This month I’d like to focus on a species from a property we are working on in Montana – grand fir. Unlike the balsam firs we find here in Wisconsin, grand fir is considered a true fir of the Genus Abies. It is a magnificent tree that can be found in a wide variety of soil and habitat types, growing well over 100 feet tall.
They are usually distinguished by their needles coming off the branch in a flat plane. Needles tend to be two different lengths. The bark is smooth and pale grey, thickening into deeply grooved bark with age. This species was used by early settlers to control the rate of descent of their covered wagons down steep slopes. If you ever come across one that appears to have rope burns, you may be looking at one of the trees used by early settlers!
It is often associated with species like western larch, western white pine, western hemlock, douglas fir or subalpine fir, to name a few. It is monoecious, with male and female flowers occurring on different parts of the same tree. Seed production begins after about twenty years, with cones maturing in one season. Germination is variable, especially on the property we are working on. There are some areas with grand fir regeneration so thick, you wouldn’t want to walk through it and other areas with sparse regeneration. Out West, grand fir is valued as a pulpwood species and a preferred Christmas tree species. It is a beautiful species, especially in the fall on slopes with the contrasting larch needles turning golden-yellow.