A. delavayi was discovered by the French missionary Delavay in the Tali Range, Yunnan, China, in 1884, but so far as is known it is not in cultivation in its typical state. It might, however, still be found if any trees survive from Forrest's 30975, collected in the type locality on his last expedition. The cultivated trees which descend from the seed collected by Wilson and were long known as A. delavayi (or A. fabri) are here treated under var. fabri.
var. fabri (Mast.) D. R. Hunt Keteleeria fabri Mast.; Abies fabri Craib (as “faberi”). – An evergreen tree up to 130 ft high in a wild state, with a trunk 8 to 16 ft in girth; young shoots minutely downy at first, yellowish to dark brown. Terminal winter buds 2⁄5 in. long, slightly resinous. Leaves dark green above, with two whitish bands of stomata in nine to eleven rows beneath; 1⁄2 to 1 in. long, 1⁄12 in. wide in adult trees; 13⁄4 in. long in juvenile ones; rounded and occasionally very slightly notched at the end; margins distinctly recurved; the outer leaves are horizontal, the inner ones more or less erect. Male inflorescence 11⁄4 in. long by 1⁄4 in. wide. Cone cylindrical, rounded at the top, about 3 in. long, 11⁄4 to 13⁄4 in. wide, dark blue or bluish black, the awl-shaped tips of the bracts protruding about 1⁄4 in. and much decurved. Bot. Mag., t. 9201.
Native of China in the western part of the province of Szechwan; discovered by the missionary Faber and introduced by Wilson from the Omei Shan and Wa Shan in 1903 and again in 1910. Wilson's firs were at first considered to be typical A. delavayi and distributed under that name. This view was first disputed by Craib (Notes Edin. Bot. Gard., Vol. 11, 1918, pp. 278-9). From an examination of the original material and specimens collected by Forrest in the type locality and other parts of Yunnan he came to the conclusion that the trees found by Wilson were specifically distinct from A. delavayi. His judgement was based on certain differences in the leaves, notably the stronger recurving of the margins of the Yunnan specimens of A. delavayi. He therefore placed Wilson's fir in A. fabri, a species which he constructed partly from Wilson's material and partly from a specimen collected earlier in the same part of Szechwan and originally described as Keteleeria fabri by Masters. Other authorities considered that these characters are inconstant and unreliable, and treated A. fabri as a synonym of A. delavayi. The view adopted in the present revision is that, while A. fabri can scarcely be upheld as a species, it should, in the present state of our knowledge, be maintained as a distinct entity, with the rank of variety. A note on this matter has been published (D. R. Hunt, Journ. R.H.S., Vol. 92, 1967, p. 263).
The following specimens have been recorded: Stourhead, Wilts., 68 × 3 ft (1961); East Bergholt Place, Suffolk, 58 × 31⁄2 ft (1966); Abbotswood, Glos., pl. 1916, 47 × 23⁄4 and 43 × 33⁄4 ft (1966); Dawyck, Peebl., pl. 1918, 51 × 31⁄2 ft (1961); Edinburgh Botanic Garden, from W. 4078, 44 × 43⁄4 ft (1968).
var. faxoniana (Rehd. & Wils.) A. B. Jacks. A. faxoniana Rehd. & Wils. – The characters that best distinguish this variety are: young lateral shoots densely clothed with a stiff, rust-coloured down; leaves spreading irregularly in two ranks with a broad and shallow V-shaped depression between; leaf-margins not or only slightly revolute. In cultivated specimens the leaves are much less white beneath than in the type and the other three varieties. This fir was discovered by Wilson in 1910 in N.W. Szechwan, where it grows 60 to 130 ft high, and introduced by him the same year; trees were raised from his W. 4060 (see E. L. Hillier in Journ. R.H.S., Vol. 62, 1941, p. 410, where there is a detailed description of a tree raised from this number), and also from W. 4052 and 4070. It is now rare in cultivation; the Westonbirt trees, which reached the coning stage, no longer exist. The following are probably authentic: Abbotswood, Glos., pl. 1916, 44 × 3, 48 × 3 and 57 × 4 ft, the last unusual in having the leaves bright silver below (1966); Speech House, Glos., pl. 1916, 39 × 21⁄2 ft (1959); Dawyck, Peebl., pl. 1918, 46 × 3 ft (1961). Plants from seed collected later by Rock may also be in cultivation.
var. forrestii (C. C. Rogers) A. B. Jacks. A. forrestii C. C. Rogers – A tree to 130 ft in the wild state; young shoots reddish brown, usually glabrous, sometimes with reddish hairs; winter buds densely resinous. Leaves dark glossy green above with two conspicuous bands of stomata beneath, 3⁄4 to 11⁄2 in. long (up to 2 in. on young trees), rounded or nearly truncate and distinctly notched at the apex; margins slightly recurved. They are arranged in two sets with a narrow V-shaped opening along the top, the lower leaves standing out at almost a right angle, the upper ones almost erect. Cones similar to those of the type and as beautifully coloured. Bot. Mag., t. 9201.
Native of China in the province of Yunnan; discovered by Forrest in 1910 and introduced as typical A. delavayi. C. Coltman Rogers, who grew it in his collection at Stanage Park, was the first to recognise its distinctness and it was at his suggestion that the name A. forrestii was adopted. The full description was published by Craib in 1919. It is also in cultivation from later sendings by Forrest from other parts of Yunnan, to which it is apparently confined. It is distinguished from var. fabri by the brighter red-brown branchlets, thickly resinous buds, and by the notched leaves, with wider stomatic bands and plane, not recurved margins.
It is remarkably handsome in the young state, its long leaves being dark green above and curving upward to expose the almost pure white bands beneath. It grows vigorously but deteriorates rather quickly and seems to be short-lived and rather sensitive to drought. It is not at its best in the drier parts of southern England but on the whole the best trees are fairly widely spread. These are: Stanage Park, Radnor, 66 × 51⁄4 and 42 × 5 ft (1959); Werrington Park, Cornwall, 57 × 31⁄2 and 54 × 5 ft (1966); Sidbury Manor, Devon, from 1922 seed, 47 × 33⁄4 ft (1959); Walcot Park, Shrops., 60 × 43⁄4 ft (1959); Tregullow, Redruth, Cornwall, 62 × 41⁄4 ft (1959); Cortachy Castle, Angus, 59 × 41⁄4 ft (1962). The tree at Lanarth, Cornwall, mentioned in previous editions, was also the one that provided the material for the figure in the Botanical Magazine; it died a few years later in the drought of 1933.
var. georgei (Orr) Melville A. georgei Orr – This variety is closely related to the preceding, but distinguished by the remarkable cones, with long, protruded bracts, prolonged at the apex into a pronounced tail. A less reliable character is the rusty-red pubescence of the young shoots. It was introduced, as A. forrestii, in 1922 (F. 22547) and trees from this sending first coned around 1939. It was not distinguished as a separate entity until about 1930 and the first seed to be distributed as A. georgei was collected by Forrest in 1931 (F. 30853), shortly before his death. This variety and var. forrestii are closely associated in the wild and both names commemorate George Forrest.
Trees from Forrest's seed are now around 35 to 45 ft in height. Most of these are in the north and west (Burnside, Forfar; Strathallan, Perths.; Lamellen, Cornwall; Hergest Croft, Heref.; Vivod, Denbigh). In the home counties there are examples at Blackmoor, Hants, and Borde Hill, Sussex.
From New Trees
Abies delavayi Franch.
Abies delavayi was described by Bean (B151), who used a broad species concept, including a number of other taxa as varieties. All of these have subsequently been recognised separately by Farjon (2001): var. fabri (= Abies fabri), var. faxoniana (= A. fargesii var. faxoniana), var. forrestii (= A. forrestii) and var. georgei (= A. forrestii var. georgei). Abies delavayi sensu Farjon includes two varieties: var. motuoensis W.C. Cheng & L.K. Fu, from Tibet, and var. nukiangensis (W.C. Cheng & L.K. Fu) Farjon & Silba, from northwest Yunnan. Neither variety has apparently been introduced into cultivation. In addition, A. fansipanensis Q.P. Xiang was reduced to a subspecies of A. delavayi. See also Krüssmann (1985b: K34) and Clarke (1988: S21).
Abies delavayi subsp. fansipanensis (Q.P. Xiang) Rushforth
Subsp. fansipanensis differs from the type subspecies in that the bract scales are half the length of the seed scales, rather than the same length. Subsp. delavayi has elongated cusps that are partially exserted, but subsp. fansipanensis has short cusps which are barely visible in the mature cone. In this respect, subsp. fansipanensis resembles A. delavayi var. nukiangensis, but unlike the latter its leaves are narrow and strongly revolute, as in the type subspecies. Farjon 1990, Rushforth 1999. Distribution VIETNAM: Lao Cai (Fan Si Pan). Habitat Montane forest, between 2600 and 2800 m asl. USDA Hardiness Zone 8. Conservation status Vulnerable, with limited distribution and subject to timber extraction.
This taxon seems to be an isolate with a narrow altitudinal range on Fan Si Pan and perhaps adjacent mountains, where it is greatly reduced in numbers by deforestation (T. Hudson, pers. comm. 2005). Trees of up to 18 m tall and 1.2 m dbh have been recorded on the mountain, usually growing on steep, cooler eastern or northeastern slopes or ridges (P. Wharton, pers. comm. 2007). The silhouette of old trees on the ridge tops reminded the late Peter Wharton of ancient Araucaria araucana trees in Chile. Unfortunately natural regeneration seems to be infrequent. It has been collected on several occasions by recent visitors to northern Vietnam, but it remains extremely rare in cultivation and the only plants seen are youngsters growing steadily at Tregrehan. For Keith Rushforth (pers. comm. 2007) it has achieved 2 m in 12 years. The curled foliage is distinctive, and the bright silver stomatal lines on the underside contrast well with the dark green upper surface of the needles.