Friday, 2 January 2009

Abies procera

A Manual of The Coniferae
James Veitch, Chelsea, 1881

Abies procera Rehder
Flora of North America Editorial Committee, eds. 1993. Pteridophytes and Gymnosperms.

Walter Oates records a Noble Fir (formerly known as Abies nobilis) growing at Monserrate in 1929

Willamette National Forest
US Forest Service

Details of flowering shoots
US Forest Service

Discovered by the redoubtable David Douglas, this was one of his favourite trees: "I spent three days in a forest composed of this tree, and day by day could not cease to admire it". He described this "majestic tree, forming vast forests on the mountains of Northern California" [Cascade Mountains]. (North American Sylva - Francis André Michaux, 1865)

Veitch, p. 101 : Habitat.- Principally in the neighbourhood of the Columbia River in Oregon, and southwards as far as the Shasta Mountains in California. Introduced in 1831 by the Horticultural Society of London through their collector, David Douglas.

Abies nobilis at Highnam Court
Present height (1881) 60 feet [It reaches 250 ft.]

Abies nobilis is universally allowed to be one of the greatest of Douglas' discoveries and introductions. Besides its noble aspect, and the distinct colour of its foliage, it possesses qualities that render it especially valuable in ornamental planting, for which alone it should be employed in Britain, although its timber is useful in its native country.

This tree is happiest in areas of high rainfall and acid conditions and will not tolerate alkaline soil.

The length of the lower branches of the finest specimens at present growing in Britain, range from 15 to 18 feet, so that a space having a radius greater than these dimensions must be allowed for the development of its grand proportions.

Abies procera 'Glauca'
Though the leaves of this species are naturally glaucous (silvery) this variety represents a particular selection according to this characteristic. Nowdays the tree is most familiar as a deluxe Christmas tree. It has the particular merit of retaining its needles in centrally heated interiors.

What an ignominious end for such a noble fir!

Pinus nobilis Douglas ex D. Don A Description of the Genus Pinus, ed. 3 1832.
non A. nobilis A. Dietrich, (1824) [used for Abies alba]

That non cost the Noble Fir its epiphet. The name could not be shared by two different plants and the pedestrian Abies procera (procerus = tall) took its place; published by American Botanist Rehder in 1940.

Other synonyms:
Picea nobilis (Douglas ex D. Don) Loudon Arboretum et Fruticetum Britannicum 4: 2342. 1838. (Arbor. Frutic. Brit.)
Pseudotsuga nobilis (Douglas ex D. Don) W.R. McNab Proceedings of thr Royal Irish Academy 2: 209-213, t. 49. 1876. (Proc. Roy. Irish Acad.)

David Douglas
His expeditions were sponsored by what was to become the Royal Horticultural Society, having been recommended by Sir William Hooker, first Director of Kew. Douglas had become friendly with Hooker in Glasgow where, in 1820, he worked in the Botanic Gardens; the same year that Hooker had become Professor of Botany at the University. It is reputed that he suffered snow blindness as a result of his later expeditionary work. He certainly became blind in one eye, and problems with his sight probably contributed to his premature death in 1834, at the age of 35. On his way home from the Pacific Northwest in Hawaii he was gored in a wild cattle trap into which he had fallen, a frightful end for one of the world's most prolific plant hunters.

University of Glasgow

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