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A tree to 180 ft in nature, occasionally over 200 ft, with a narrowly conical crown and reddish bark; young shoots furnished with a minute down; buds resinous at the top, more or less concealed by leaves. Leaves 1 to 13⁄4 in. long, 1⁄12 in. wide; glaucous green, with stomata on all surfaces; blunt, but not notched at the apex, nor grooved along the upper surface. On old cone-bearing branches they are pointed, stiffer, shorter, and diamond-shaped in cross-section. The leaves are crowded on the top as much as on the sides of the shoot; those on the top have their bases flattened to, and nearly hiding the stem, then curve upwards. Cones 6 to 8 in. long, about half as wide, purple when young, afterwards brown; bracts enclosed (except in the variety mentioned below). Bot. Mag., t. 8552.
Native of Oregon and California; introduced by Jeffrey in 1851. It is a strikingly elegant tree of slender conical shape and should be planted more widely. It is seen at its best in the cooler and rainier parts of the British Isles but some good specimens in the south of England (see below) suggest that it could be grown in a drier climate provided it is given a sheltered position and moist soil. However, it grows poorly in the Thames Valley and will not tolerate a polluted atmosphere. A. F. Mitchell has observed that it gains rapidly in girth in early years but appears to be rather short-lived (in nature the rate of growth is slower but the life-span 250 years or more). From A. procera, to which it is allied, it may be distinguished by its longer, never-grooved needles.
With but one exception the tallest extant specimens are all in Scotland: Blair Atholl, Perths., 116 × 101⁄4 ft (1955); Dunkeld, Perths., two on the Cathedral Lawn, 115 × 91⁄2 and 115 × 81⁄4 (1961), and another by Dunkeld House, 110 × 91⁄4 ft (1962); Glamis Castle, Angus. pl. 1864, 112 × 101⁄2 ft (1955); Taymouth Castle, Perths., 110 × 93⁄4 and 101 × 101⁄4 ft (1961); Cragside, Northumb., 105 × 81⁄2 ft (1958). In the south, the best recorded are: Borde Hill, Sussex, 80 × 7 ft (1961), an earlier measurement being 24 × 3 ft (1931); Hergest Croft, Heref., pl. 1917, 64 × 71⁄4 ft (1963); National Pinetum, Bedgebury, Kent, pl. 1925, 64 × 8 ft (1965).
specimens: National Pinetum, Bedgebury, Kent, four trees 65-85 ft high, 53⁄4 ft-71⁄4 ft in girth (1980); Wakehurst Place, Sussex, by The Lake, 90 × 73⁄4 ft (1979); Borde Hill, Sussex, the tree mentioned was blown down in the late 1970s; Hergest Croft, Heref., pl. 1917, 80 × 91⁄4 ft and 88 × 71⁄2 ft (1980); Cragside, Northumb., 133 × 93⁄4 ft (1984); Blair Atholl, Perths., St Brides, pl. 1878., 121 × 151⁄2 ft and, Diana’s Grove, 124 × 101⁄2 ft (1983); Taymouth Castle, Perths., 125 × 103⁄4 ft and 130 × 12 ft (1983); Dunira House, Perths., 70 × 91⁄4 ft (1981); Portna-craig, Fonah, Perths., 70 × 111⁄4 ft (1983); Balmoral Castle, Aberd., pl. 1877, 73 × 7 ft in 1931, now 115 × 11 ft (1980); Glentanar, Aberd., by the Drive, 121 × 81⁄4 ft (1980); Altyre, Moray, a finely shaped tree, 80 × 61⁄4 ft (1980); Ardross Castle, Ross, in the Pinetum, pl. 1900, grafted on A. alba, 75 × 12 ft (1980).
var. shastensis – This is intermediate between A. magnifica and the related A. procera, and is considered by some authorities to be the result of hybridisation between them. It is represented in cultivation in Britain only by a few small grafted trees which do not thrive.
This species was described by Bean (B158, S27) and Krüssmann (K40). Var. shastensis was also recognised and described by Bean (B159, S27), but a more detailed description is provided below.
Shasta Red Fir
A. magnifica var. xanthocarpa Lemmon
Var. shastensis has smaller cones than the type variety (10–13 × 5–8 cm vs. 18–25 × 7–10 cm) and the bract scales are exserted and reflexed. Farjon 1990, Thieret 1993. Distribution USA: from Lassen Peak, California to Crater Lake, Oregon. Habitat Montane forest between 1400 and 2700 m asl. Soils are thin and the climate extreme, with short, warm summers and long, cold winters. USDA Hardiness Zone 6. Conservation status Not evaluated. Illustration Liu 1971; NTxi, NT42. Cross-references B159, S27, K40. Taxonomic note Var. shastensis occurs in an area of overlap between the distributions of A. magnifica and A. procera Rehder, and may be of hybrid origin (Liu 1971, Silba 1986).
The volcanic cone of Mount Shasta is one of the most beautiful sights on a journey along the California I5 freeway, which runs in the valley between it and the Siskiyou mountains to the west. The discerning botanist will turn to the Siskiyous and their fabulous botanical diversity; in contrast Mount Shasta is extremely depauperate, no doubt in consequence of its recent volcanic origin. Its slopes, however, support a fine forest of Abies magnifica var. shastensis, growing as large trees to the timberline, and a detour was made to visit these trees when I (JMG) was in western North America in June 2004. With the snow-capped peak behind them they are a magnificent sight. The snow was only just melting at treeline, and as it receded it revealed thousands of Abies seedlings emerging through the otherwise barren pumice gravel, as densely as Sycamore (Acer pseudoplatanus) seedlings in an English lawn. The foliage characteristics vary considerably between the trees, and this population is probably best considered to be an unstable genetic mix between A. magnifica and A. procera (Hunt 1993b).
Despite the prolificacy of its seed set, the Shasta Red Fir is rare in cultivation. A tree at Bedgebury National Pinetum in Kent was reported to be 17 m in 1968, but others in cultivation at this time were observed to be ‘miserable grafted specimens’ (Mitchell 1972). There is a tree of about 10 m at Mount Usher, planted in 1957, said to be var. shastensis, and at Howick there is a young tree from Warner & Howick 269, collected on Mount Shasta in 1986. This is only 2 m tall, and very slow-growing, but has a good shape. Material from several collections is grown at Benmore and Dawyck, and it seems probable that it will thrive best in cool moist sites such as these. Three trees from D.S. Paterson & S. Clarke 85, collected in California in 1991, are thriving at Dawyck.