Abies cephalonica / Greek fir

[Arthur Jacobson in North American Landscape Trees ] GREEK FIR. CEPHALONIAN FIR. BLACK MOUNTAIN FIR. MT. ENOS FIR. From mountains of Greece, S Albania, and the isles of the Aegean Sea. Seeds collected on Mt. Enos of the Ionian Island Cephalonia were sent to England by Sir Charles Napier (governor of Cephalonia at the time) in 1824. So named because it formerly formed an extensive forest on Cephalonia---the largest of the Ionian Islands. To North America before or around 1850.

Abies cephalonica, as described in 1838 by John Claudius Loudon (1783–1843), in Gardener's Magazine and Register of Rural and Domestic Improvement, 14th edition, is commonly known as Greek fir, as well as Κεφαλληνιακή ελάτη (Kefalliniakí eláti / Cephalonian fir) in the Greek language. It is closely related to Nordmann fir (Abies nordmanniana) to the east in northern Turkey.


Description. Greek fir is a large, evergreen coniferous tree that grows mature heights of 80 to 115 feet (25 – 35 m), rarely to 130 feet (40 m) tall and with a trunk diameter up to 3 feet (1 m) wide, measuring at breast height.

  • Bark is gray-brown in color, with smooth texture when young, becoming fissured into oblong plates with age.
  • Branchlets are smooth, colored bright brown or reddish-brown.
  • Foliar buds have conical or ovoid shape, resinous consistency. Bud scales are visible at the apex, surrounded by the leaves. Bud color is violet to reddish and somewhat pubescent, measuring 0.048 to 0.064 inch (1.2 - 1.6 mm) in diameter.
  • The leaves are needle-like and flattened, measuring 0.6 to 1.2 inches (1.5 – 3.0 cm) long and 0.1 inches (2 mm) wide by 0.02 inches (0.5 mm) thick. They are glossy dark-green in color above, and with two blue-white bands of stomata below. The tip of the leaf is pointed, usually fairly sharply but sometimes with a blunt tip, particularly on slow-growing shoots on older trees.
  • Pollen cones are ovoid shaped, measuring 0.56 inch (14 mm) long by 0.16 (4 mm) wide.
  • The seed cones are 4 to 8 inches (10 – 20 cm) long and 1.6 inches (4 cm) broad, with about 150 to 200 scales, each scale with an exserted bract and two winged seeds; the cones disintegrate when mature to release the seeds.
  • Seeds are angular and reddish in color. Size, including seed wing, is 0.48 to 0.76 inch (12 - 19 mm) long.
natural range of <em>Abies cephalonica </em>
natural range of Abies cephalonica

Distribution. This species is native to the mountains of Greece, primarily in the Peloponnesos and the island of Kefallonia, intergrading with the closely-related Bulgarian fir (Abies borisii-regis) further north in the Pindus mountains of northern Greece. It occurs at elevations of 3,000 to 5,500 feet (900 – 1,700 m) above sea level, on mountains with annual rainfall of over 40 inches (1,000 mm).

Hardy to USDA Zone 5 — cold hardiness limit between -10 and -20ºF (-28.8°C and -23.3°C)

[Jacobson] An immense species, combining hardiness, drought-tolerance, and insect-resistance. Its very strengths make it a horticultural drawback: it grows to such size as can rarely be allotted it. Needles long, usually sharp, flushing early and subject to damage from late frosts in some locales. Twigs hairless. Buds resinous. Cones 4 inches (10 cm) long; brownish; bract tips projecting, recurved. Records: 136 x 11 feet Bodnant, Denbighshire, Wales (1981; planted 1876); in Cortachy Castle, Angus, Scotland (1962).

Attribution from: Wikipedia

Abies cephalonica — a 1932 accession at the Morris Arboretum, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (USDA Zone 7a); photo from 2020.
Photo by Katherine Wagner-Reiss
Abies cephalonica — a closeup of foliage detail.
Photo by Katherine Wagner-Reiss
Abies cephalonica New spring growth on specimen in my garden.
Photo by Ken Copeland
Abies cephalonica
Needle detail, Grecian Fur in Steinhardt garden, Mt. Kisco, NY, photographed during the 2013 National Meeting.
Photo by Sean Callahan
Greek fir in Steinhardt garden, Mt. Kisco, New York, photographed during the 2013 ACS National Meeting.
Photo by Sean Callahan