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Linda Naeve, Reiman Gardens, (515) 294-8946,
Jean McGuire, Continuing Education and Communication Services, (515) 294-7033,

Reiman's Pick for the week of Jan. 5, 2004

Concolor Fir Offers Year-Round Beauty

Linda Naeve
Extension Coordinator, Reiman Gardens

For the past several weeks, we have been admiring the beauty of evergreen trees as part of our holiday decor. However, by now most holiday trees are taken down and put on the curb and the fallen needles vacuumed. This week's Reiman's Pick, Concolor fir, is an evergreen admired year-round for its stunning color and form in the landscape.

Concolor fir, Abies concolor, sometimes referred to as white fir or Colorado white fir, is a native of the southern and southwestern Rocky Mountains. It is hardy in USDA Hardiness Zones 4 - 7. Concolor fir has a slow to medium growth rate compared to other evergreens. In 30 to 60 years, the trees can grow to be 50 to 60 feet tall. In the landscape, it can reach 50 feet tall and 15 to 30 feet wide.

Its silvery blue-green foliage makes concolor fir an ideal candidate for use as a specimen or accent plant in the landscape. A row of mature concolor fir trees makes a dynamic statement along a driveway or as a windbreak. A young concolor fir grows in an almost perfect pyramidal Christmas tree shape with horizontally tiered branches and, at maturity, it develops a dome-like crown.

The 2- to 3-inch long, flattened needles on concolor fir are soft to the touch and the tips are blunt, not sharp and pointed like pine needles. They are silvery blue-green on the top and bottom and often curve upward from the stem. The needles emit a citrus-like smell when broken.

According to Dr. Michael Dirr, woody ornamental specialist from the University of Georgia, concolor is the most adaptable fir for Midwest landscapes. It tolerates drought and heat better than most fir species and prefers a rich, moist soil with good drainage. It does not grow well in heavy clay soils. Concolor fir grows best in full sun yet will tolerate some shade.

Concolor firs are relatively low-maintenance and are valued for their lack of disease and insect problems. However, young plants may develop multiple leaders and require pruning to reduce to a single central leader.

The flowers on concolor firs are rather inconspicuous. Firs produce monoecious flowers, meaning there are separate male and female flowers on the same plant. The male flowers on a concolor fir are yellow- to red-toned and the females are yellowish-brown. The female flowers develop into upright, 3- to 5.5- inch long cones that mature in September to October.

Although standard concolor firs grow 50 feet tall in the landscape and taller in native habitats, there are dwarf cultivars available, such as 'Compacta' and 'Dwarf Globe,' for small landscapes that are more rounded and shrub-like.

Concolor firs are becoming popular, yet pricey, Christmas trees with striking foliage, good needle retention, and zesty citrus-like fragrance. You will find them for sale at Christmas tree farms throughout Iowa.

Several concolor firs grow at Reiman Gardens as specimen trees. Whether draped with white lights for the holidays, layered with snow, or background for colorful ornamentals in the summer, a concolor fir is a valuable plant throughout the year in nearly any setting.


Editors: A color photo, suitable for publication, is available at right. Click on the thumbnail photo to go to the fullsized photo. The picture's fullsize photo is 620K.

Caption: Concolor Fir

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