Abies nordmanniana / Nordmann fir

Alexander von Nordmann
Alexander von Nordmann

Abies nordmanniana, as described in 1841 by Christian von Steven (1781 - 1863), later completed by Édouard Spach (1801 - 1879), in Histoire Naturelle des Végétaux. Phanérogames, 11th edition; is commonly known as Nordmann or Caucasian fir, also as Pikhta kavkazkaya in the Finnish language. The species is named in honor of Finnish zoologist Alexander von Nordmann (1803–1866), Professor of Botany at Odessa, Russia.

There are two subspecies (treated as distinct species by some botanists), intergrading where they meet in northern Turkey at about 36°E longitude:

  • Caucasian fir, Abies nordmanniana subsp. nordmanniana. (the type as described here). Native to the Caucasus mountains and northeastern Turkey west to about 36°E. Shoots are often pubescent (hairy).
  • Turkish fir, Abies nordmanniana subsp. equi-trojani (synonyms include, Abies bornmuelleriana, Abies equi-trojani). Native to northwestern Turkey from Mount Ida eastwards to about 36°E. Shoots usually glabrous (hairless).

Ethnobotany. This fir is one of the most important species grown for Christmas trees, being favored for its attractive foliage with needles that are not sharp, and do not drop readily when the tree dries out. It is also a popular ornamental tree in parks and large gardens, and along with the cultivar 'Golden Spreader' has gained the Royal Horticultural Society Award of Garden Merit. The wood is soft and white, and is used for general construction, paper, etc.

Artist: Li Aili, after a botanical sketch by Zsolt Debreczy
Artist: Li Aili, after a botanical sketch by Zsolt Debreczy

Description. Nordmann fir is an evergreen coniferous species of tree which will grow to mature heights of 200 feet (60 m) tall and with a trunk diameter of up to 6.5 feet (2 m) in diameter, measured at breast height. In the Western Caucasus reserve, some specimens have been reported to be 256 feet (78 m) and even 262 feet (80 m) tall making them the tallest trees in Europe.

  • Bark is gray-brown in color, with a smooth texture and resin blisters until very old.
  • Leaves are needle-like and flattened, measuring 0.72 to 1.4 inches (1.8 – 3.5 cm) long and .08 inch (2 mm) wide by 0.02 inch (0.5 mm) thick; colored glossy dark green above, and with two blue-white bands of stomata below. The tip of the leaf is usually blunt, but sometimes slightly notched, although it can also be pointed, particularly on strong-growing shoots on young trees.
  • Seed cones measure 4 to 8 inches (10 – 20 cm) long and 1.5 to 2 inches (4 - 5 cm) broad. They disintegrate when mature to release the seeds.
Abies-nordmanniana-01-350x292.jpg

Distribution. This species is native to the mountains west and east of the Black Sea, in Turkey, Georgia, Russian Caucasus and northern parts of Armenia. It grows at elevations of 3,000 to 7,200 feet (900 – 2,200 m) above sea level on mountains with annual rainfall of over 40 inches (1,000 mm). Current distribution of the Nordmann fir is associated with the forest refugia that existed during the Ice Age at the eastern and southern Black Sea coast.

Hardy to USDA Zone 4 — cold hardiness limit between -30° and -20°F (-34.3° and -28.9°C).

Cones on Abies nordmanniana reaching a point of fragmenting soon, at Cornell Plantations in Ithaca, NY.
Photo by Phil Syphrit/Cornell Plantations
Nordmann fir photographed northeast of the ski resort of Bakuriani, in the country of Georgia.
Photo by Franz Xaver via Wikipedia
Abies nordmanniana — foliage photographed northeast of the ski resort of Bakuriani, in the country of Georgia.
Photo by Franz Xaver via Wikipedia
A mixed forest of Abies nordmanniana and Picea orientalis in Abkhazia, Georgia.
Photo by Vyacheslav Stepanyuchenk via Wikipedia
Ruins of Joseph Stalin's summer house by Lake Ritsa in the northern part of Abkhazia, a disputed region in the Caucasus. Nordmann fir are in the center, just beyond the railing.
Photo by Vyacheslav Stepanyuchenko via Wikipedia
Abies nordmanniana — a closeup of foliage.
Photo by Tom Cox
Abies nordmanniana — a young specimen at Cox Arboretum, Canton, Georgia.
Photo by Tom Cox
Abies nordmanniana — a Nordmann fir in Queen Elizabeth Park, Vancouver, B.C., Canada
Photo by Blake Willson, courtesy of TreeLib.ca
Abies nordmanniana — foliage
Photo by Blake Willson, courtesy of TreeLib.ca
Abies nordmanniana — foliage
Photo by Blake Willson, courtesy of TreeLib.ca
Abies nordmanniana — foliage
Abies nordmanniana — close-up of needles
Photo by Blake Willson, courtesy of TreeLib.ca
Abies nordmanniana — underside of foliage
Photo by Blake Willson, courtesy of TreeLib.ca
Abies nordmanniana — suction cup-like attachments of needles to twigs.
Photo by Blake Willson, courtesy of TreeLib.ca
Abies nordmanniana — characteristic circles in Abies species where needles were attached
Photo by Blake Willson, courtesy of TreeLib.ca
Abies nordmanniana — male pollen cones in spring
Photo by Blake Willson, courtesy of TreeLib.ca
Abies nordmanniana — young cones developing in late May
Photo by Blake Willson, courtesy of TreeLib.ca
Abies nordmanniana — upright, fragmenting cones developing in mid-summer
Photo by Blake Willson, courtesy of TreeLib.ca
Abies nordmanniana — Mature cones in the fall.
Photo by ebitki.com
Abies nordmanniana — stem and bark detail of a mature tree
Photo by Blake Willson, courtesy of TreeLib.ca
Abies nordmanniana — cone scales from a fragmenting cone, and winged seeds
Photo by Blake Willson, courtesy of TreeLib.ca

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