|In Silesian Beskids, Poland|
Abies alba, the European silver fir or silver fir, is a fir native to the mountains of Europe, from the Pyrenees north to Normandy, east to the Alps and the Carpathians, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Serbia, and south to Italy, Bulgaria, Kosovo, Albania and northern Greece; it is also commonly grown on Christmas tree plantations in the North East region of North America spanning New England in the US to the Maritime provinces of Canada.
Abies alba is a large evergreen coniferous tree growing to 40-50 m (130-160 ft) (exceptionally 60 m (200 ft)) tall and with a trunk diameter up to 1.5 m (4 ft 11 in). The largest measured tree was 60 m tall and had a trunk diameter of 3.8 m (12 ft). It occurs at altitudes of 300-1,700 m (980-5,580 ft) (mainly over 500 m (1,600 ft)), on mountains with rainfall over 1,000 millimetres (39 in) per year.
The leaves are needle-like, flattened, 1.8-3.0 cm (0.71-1.18 in) long and 2.0 mm (0.079 in) wide by 0.5 mm (0.020 in) thick, glossy dark green above, and with two greenish-white bands of stomata below. The tip of the leaf is usually slightly notched at the tip. The cones are 9-17 cm (3.5-6.7 in) long and 3-4 cm (1.2-1.6 in) broad, with about 150-200 scales, each scale with an exserted bract and two winged seeds; they disintegrate when mature to release the seeds. The wood is white, leading to the species name alba.
When cultivated on Christmas Tree plantations, the tree naturally forms a symmetrical triangle shape. The trees are full and dense with strong evergreen fragrance, and are known to be one of the longest lasting after being cut. In the forest the evergreen tends to form stands with other firs and beeches. It is closely related to Bulgarian fir (Abies borisiiregis) further to the southeast in the Balkan Peninsula, Spanish fir (Abies pinsapo) of Spain and Morocco and Sicilian fir (Abies nebrodensis) in Sicily, differing from these and other related Euro-Mediterranean firs in the sparser foliage, with the leaves spread either side of the shoot, leaving the shoot readily visible from above. Some botanists treat Bulgarian fir and Sicilian fir as varieties of silver fir, as A. alba var. acutifolia and A. alba var. nebrodensis, respectively.
In Italy, the silver fir is an important component of the mixed broadleaved-coniferous forest of the Apennine Mountains, especially in northern Apennine. The fir prefer a cold and humid climate, in northern exposition, with a high rainfall (over 1500 mm per year). In the oriental Alps of Italy, silver firs grow in mixed forests with Norway spruce, beech, and other trees.
The bark and wood of silver fir are rich in antioxidative polyphenols. Six phenolic acids were identified (gallic, homovanillic, protocatehuic, p-hydroxybenzoic, vanillic and p-coumaric), three flavonoids (catechin, epicatechin and catechin tetramethyl ether) and eight lignans (taxiresinol, 7-(2-methyl-3,4-dihydroxytetrahydropyran-5-yloxy)-taxiresinol, secoisolariciresinol, laricinresinol, hydroxymatairesinol, isolariciresinol, matairesinol and pinoresinol). The extract from the trunk was shown to prevent atherosclerosis in guinea pigs and to have cardioprotective effect in isolated rat hearts. Silver fir wood extract was found to reduce the post-prandial glycemic response (concentration of sugar in the blood after the meal) in healthy volunteers.
A resinous essential oil can be extracted. This pine-scented oil is used in perfumes, bath products, and aerosol inhalants. Its branches (including the leaves, bark and wood) were used for production of spruce beer.
Silver fir is the species first used as a Christmas tree, but has been largely replaced by Nordmann fir (which has denser, more attractive foliage), Norway spruce (which is much cheaper to grow), and other species.
Alba means 'bright' or 'dead white'.