What is a Fir Tree?

fir treeThe term “fir tree” is often used loosely to describe any coniferous evergreen or a tree whose appearance resembles that of a Christmas tree. It’s a misconception that “fir” is simply a shortened version of conifer and that all conifers are fir trees as well. These uses of the term are incorrect. The fir tree is actually a specific species of tree. Fir trees fall into the pine family, but they are in their own category, separate from other trees in that family. There are certain characteristics that distinguish firs from these other conifers. The term conifer does not even have to be applied to a tree as the only requirement to be a conifer is to reproduce through cones. So, if firs are not simply evergreen trees with cones, what is a fir tree?

Characteristics of Fir Trees

fir tree needles

Fir tree needles attached individually to the twig by a little suction cup base

Fir trees are coniferous evergreens; this means that they do not lose their leaves during the winter season and that they have cones for the purpose of reproduction. They are most closely related to cedars, but at a glance, they also look similar to other conifers such as pines and larches. However, each of these trees has unique characteristics that set them apart from each other. Fir trees can be identified by its unique needle-like leaves that are almost always short, measuring at only a few inches in length. While the needles of many pine trees are clumped in groups of two, three, or five, the needles of the fir tree are connected to its branches individually by a little suction cup base. The cones of fir trees can be anywhere from two to ten inches long, and when fully developed, these cones break open and release their seeds. The cones stand erect from the branches and are cylindrical in shape. The cones and needles of other coniferous evergreens are arranged differently. Firs also have a smooth bark that appears gray when the tree is young. Depending on the species, fir trees can grow to be between thirty to two hundred feet in height.

Where Fir Trees are Found

Fir trees can be found on many continents, including North and Central America, Europe, Asia, and North Africa. These trees are mostly found in the mountains. There are twelve species of fir trees that are native to the United States and most exist mainly in and west of the Rocky Mountains. Some of these species include the red fir, the noble fir, the Pacific silver fir, and the white fir.

Fir Tree Uses

The wood of most fir trees is of a lower quality than other evergreen trees such as pine and spruce trees and is therefore widely considered to be unsuitable to use for timber. They’re main use in lumber is composite materials such as plywood, where the quality of the wood does not have to be as high. In the personal realm they are often used in decoration both in the home and in the yard. Many people enjoy fir trees for their pyramid-like shape, and because of this attractive appearance, firs are popular choices for garden and landscaping trees. Fir trees are also often chosen to be Christmas trees both for their appearance and for their limited needle-shedding.

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Thoughts on What is a Fir Tree?

  1. Very informative & well written. I might add though that you failed to mention under “Fir Tree Uses” that the Douglas Fir is by far the most desired tree for lumber. Having the highest “modulus of elasticity” no lumber from any other tree species can span distances while carrying a load better than the ol’ Doug Fir. I believe Western Hemlock comes in a very close second.

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