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Fir Mystery And Amazing Discovery (0 Replies)

Posted July 18, 2018 at 11:03 am


I came across a most strange fir puzzle and also a most remarkable discovery. I was wanting to plant some abies magifica on my property in northern Indiana because I like those trees. I tried ordering some red fir seeds off of Amazon Dot Com and planted them in a couple of plastic flats – the kind you use to start tomato plants in.

I mixed good dirt with potting soil and baked it in the oven first to kill any possible pathogens. Then I pampered and kept them well watered over the summer on a picnic table outside. After the course of about a month nothing had germinated.About that time, I discovered that fir seeds (along with many other conifers) need to be “freeze activated” before they can germinate. Big disappointment there. I ordered four seedlings from a nursery in California hoping to have better luck with those.

Imagine my amazement when two of my seeds germinated anyways. Or, so I thought.
One seed looked like it had worked its way to the top and died since I’d let the flat get too dry. But later another one germinated and looked pretty good. By this time it was fall so I put it in an out building and pampered it over the winter.Then I planted in the spring and have been pampering it outside. It looks great and has almost tripled in size this summer (2018).

Meanwhile my luck with the seedlings from Calif. has not gone well. One died right away in the spring after it looked as though someone had stepped on it. Another one died later and now two are left but do not look good. I have little hope for them. It hasn’t helped that we’ve had an unusually hot, humid summer here.

But what puzzled me is that the seedling which I’d germinated looked good. Why the discrepancy? As the summer dragged on I began to notice that it didn’t look exactly like the seedlings from California. Could Amazon have sent me something else in error? Mistakes happen.
Then one day I was puttering around in my wind break and made a most remarkable discovery. Underneath one of my larger white firs (abies concolor) were about a dozen tiny “volunteer” seedlings that had come up. I recalled that this same tree had had a large cone crop in the previous year. It suddenly clicked. Some seeds must’ve fallen onto my flat on the picnic table and germinated there! And THOSE seeds HAD been “freeze activated”.

So my mystery was solved. But ! This whole scenario led me to a most amazing discovery. Evidently, abies concolor is capable of regenerating and possibly even naturalizing in the upper Midwest! If such seedlings were to come up in the wild, they’d probably eventually get choked out by native vegetation but the simple fact that they came up at all still amazes me. I have at least a half-dozen different conifers on my property and none of them (other than the white pines which are native here) have ever germinated on their own. It will be interesting to watch and see what happens next.

Fred M. Cain,
Topeka, IN

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