Tree to 15 m, 0.4–0.6 m dbh; trees in cultivation may grow larger than the few, stunted wild specimens. Bark smooth, light grey in young trees, becoming scaly in older trees. Crown broad and conical. Branchlets robust, stiff, shiny, yellowish green, turning grey with age; conspicuous ridges between the rows of leaves; leaf scars circular or ovate with a pale central area; vegetative buds slightly resinous. Leaves spirally arranged, 1.5–2.2 × 0.2–0.4 cm, apex acute or mucronate. Male strobili lateral, 1.5–2 cm long, greenish yellow. Female cones erect, short-pedunculate, cylindrical, apex conical, 8–10 × 3–4 cm, yellowish green when immature, greenish brown when mature. Seed scales cuneate, 2–2.5 cm long. Bract scales linear to spathulate, 2.5–3 cm long, reflexed and exserted. Seeds reddish brown and conical, wings broad-cuneate, 1–1.5 cm long. Ostl 1989, Farjon 1990. Distribution ITALY: Madonie Mts. of northern Sicily. Habitat Restricted to secondary maquis at between 1400 and 1650 m asl. Typical Mediterranean climate. USDA Hardiness Zone 5. Conservation status Critically Endangered. The wild population comprises approximately 30 trees in an area of less than 1.5 km2. Illustration Liu 1971, Farjon 1990; NT19, NT55. Cross-reference K41. Taxonomic note Ostl (1989) suggested that A. nebrodensis is an ancient hybrid with A. alba as one of the parents. Fossil evidence indicates that A. alba was present in Sicily in the past, though it is now absent.
Abies nebrodensis is clinging to survival as a wild tree on degraded hillsides in Sicily, reduced from forests to the double handful of mature trees left today, rediscovered only in 1957. As one of the rarest trees in the world it is subject to an intensive conservation effort featuring natural habitat protection and ex situ cultivation in Sicily and elsewhere (IUCN 1995–2006). It is therefore important that specimens in cultivation are kept well documented, especially if they are of known Sicilian origin, as they may be an important part of the genetic reservoir of this beleaguered species. Hybridisation is a problem, however, so seed should not be supplied as A. nebrodensis if grown in proximity to other firs. Regardless of its rarity, the Sicilian Fir is worth cultivating as a beautiful tree, with sweeping branches well clad in mid-green leaves. Coming from dry limestone hills it is adapted to hotter, drier conditions than most Abies enjoy, and it does well even in the south of England. It will grow fast when happy, one handsome specimen at Bedgebury planted in 1983 being 11 m when measured by Owen Johnson in 2001, and somewhat taller when seen in 2005. The current UK champion is 20 m (49 cm dbh), at Leonardslee, West Sussex (in 2003, TROBI). A cultivar with yellow new growth is marketed in North America as ‘Sicilian Gold’.