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MPSW - Abies concolor


Abies Concolor

Taxonomy: Family Pinaceae

Common Names: white fir, concolor fir, silver fir Rocky Mountain white fir, Colorado Fir, Lows Fir, Pacific white fir


By: Joseph Florez, Myranda Wilson, Federick Frank (Summer Workshop 2001)

Appearance      Habitat    Propagation     Chemistry    Toxicity     Non-medicinal    Medicinal


         Abies concolor is most commonly known as the white fir. It is well known by another name though, the Christmas Tree. Abies concolor can reach heights of 140 to 180 feet and a diameter of 40 to 80 inches. Abies concolor generally live from 300 to 400 years.4 Some have been known to live over 500 years, this is very uncommon.4 Abies concolor are slow growing with upright pyramidal growth that slowly becomes a dense, upright columnar appearance with age.4

( Photo to the right provided by Arizona State University)

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(Photo provided by Michigan State University)




         Abies concolor are characterized by flatten bluish-green to grayish-green evergreen needles that curve upward above the stem plane, leaving flat circular scars on the twigs.4 The needles are spirally arranged along the stem, with a two-rowed arrangement on each side of the stem.4 The needles can grow up to four inches and are soft and flexible to the touch.4 The bark of the Abies concolor is smooth and grayish, eventually becoming thick and furrowed with age.

         The white fir is monoecious.4 Male flowers are yellow to red toned and female flowers are in inconspicuous yellow-brown.5 Erect female cones occur in the upper part of the fir.4 Upon maturity of the Abies concolor the cones may reach up to 5 inches long.5 Denser clusters of male cones may occur on the Abies concolor and only reach lengths of .5 inches.4 The male cones are red or possibly yellow.5 The seeds are oblong.5

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         The Abies concolor is native to the Western United States, but grow best around the Rocky Mountains.2


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         Seeds of Abies concolor are mostly dispersed by the wind as the cones disintegrate on the tree.4 Some animals such as squirrels and birds also help in the propagation of the seeds.4


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(Photograph courtesy of Gerald and Buff Corsi)

Organization: California Academy of Sciences

Chemical structures:




Terpinolene: has shown anti-tumor activity, this is a form of a terpine

Myrcene: astringent, antiviral, and anti-microbial activity

Limonene: evaluated in trials for use as a cancer chemotherapeutic agent. 9

Gallic acid: a tannin that has shown anti-tumor activity 


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         The white fir may cause dermatitis or eczema.2 Terpines may be responsible for irritation to the digestive track.4

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Medicinal uses:

         Abies concolor has many medicinal uses. For example, an infusion of the foliage taken and used as a bath by the Acoma and Laguna Indians can help rheumatism.6 Some native tribes of Nevada used a decoction of white fir bark resin and needles to help pulmonary troubles.6 A simple poultice or warm pitch of resinous sap from the bark or large branches could be applied to sores or boils.6 The Tewa Indians used the sap from the main stem and larger branches for cuts.6 A decoction of the resin can be taken for venereal diseases.6 The resin has been known to be used by early New Mexico natives to fill decayed teeth.7 Abies concolor is used by many Native Americans as a tea.4 Extracts from the bark have shown anti-tumor activiy.1 One of the active materials might be a complex tannin.1

(Photo taken by Federick Frank)

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Non-medicinal uses:

          Abies concolor is commonly used as Christmas tree. It is popular for decorating around Christmas time. It is a popular form of Christmas tree because it is drought resistant and is able to last long time.  It is well known for it's drought resistant capabilities.3 Abies concolor is also commonly used as firewood.

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(Photograph provided by Brother Alfred Brousseau)

  Organization: St. Mary's College


1. Ayhan, Ulubelen, Mary E. Caldwell, & Jack R. Cole (1966) Phytochemical Investigationof Abies concolor, Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences, Vol. 11, pp. 1308-10

2. Center for Wood Anatomy Research, 6/10/01, Abies concolor

3. Plant Dictionary-Ohio State University, 6/10/01, Abies concolor

4. Abies concolor, 6/6/01, Abies concolor

5. Virginia Tech, 6/8/01, White Fir

6. Native American Ethnobotany Database, 6/21/01, Abies concolor

7. Oleta Merry Boyce (1974) Plant uses by New Mexico's Early Natives, Rydal Press, Santa Fe, pp. 13

8. Bruneton, Jean (1999) Pharmacognosy, Lavoisier Publishing, New York, pp. 496 & 584-585

9. Limonene, 7/24/01, Limonene

10. Gambliel, HA, Cates RG, Terpene Changes Due To Maturation and Canopy Level in Douglas-Fir Flush Needle Oil, Biochemical Systematics and Ecology, Vol. 23(#5) pp. 469-476, July 1995 

    Medicinal Plants of the Southwest Index

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Updated February 13, 2008

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