True Firs (Abies sp.): New Conifers for the Midwestern Landscape

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  • 1 Michigan State Univ., Dept. of Horticulture, East Lansing, MI 48824
  • 2 Michigan State Univ., Dept. of Horticulture, East Lansing, MI 48824
  • 3 Michigan State Univ., Dept. of Horticulture, East Lansing, MI 48824

The genus Abies is a member of the family Pinaceae and consists of approximately 55 species found mainly in upper latitudes or higher elevations in the northern hemisphere. Firs generally prefer cool, well-drained sites with acidic soil. Fir trees are occasionally used as landscape trees but are more commonly grown as Christmas trees. Recently, the Michigan State Univ. Forestry Dept. and the Michigan Christmas tree industry initiated a field test of exotic firs (Abies sp.) for potential use as Christmas trees. In the present study we expanded the evaluation of these exotic fir species to include their suitability as landscape trees and to characterize their tolerance to various environmental stresses. We compared foliar nutrition, gas exchange, chlorophyll fluorescence, and shoot morphology of 23 Abies species and hybrids planted at three horticultural research stations in Michigan. Foliar nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), potassium (K), magnesium (Mg), sulfur (S), boron (B), zinc (Zn), and copper (Cu) were correlated (P < 0.05) with soil pH. Species and hybrids varied (P <0.05) in maximum photosynthetic rate, water use efficiency, chlorophyll fluorescence, and the ratio of total needle area to projected needle area. We will discuss the significance of these traits in relation to selecting trees adapted for use in the Midwestern landscape.

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