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A tree up to 150 ft high in Britain, with a trunk 5 to 61⁄2 ft in thickness; young shoots brownish grey, covered with a short down; winter buds not resinous. Leaves usually in two opposite sets spreading horizontally, but occasionally with others on the upper side pointing forwards; 1⁄2 to 11⁄3 in. long, the upper ranks of each set the smaller and scarcely half as long as the lower ones; 1⁄16 to 1⁄12 in. wide, notched at the blunt apex, dark glossy green above, with two white stomatic bands beneath. Cones 41⁄2 to 6 in. long, 11⁄2 to 2 in. wide; at first green, then reddish brown; the bracts protruded and reflexed. On cone-bearing branches the leaves become pointed, shorter, stiffer, and curved upwards.
Native of the mountains of Central and S. Europe; cultivated in Britain for more than three centuries. The common silver fir refuses to grow in the hot, dry, Lower Thames Valley, and does not thrive in many low-lying and frosty parts of the south of England. A generous rainfall and a situation reasonably free from late spring frosts are necessary for its success and, although not exacting as to soil, it is not suited to infertile sands and peats. In the moist valleys of Scotland it reaches magnificent proportions and there are numerous trees there exceeding 140 ft in height and 15 ft in girth. The silver fir is very patient of shade and for this reason was once much used for underplanting. Its susceptibility to aphis attack has restricted its use as a forestry tree in recent years, although interest is now reviving owing, partly, to its resistance to Fomes.
The tallest specimen measured in the British Isles grows by the roadside at Kilbride, Inveraray, Argyll, and is one of a group probably planted about 1680; in 1960 it measured about 180 ft in height and 201⁄2 ft in girth. The following is only a selection of other notable specimens: Powis Castle, Montg., two trees pl. 1847, 162 × 113⁄4 ft and 150 × 83⁄4 ft (1954); Inveraray, Argyll, one on Loch Shira, 153 × 151⁄2 ft, and another at Tom Breac, 151 × 193⁄4 ft (1955); Dunkeld, Perths., 151 × 153⁄4 ft (1962); Alnwick Castle, Northumb., 137 × 17 ft and 142 × 16 ft (1956).
In southern England there are no specimens to compare with these, but an old tree at Highclere, Hants, now dying, stood at 146 × 131⁄4 ft when measured in 1955. There is another tall tree in Savernake Forest, about 145 ft high.
Although it grows well over much of the British Isles, most of the largest as well as the oldest specimens are to be found in Scotland. Among these are: Raehills, Dumfr., pl. 1790, 164 × 203⁄4 ft (1984); Kilkerran, Ayrs., 150 × 16 ft (1972); Strone, Argyll, 144 × 30 ft (1983); Ardkinglas, Argyll, 156 × 211⁄4 ft and 176 × 181⁄4 ft (1985); Benmore, Argyll, 156 × 161⁄2 ft (1983); Dunkeld, Perths., in the American Garden, 150 × 161⁄2 ft and 144 × 121⁄2 ft (1981); Dupplin Castle, Perths., Garden, 132 × 193⁄4 ft, and in Castle Den, 135 × 171⁄4 ft (1983); Murthly Castle, Perths., off Old Drive, 148 × 163⁄4 ft (1981); Inchmarlo, Kinc., 141 × 181⁄4 ft and 138 × 19 ft (1981); Armadale Castle, Skye, by Drive, 148 × 133⁄4 ft, and on Lawn, 111 × 161⁄4 ft (1978).
Outside Scotland there are few large specimens, the most notable being: Eridge Castle, Kent, 144 × 12 ft (1984); Enys, Cornwall, 150 × 111⁄4 ft (1977); Coed Coch, Clwyd, 157 × 153⁄4 ft (1984); Powis Castle, Powys, in the Garden, 148 × 111⁄4 ft and 145 × 121⁄2 ft (1981).
A. borisii-regis – As mentioned on page 145, this fir probably derives from ancient hybridisation between A. alba and A. cephalonica. In cultivation it makes a vigorous tree with a very dark trunk; the young shoots are densely pubescent, indeed more so than is usually the case in A. alba (in A. cephalonica they are glabrous). The leaves are more densely set than in A. alba, more slender, and show the influence of A. cephalonica in having some stomata on the upper surface. On coning branches the leaves are acute and slightly pungent, as in A. cephalonica.
The largest example of A. borisii-regis grows at Stonefield, Argyll, and measures 133 × 143⁄4 ft (1981). Others are: Westonbirt, Glos., in Loop Walk, 117 × 113⁄4 ft (1982); Penrhyn Castle, Gwyn., 118 × 11 ft (1974); Borde Hill, Sussex, pl. 1910, 80 × 71⁄2 ft (1981); Caledon, Co. Tyrone, 105 × 91⁄2 ft (1985); Birr Castle, Co. Offaly, Eire, pl. 1945, 86 × 61⁄2 ft and 105 × 71⁄2 ft (1985); Abbeyleix, Co. Laois, 102 × 13 ft and 85 × 91⁄4 ft (1985).
A. nebrodensis – A further difference between this species and A. alba is that its branchlets are glabrous or almost so. There are a few grafted plants in cultivation, the largest only about 2 ft in girth and 30-40 ft high.
A. alba var. acutifolia Turrill
As Mattfeld defined it, this is a variable species, native of S. Bulgaria and N.E. Greece, which combines in various ways the characters of A. alba and A. cephalonica. In parts of its area it is in contact with one or other of these species, but in the Rhodope Range of Bulgaria, and on the Athos peninsula, it occurs in isolation from both. Mattfeld considered the species to be the product of hybridisation at the end of the Tertiary period, when A. alba migrated southward as the climate cooled with the onset of the Ice Age and met and crossed with A. cephalonica. However, the whole complex is in need of further study.
A. alba var. nebrodensis Lojac