmann’s Silver Fir

However, there’s one that’s even more impressive. The oldest Silver Fir in the UK (272 years old ±50–100 years) can be found in the Ardkinglas Woodland Garden (as mentioned above). However, this tree is not just the oldest. It is an impressive tree, boasting the title of National Champion for the common silver fir and nicknamed “The Monster”. The Monster is by far the fattest common Silver Fir in the UK but probably also in Europe and the rest of the world. In 2019 it was measured again, where it was shown to have grown to a girth of 9.77 m at breast height! It is around 45 m tall.

Some other fat Silver Firs have been recorded in Montenegro, where they measure 7.13 m at breast height. Montenegro also contains some of the tallest silver firs, measuring close to 60 metres in height. Montenegro does boast the oldest known Abies alba in the world: some are known to be 522 years old (± 100 years).

Equipped with this knowledge, and the fact that this species includes Europe’s tallest tree, it is best to plant an Abies alba well away from buildings because they grow to an immense height and breadth. Silver Fir tree removal is costly and unnecessary if the correct planting steps have been followed. Apart from looking gorgeous in any garden – and having potential as a living Christmas tree – they add a real depth and interest to a landscape. They can be used as a windbreak line of trees for stock, and for strategic shelter plantings around the house and garden – far enough away from buildings, obviously.

The upper surfaces of the leaves are dark green, while their undersides are silver. Silver Fir cones are brown and cylindrical. Female cones are carried erect on the tree’s upper branches, while the male cones hang throughout the crown.

Silver Fir is very hardy, although frost damage can occur on its juvenile foliage. It loves to grow in neutral to acidic soils that are moist and fairly fertile, but generally, it isn’t too fussy. Site your Silver Fir in a space that has good drainage, as they are not fond of wet feet. Full sun to full shade is fine.

Fir Tree Care And Pruning

As with any plant, pruning out diseased bits, branches that are broken, or any dead branches in Silver Firs is recommended. Disease in the branches can quickly spread throughout the tree or shrub, and dead branches are open gateways for disease and pests to move on in. Avoiding and preventing a Silver Fir pest problem is the best solution.

Other than that, plant with plenty of space for the Silver Fir to grow into, and you won’t need to do much else to the beautiful Abies alba. If you have a silver fir tree of any size that needs to be kept under control, or if one has damaged branches that need removal, then contact your local arborist or tree surgeon to ensure that the job is done properly.