Abies delavayi / Delavay fir

Abies delavayi, as described in 1899 by Phillippe Édouard Léon van Tieghem and later by Adrien René Franchet, is commonly known as Delavay fir; or 苍山冷杉 (cang shan leng shan) in the Chinese language. It was named for its discoverer, Father I.M. Delavay who collected it at 10,500 to 12,800 feet (3,500 - 4,000 m) elevation on Cangshan near Dali in Yunnan in April of 1887.

Description. Delavay fir is an evergreen coniferous species of tree, that grows to mature heights of 75 feet (25 m) tall, with a pyramidal crown.

  • Bark is rough, gray-brown in color, andlongitudinally splitting
  • Branchlets are initially red-brown or brown, then darkening in their 2nd or 3rd year; they are glabrous, rarely pubescent when young.
  • Winter foliar buds are globose and resinous.
  • Leaves are spirally arranged and radially spreading, arranged in 2 lateral sets and are bright dark-green, linear, often curved or "S"-shaped, and flattened, 0.6 to 1.2 inches (1.5 - 3 cm) long by 0.07 to 0.1 inch (1.7 - 2.5 mm) wide with stomatal lines in forming two white bands.
  • Seed cones are shortly pedunculate, black at maturity, glaucous, cylindrical or ovoid-cylindrical, measuring 3.2 inches (8 cm) long and 1.2 inches (4 cm) broad.
  • Seed scales are flabellate-trapeziform in shape, measuring 0.6 by 0.75 inches (1.5 × 1.8 cm) in size.
  • Bracts are excerted, with an oblong-spatulate shape; their apices have a narrow, usually recurved cusp measuring 0.12 to 0.2 mm (3 - 5 mm) broad.
  • Seeds have obovate shape, with a brown seed wing with cuneate-dolabriform shape. Seed pollination occurs in May with maturity in October.

Distribution. This species is native to India — Arunachal Pradesh, Myanmar, and Vietnam. In China, it can be found in Yunnan province and Tibet at 7,500 to 13,000 feet (2,400 - 4,300 m) of elevation. In India it is only known from a pure stand atop Piri Mountain, within the Balipara Frontier Tract. In Myanmar and Vietnam it occurs in the north, and its Chinese/Tibetan distribution is wide through the moist mountain forests of the Four Rivers country at 10,000 to 13,000 feet (3,000 - 4,300 m) of elevation and as such includes northwestern Yunnan and southeastern Xizang provinces/Tibet around the Lancang-Nukiang (Mekong-Salween) Divide. It prefers very wet climate (annual precipitation of 30 to 100 inches [1,000 - 3,000 mm]), with cool summers and cold winters (snow on the ground from October to April).

Attribution from: Chris Earle, The Gymnosperm Database, ©2013

Abies delavayi in Cangshan, Yunnan, China
Photo by Sarah Jamerson
Abies delavayi — a close up of branchlet and spectacular blue cones.
Photo by Aljos Farjon


Pavel Ruzicka

Hi, can anyone help me with info on propogation of Abies delavayi?

Maxwell Cohn

no different from any other fir → stratify and sow seed, or graft scionwood onto an appropriate fir seedling for your area.

Pavel Ruzicka

Thanks for comments David, I am no botanist but we have a single specimen in our garden, so do we require a male female atmosphere to make seeds viable?

Maxwell Cohn

firs are monoecious, so there's no such thing as male / female individual plants. However self-pollinated seed is inherently weak, so you'll have much better luck getting good seed if you have many non-related plants. Of course, you could always travel to the Himalaya, find a pure stand and collect all the seed you want.
I've found that the problem with garden-grown seed is that firs cross-pollinate pretty easily, so any seedlings coming from a home garden are quite likely to be strange hybrids.

Pavel Ruzicka

Hi David, great advice, this specimen was collected from a stand in Yunnan province , China and is about 20yrs old and has many cones, I will stratify lots, again thanks for advice.