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Tree to 40 m, 1–1.5 m dbh. Bark smooth, grey or reddish brown, becoming deeply fissured and dark brown to black in older trees. Crown narrow and pyramidical or rounded, often above a long, clear bole. Branchlets dark purple-red or reddish brown, becoming brown with age; conspicuously grooved between the leaves; leaf scars circular or ovate; vegetative buds very resinous, yellow. Leaves spirally arranged, mostly on two planes, (1.4–)2–3.5(–4.5) × 0.1–0.16 cm, curved slightly backwards or forwards, apex sharp and acuminate. Male strobili lateral and in leaf axils, 1–2 cm long, perular scales resinous, microsporophylls red. Female cones erect, short-pedunculate, cylindrical, apex obtuse, 5.5–10 × 3–4.5 cm, pale brown to yellow. Seed scales flabellate, 1.5–2 × 2–2.8 cm. Bract scales spathulate, 1–1.5 cm long with short cusps, not exserted. Seeds yellowish brown and cuneate, wings rounded or cuneate, 0.9 × 0.7 cm. Farjon 1990. Distribution MEXICO: Chihuahua, Coahuila, Durango, Jalisco, Sinaloa. Habitat High mountain valleys and steep canyons between 1600 and 2900 m asl. Climate cool and moist. USDA Hardiness Zone 7. Conservation status Lower Risk. Illustration Farjon 1990; NT44, NT51. Cross-reference K35.
Abies durangensis is part of the group of western North American firs that includes A. grandis and A. concolor and extends southwards through Mexico to reach Guate mala (Rushforth 1987a). It is most closely related to A. concolor Lowiana Group but, unlike that generally amenable taxon, has not flourished in cultivation in the United Kingdom. Keith Rushforth has one of 5–6 m after 12 years, and at Kew there is a scrawny 4 m specimen that was planted in 1992. Both were grown from seed collected at 3050 m in the Sierra Madre Occidental by an expedition from the Royal Veterinary & Agricultural University, Horsholm, Denmark. Trees from this provenance are also in cultivation at Herkenrode and Arboretum Wespelaar, where they do well (K. Camelbeke, pers. comm. 2007). Trees of Chihuahuan origin from a 1988 collection by J. Hjerting and S. Ødum (no. 8) are also growing slowly at the Sir Harold Hillier Gardens, where the larger one was 5 m when measured in 2006 (Sir Harold Hillier Gardens database). It is also grown at Benmore. Full sun is said to be essential for this species to succeed (K. Rushforth, pers. comm. 2007).
Var. coahuilensis differs from the type variety in that the branchlets are more pubescent and there are few or no stomata on the upper side of the leaves, which are also shorter than in var. durangensis. The midrib of var. coahuilensis is wider and more conspicuous than in the type variety. Farjon 1990. Distribution MEXICO: Coahuila. Habitat Restricted to a few valleys at altitudes of between 2200 and 2300 m asl. USDA Hardiness Zone 7. Conservation status Vulnerable, due to small population size. Cross-reference K35.
This taxon is known to be in cultivation only at Benmore, where there is a tree from a wild collection in Coahuila in 1987.