Subalpine fir

Abies lasiocarpa
Subalpine fir Subalpine fir

A medium-sized tree usually 20 to 35 metres tall; occasionally grows to 50 metres. Subalpine fir has a distinctive long, narrow crown of short stiff branches.

Subalpine fir leaves

Needles have blunt ends and are often notched at the tip. They are blue-green with a single white band on the top and two beneath. Needles all tend to turn upwards, but often a few stick out from the underside of the branch.

Seed cones are deep purple and grow upright at the top of the crown. Like the cones of the other firs, they disintegrate on the tree, leaving a central spike. Pollen cones are bluish.

Subalpine fir cone
Subalpine fir bark

Subalpine fir young bark
Young Bark

Smooth and grey, with resin blisters when young; bark becomes broken into large scales with age.
Where to find subalpine fir
It grows well at high elevations, from 600 to 2,250 metres throughout most of the Interior. It also grows near sea level on the north coast. None of the true firs grow in the Queen Charlotte Islands.
Subalpine fir is common in many Interior forests and is a major component of the Interior high elevation forests from the Yukon to Arizona. Cool summers, cold winters and a deep snowpack are important in determining where subalpine fir will grow well.

In the mountains and plateaus of the Interior, subalpine fir is commonly found with spruce. Caribou eat the lichens that are found on the lower branches of these trees.

Where to find subalpine fir
The pitch and bark of subalpine fir was a very important medicine in the Interior. The Secwepemc called the tree the medicine plant. They chewed the pitch to clean their teeth. People also chewed the pitch of all true firs for enjoyment.Caution

Interior groups made large temporary baskets from sheets of bark that they stitched together with spruce roots. They used the baskets for cooking or soaking hides. They also collected boughs to use for bedding and as flooring in sweat lodges.

The Carrier people used the wood to make roofing shingles and burned the rotten wood to make a substance for tanning hides.

Subalpine fir is currently harvested for lumber, plywood veneers, boxes, and pulp.

Subalpine fir does not live long because of its susceptibility to wood-rotting fungi, especially Indian paint fungus and bleeding conk fungus. Between 120 and 140 years of age, many trees become infected and die.

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