A tree to 130 ft with a smooth, whitish bark; buds resinous; young shoots furrowed, greyish, hairy in the grooves. Leaves arranged as in A. veitchii but longer and narrower, 13⁄4 in. long, 1⁄20 in. wide, bright green above, with two bands of stomata below, each with seven or eight lines. Cones cylindrical, to 31⁄2 in. long, with protruding, reflexed bracts.
Native of the northern island of Japan (Hokkaido), Sakhalin, and the Kuriles, allied to A. sibirica and A. nephrolepis. It was introduced in 1878 and, in spite of its being much subject to injury by late frosts, has grown well in some collections. The best recorded are: Dyffryn Park, Glam., 75 ft (1964); Wakehurst Place, Sussex, 74 × 43⁄4 ft (1965); Murthly Castle, Perths., 57 × 33⁄4 ft (1962); Stourhead, Wilts, 57 × 3 ft (1965); Borde Hill, Sussex, 50 × 13⁄4 ft (1957); Castle Milk, Dumf., pl. 1921, 50 × 4 ft (1966).
It is most likely to be confused with A. nephrolepis and A. sibirica, which it closely resembles in foliage but from which it differs in its grooved branchlets and in the exserted cone-bracts.
From the Supplement (Vol. V)
This fir is more closely related to A. nephrolepis than to A. sibirica. Contrary to what was stated on page 167, the cones of both species may have exserted bracts. The difference in the cones, according to Liu, is that in A. sachalinesis the scales overlap closely, while in A. nephrolepis the arrangement is more open, the apex of each scale being separated by more than 2 millimeters from the apex of the next scale in the same rank (against 2 mm or less in the other species). Its leaves are also narrower – about 1.5 mm wide against about 2 mm in A. nephrolepis.
As remarked in the later printings of Volume I, the trees at Wakehurst Place and at Stourhead are not this species but A. nephrolepis, while the Dyffryn tree, also mentioned under A. sachalinensis, is in fact A. nordmanniana.
Trees of which the identity is reasonably certain are: Borde Hill, Sussex, in Gores Wood, 40 × 11⁄2 ft (1981); Hergest Croft, Heref., 42 × 21⁄4 ft and 52 × 4 ft (1978); Dawyck, Peebl., pl. 1927, 40 × 3 ft (1982); Glentanar, Aberd., pl. 1926, 49 × 23⁄4 ft (1980); Murthly Castle, Perths., the trees here have all been blown down.
In Eire there is a good tree at Headfort, Co. Meath, pl. 1928, 66 × 51⁄4 ft (1980), and another in the National Botanic Garden, Glasnevin, 62 × 23⁄4 ft (1980).
From New Trees
Abies sachalinensis (F. Schmidt) Mast.
This species was described by Bean (B166, S32) and Krüssmann (K44), but three varieties have since been described. A key to these is provided below.
Bract scales included; Japan (Hokkaido), Russian Federation (Sakhalin)
Bract scales exserted
Resin canals marginal; Russian Federation (Kamchatka)
Resin canals medial
Bark smooth, whitish grey; cones pale purple with strongly exserted bracts, bracts pale green when immature, turning pale brown at maturity; Japan (Hokkaido), Russian Federation (Sakhalin)
Bark with resin blisters, grey-brown; cones dark purple with partially exserted bracts, bracts reddish when immature, turning dark brown at maturity; Japan (Hokkaido), Russian Federation (Kuril Is., Sakhalin)
Abies sachalinensis var. gracilis (Kom.) Farjon
This variety has flatter leaves than the type, and marginal (not medial) resin canals. Farjon 1990. Distribution RUSSIAN FEDERATION: eastern Kamchatka, Semyachik valley. Habitat Between 0 and 1650 m asl. Soils are well drained, but with year-round moistness. USDA Hardiness Zone 5. Conservation status Vulnerable. It has an extremely limited distribution.
Abies sachalinensis var. mayriana Miyabe & Kudô
Var. mayriana has whitish grey (rather than grey-brown) bark and the cones are lighter in colour than the typical dark purple. The bract scales are green initially, but mature to pale brown, and are exserted to a greater degree than in the type. Farjon 1990. Distribution JAPAN: Hokkaido; RUSSIAN FEDERATION: Sakhalin. Habitat As for var. gracilis. USDA Hardiness Zone 5. Conservation status Not evaluated. Illustration Liu 1971, Farjon 1990; NT32. Cross-reference K44.
Abies sachalinensis var. nemorensis Mayr
The only character that distinguishes this variety from the type and from var. mayriana is the bract scales, which are included. Farjon 1990. Distribution JAPAN: Hokkaido; RUSSIAN FEDERATION: Kuril Is., Sakhalin. Habitat As for var. gracilis. USDA Hardiness Zone 5. Conservation status Not evaluated. Cross-reference K44.
The rather trivial technical characters that distinguish the various subspecies of Abies sachalinensis are probably much less important to horticulturists than the provenance of the material they are trying to grow. In habitat on Hokkaido, A. sachalinensis is described as a ‘grand’ tree (Flanagan & Kirkham 2005), but this is not the general experience in cultivation. The species as a whole has the unfortunate habit of flushing early and suffering frost damage to the new shoots in most years, with the consequence that young trees seldom seem to ‘get away’, even in conditions that might be assumed to be favourable for them. As an example, two specimens of var. gracilis growing at Dawyck are both under 50 cm, despite having been accessioned in 1992 and 1993 from wild-collected material. At Howick, even though frost damage has been slight, var. gracilis was very slow to get going after planting in 1997, but has now achieved 1.2 m (C. Howick, pers. comm. 2007). The situation is similar in most places where A. sachalinensis is grown, with the exception of Benmore where it seems to grow better than elsewhere. Eventually, however, enough growth is put on to produce a young tree of sufficient height to escape the effects of ground frosts and begin to grow away more satisfactorily. This has been observed in var. mayriana both at Dawyck (from Sakhalin, ESUS 210, collected in 1996, 1.2 m in 2006) and at Thenford House (of unknown origin, 2 m in 2006), where young trees have succeeded in making a good leader and are beginning to grow strongly – although their history of false starts is clearly visible. Where this has not happened, as with plants of ESUS 210 at Kew, they remain very small and stunted. Even in a continental climate, as at Rogów, frost damage occurs to new shoots and the trees (of var. mayriana) are very slow-growing (P. Banaszczak, pers. comm. 2007).