Photo courtesy of Missouri Botanical Garden
This conifer is a bit rare in nature but easily found at holiday time. Growers of Christmas trees favor it for its closely spaced branches that lift slightly upward and for its long-lasting needles, which are green above and white-striped below. In the landscape it contributes a pyramidal silhouette, a prickly texture, and evergreen color. You will see trees labeled Frazier fir or Fraser fir. Same tree, different spelling.
Its native range is the cool, high elevations of the Appalachian Mountains where it grows on moist, well-drained soils. There it’s usually a small tree, but in the milder conditions of a landscape at lower elevations it can reach 50 feet tall. It’s not happy in warm, humid regions south of Zone 7. The Fraser fir is closely related to the balsam fir (Abies balsamea). Both have blisters in the bark that bear a sticky, fragrant, liquid resin. The two species also have similar ranges.
Mature trees bear upright purple cones that look shaggy with scales and persist for half a year before disintegrating. There are other attractions. Sharp-eyed nurserymen have found mutated forms of this species, including one that grows in the shape of a column, another with blue needles and several dwarfs.
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