≡ Menu

Red Fir (Abies magnifica)


Firs and other evergreens are like a skeleton to hang your garden on. Unless you’re planning major logging (which means any garden near your trees will probably be destroyed, too, along with soil compaction), if you live where evergreens grow, you will have them with you as dominating presences.

Red firs (the name comes from the color of the bark) are huge trees, and when there’s a group of them, they dominate the scene. In the nicest kind of way.


A friend of mine who gardens in the mountains has red firs standing at intervals in her yard. Her garden works and weaves through them wonderfully–but she and her husband have had to resign themselves to a shade garden in all but a few spots. Fire laws now mandate that no two tree crowns should touch near a dwelling, so some of their trees have been taken out.
Fire danger is one reason to do selective logging. And there are others. While I’m not in favor of wholesale tree-cutting, some trees become diseased or rot at the root. If these trees are within hitting distance of your house, they could do serious damage in the next storm or high wind. They could also infect the trees next to them.

The red firs in the mountains where I stayed had an epidemic some years back. I believe it was the fir engraver beetle, which gains the upper hand when trees are stressed by drought.  If you think a bark beetle is no big deal, just consider what girdling a tree does. I have seen ponderosa pines in my area, stressed by drought and infested with another kind of beetle, topple their hundred-feet lengths. When there’s a lot of this around, it gets pretty scary.

I’ve got to give the Forest Service credit where credit is due: they marked all of the diseased red firs and had them taken out. While I was horrified at first, to see how many they were marking (at the same time looking at the masses of sick trees on further hillsides), I was pleasantly surprised when the deed was done. This gargantuan tree-cutting project made for a healthier woods, and after a few years you could barely tell what had gone on. (We had some heavy-snow winters after that, which I’m sure helped, since the trees now got enough water for their health.)

In this picture, the  red fir forms a focal point. In the background, more firs repeat the theme, bringing foreground and background subtly together.


For those of you who think of conifers as monochromatic, here’s a  picture to help  change your mind:


One way to tell red firs from other types is their rounded, not pointed, tops. This year, the tops of these seemed uncommonly full of green cones. Maybe we are due for a hard winter. Maybe it’s because we had a very dry winter last year, which tends to make plants fruit frantically with desperation crops, so that their tribe will go on. Or maybe it’s neither one of these. Nature is full of mysteries, and the more of them we figure out, the more of them we find.


National Forest Service site

{ 2 comments… add one }

  • Northern Shade September 21, 2008, 8:37 am

    I love conifers in the landscape. They are beautiful and majestic. In Alberta (zone 3) we have snow cover for about 6 months of the year. During winter, all traces of annuals have rotted away, perennials have been covered, and shrubs have only twigs (if they are tall enough to stick out of the snow). It would look very barren indeed, if not for the conifers. In my front yard I have two tall spruce trees and a large pine, while in the back I have a tall pine. I also have a number of smaller yews. When driving down the street in winter, I enjoy seeing the green boughs covered in snow. Without conifers, the city is a wasteland of twigs and houses, all covered in white.

  • Pomona Belvedere September 22, 2008, 2:10 pm

    When you have snow that much of the year, the winter landscaping really is important. Where I live is more mixed conifers and deciduous. I envy you that variety of conifers, there’s something about them that’s very satisfying.

Leave a Comment