Abies pinsapo / Spanish fir

pinsapo-350x466.jpg

Abies pinsapo, as described in 1838 by Pierre Edmond Boissier (1810–1885), in Bibliotheque Universelle des Sciences, Belle-Lettres, et Arts; is commonly known as Spanish fir in the English language and as Pinsapo or abeto español in Spanish. For centuries, local people have mashed its twigs in water, creating soap, explaining the species and Spanish common name, "soap pine."

There are three varieties:

  • Abies pinsapo var. pinsapo, the type which is described on this page.
  • Abies pinsapo var. marocana, the Moroccan fir, differs in the leaves being less strongly glaucous and the cones slightly longer, at 4.4 to 8 inches (11–20 cm) long.
  • Abies pinsapo var. tazaotana, both endemic to Africa.

Description. Spanish fir is an evergreen, coniferous species of tree which grows to mature heights of 65 to 100 feet (20 – 30 m); with a trunk up to 60 inches (150 cm) in diameter, measured at breast height; and a conic crown, sometimes becoming irregular with age.

  • Bark is smooth and dark gray in color, becoming longitudinally fissured, rough and scaly with age.
  • Branchlets are stout and very stiff (perhaps more so than in any other species of Abies), colored red-brown or green-brown turning grey, with a glabrous, faintly ridged texture; leaf scars are large and purple-gray in color.
  • Foliar buds are globose, measuring 0.2 by 0.24 inch (5 × 4 mm); and are very resinous, triangular, and keeled; with red-brown scales; free at the apex.
  • Leaves (needles) measure circa 0.5 inch (1.5 – 2 cm) long, arranged radially all round the shoots. They are strongly glaucous, pale blue-green in color, with broad bands of whitish wax on both sides.
  • Seed cones have cylindrical shape, measuring 3.5 to 12 inches (9 – 18 cm) long, colored greenish-pink to purple before maturity, with a smooth texture.
  • Bract scales are short and not exserted. When mature, they disintegrate to release the winged seeds.
natural range of <em>Abies pinsapo</em>
natural range of Abies pinsapo

Distribution. This species is native to southern Spain and northern Morocco. Related to other species of Mediterranean firs, is considered the Andalusian National Tree, native of the Andalusian mountains. In Spain, it occurs at elevations of 2,700 to 5,500 feet (900 – 1,700 m) above sea level in the Sierra de Grazalema in the province of Cádiz and the Sierra de las Nieves and Sierra Bermeja, both near Ronda in the province of Málaga. In Morocco, it is limited to the Rif mountains at altitudes of 4,500 to 6,700 feet (1,400 – 2,100 m) on Jebel Tissouka and Jebel Tazaot.

Hardy to USDA Zone 6 — cold hardiness limit between -10° and 0°F (-23.2° and -17.8°C).

The cultivar Abies pinsapo 'Glauca' earned the Royal Horticultural Society Award of Garden Merit in 1993.

Attribution from: Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia

Abies pinsapo — Spanish fir at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, B.C., Canada
Photo by Blake Willson, courtesy of TreeLib.ca
Abies pinsapo foliage and pollen cones, Yunquera, Sierra de las Nieves, Spain.
Photo by Blake Willson, courtesy of TreeLib.ca
Abies pinsapo — a happy and healthy specimen growing in a private garden in North Carolina, USDA Zone 7b. This conifer was planted around 2005 on a slope in soil amended with grit to enhance drainage.
Photo by John Auditore
Abies pinsapo — several Spanish fir trees at Vandusen Botanical Garden, Vancouver, B.C., Canada
Photo by Blake Willson, courtesy of TreeLib.ca
Abies pinsapo — foliage- short, thick, blunt needles surrounding the stems
Photo by Blake Willson, courtesy of TreeLib.ca
Abies pinsapo — needles surrounding the stems
Photo by Blake Willson, courtesy of TreeLib.ca
Abies pinsapo — close-up of short square needles
Photo by Blake Willson, courtesy of TreeLib.ca
Abies pinsapo — male pollen cones in spring
Photo by Blake Willson, courtesy of TreeLib.ca
Abies pinsapo — upright fragmenting female cones in the fall
Photo by Blake Willson, courtesy of TreeLib.ca
Abies pinsapo — rounded attachment points for needles
Photo by Blake Willson, courtesy of TreeLib.ca
Abies pinsapo — a closeup of bark detail on the trunk
Photo by Blake Willson, courtesy of TreeLib.ca
Abies pinsapo 'Aurea' — the golden Spanish fir at the UBC Botanical Garden, Vancouver, B.C., Canada
Photo by Blake Willson, courtesy of TreeLib.ca
Abies pinsapo, a nice picture of top growth and seed cones.
Photo by Daniel Mosquin

Comments

Candice

By "Grit", what does that mean? Soil amended with grit for drainage. I live in WI and the soil is very heavy clay. I amend it but do I need to add rocks and wood mulch ? Or something else?

Thanks,
Candice

Maxwell Cohn

Candice, "grit" means very finely pulverized rock. If you're on clay, there's no way to amend yourself out of that situation. You'd need 1000s of yards of material. If you still want to try this species, you may have success if it's grafted onto Abies balsamea ... also, this species is only hardy to USDA Zone 6 at best (I actually think Zone 8 is the "sweet spot"). You're probably too cold in Wisconsin. Is anybody growing it there?

Web Editor

Candice my native soil is adobe, which is a particularly heavy clay. When I plant most woody plants, such as conifers, I make a very shallow depression in the native soil, then prepare the roots of the tree, generally by cutting off about an inch all around the rootball with a bread knife, sometimes then untangling what is left. I place this prepared rootball on the depression and mound up around it with a mix of good garden soil (I buy amended loam) and some kind of rocks (I use 1/4" lava, no fines) to improve drainage. I make a big mound, sometimes big enough to include more than one tree. Eventually, the roots find their way into the native soil, but they can get established in a friendlier environment that has good drainage.

This doesn't address the issue of whether this particular species is hardy in Wisconsin, but it might help your plantings of others!