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Tree 12: Grand Fir

Latin name: Abies Grandis
Family: Pinaceae
Origin: north western United States & south-western Canada
Height: to 90 metres, regularly 30m in gardens
Lifespan: up to 300 years depending on conditions
Autumn leaf loss: Evergreen
Gender Type: Monoecious (Male and female flowers on same tree)

The Grand Fir is a fast-growing majestic tree, often seen in plantations on cool wet hillsides. It became established in Britain by 1852. It can grow to a great height with the tallest specimens in Britain having just broken the 200ft (61 metre) barrier. There are claims of specimens on Vancouver Island having exceeded 300ft (91m) but today it is not thought that any exceed 270ft.

It has dark green needles that are flat with rounded and notched ends, grooved on top and with 2 white bands underneath. Smell the needles, they have a citrus scent. The cones are yellowish-green and barrel shaped. They grow upright, high in the crown. Winged seeds are released when ripe. The bark is smooth, greyish brown with white spots and blisters of resin. In old age it is furrowed and scaly.

The softwood timber is fine grained as well as being non-resinous. It is valued as a construction material because of its ability to hold rather than be split by nails and screws and also as it is resistant to splintering when sawed. Like other large conifers it is also extensively pulped and used in paper making. Historically, native people built their lodges and canoes from the bark as well as using the branches for bedding. Shamans made headdresses from them. whilst the pitch was mixed with oil and put on their heads as a perfume and to prevent baldness. The inner bark also had medicinal uses, particularly to treat skin conditions and tuberculosis as well as colds and fever. Like many trees, it is a good home for insects and birds and, in its Pacific habitat, old and rotten tree trunks are popular homes for bears. Fortunately, this is not an issue for us in Britain!