Subalpine Fir (Lasiocarpa)

The Subalpine Fir (Lasiocarpa) is generally described as a perennial tree. This is native to the U.S. (United States) has its most active growth period in the spring and summer . The greatest bloom is usually observed in the late spring, with fruit and seed production starting in the summer and continuing until fall. Leaves are retained year to year. The Subalpine Fir (Lasiocarpa) has a long life span relative to most other plant species and a slow growth rate. At maturity, the typical Subalpine Fir (Lasiocarpa) will reach up to 100 feet high, with a maximum height at 20 years of 15 feet.

The Subalpine Fir (Lasiocarpa) is easily found in nurseries, garden stores and other plant dealers and distributors. It can be propagated by bare root, container, seed. It has a slow ability to spread through seed production and the seedlings have low vigor. Note that cold stratification is not required for seed germination and the plant cannot survive exposure to temperatures below -51°F. has low tolerance to drought and restricted water conditions.

Uses of : Landscaping, Medicinal, Culinary, etc.

The wood is white, soft, brittle, and quick to decay, used for rough construction and boxes, doors, frames, poles, and fuel. Small trees are extensively used for Christmas trees. Subalpine fir is a forest pioneer on severe and disturbed sites. By providing cover, it assists in rehabilitating the landscape and protecting watersheds. Subalpine fir grows in forests that occupy the highest water yield areas in much of the western United States and are thus highly significant in water management and conservation.

Native Americans used pitch and bark preparations for wounds and the wood, bark, and boughs for roof shingles, baskets and bedding. The pitch was also used to coat canoe seams and rubbed on bowstrings as a sealant and protectant.

General Characteristics

General: Pine Family (Pinaceae). Native, evergreen trees growing to 20 meters tall with a sharp, spire-like crown, the upper several feet often less than 30 cm in diameter, the plants often reduced to a prostrate shrub on exposed sites near timberline. Bark is smooth, grayish-white, with resin blisters, becoming furrowed only when the tree approaches a foot in diameter (or var. arizonica, see below, with a softer, corky trunk); branches with bark splitting to reveal a reddish-brown layer; leaf scars with periderm red (or tan in var. arizonica). Needles are 1.8-3 cm long, flattened, grooved and bluish-green waxy on the upper surface, 1-ranked and tending to turn upward so that the foliage of a particular branch appears flattened and as though no leaves were attached to the lower sides of the twigs; resin canals median, located between the upper and lower epidermis. Seed cones are 6-12 cm long, 2-4 cm wide, dark purple, erect and only on the uppermost branches. The common name refers to the

Required Growing Conditions

Subalpine fir is widespread in western North America, from southeastern Alaska, Yukon, and Mackenzie south to California, in the Rocky Mountains to northeastern Arizona and New Mexico. For current distribution, please consult the Plant Profile page for this species on the PLANTS Web site.

Adaptation Subalpine fir grows in subalpine coniferous forests, 600-3600 meters, up to timberline, often associated with Douglas fir, Engelmann spruce, and blue spruce. It is restricted to cold, humid habitats because of low tolerance to high temperatures. Cool summers, cold winters, and deep winter snowpacks are more important than total precipitation in differentiating where subalpine fir grows in relation to other species.

Cultivation and Care

Trees of subalpine fir may begin to produce cones when 20 years old, but under closed-forest conditions, seed production is not significant until trees are older. Corkbark fir does not begin to bear cones until about 50 years old. Maximum seed production occurs in dominant trees 150-200 years old.

Germination and early survival are generally best on exposed mineral soil and moist humus, but a wide variety of other seedbed types also provide adequate conditions. Spring planting is most successful. Subalpine fir invades and establishes on open, severe or disturbed sites near timberline because of its ability to establish a root system under conditions too severe for its less hardy associates and its ability to reproduce by layering.

Subalpine fir is relatively slow growing. Seedlings average less than 38 cm in height after 15 years in the open. Heart rot is a severe problem, and many trees die or are complete culls at an early age. Of those reaching maturity, trees 25-51 cm in diameter are often 150-200 years old, and trees older than 250 years are not uncommon. Some trees in Olympic National Park, Washington, have been determined to be over 400 years old (by ring count).

General Upkeep and Control

Periodic thinning increases the yield and size of individual trees but the fir component of subalpine spruce-fir stands is likely to be greatly reduced by repeated thinning, so that the stand at the time of final harvest will be almost pure Spruce.

In the Cascades, the European balsam woolly adelgid has caused significant mortality to subalpine fir, virtually eliminating it from some stands in Oregon and southern Washington. Windthrow is a common problem in subalpine fir, presumably because of its relatively shallow root system. Pruning should be kept to a minimum, for when older branches are removed, new growth seldom develops and, consequently, the trees become ragged and unkempt.

Plant Basics
Growth Rate Slow
General Type Tree
Growth Period Spring, Summer
Growth Duration Perennial
Lifespan Long
Plant Nativity Native to U.S.
Commercial Availability Routinely Available
Physical Characteristics
Bloom Period Late Spring
Displays Fall Colors No
Shape/Growth Form Single Stem
Drought Tolerance Low
Shade Tolerance Tolerant
Height When Mature 100
Vegetative Spread None
Flower Conspicuousness No
Fruit/Seed Abundance Medium
Fruit/Seed Seasonality Summer Fall
Seed Spread Rate Slow
Gardening Characteristics
Propagations (Ways to Grow) Bare Root, Container, Seed
Moisture Requirements Medium
Cold Stratification Required Yes
Minimum Temperature -51
Soil Depth for Roots 40
Toxic to Nearby Plants No
Toxic to Livestock No
After-Harvest Resprout Ability No
Responds to Coppicing No
Growth Requirements
pH Range 4–6.5 pH
Precipitation Range 20–20 inches/yr
Planting Density 300–1200 indiv./acre
Soil Textures Coarse, Medium
Soil Depth for Roots 40
Minimum Frost-Free Days 120 day(s)
Salinity Tolerance None
CaCO3 Tolerance Low
Sustainability & Use
Leaf Retention Yes
Palatability Low
Fire Resistant No

Source: USDA, NRCS, PLANTS Database,
National Plant Data Center, Baton Rouge, LA 70874-4490 USA