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A tree up to 100 ft high; young shoots glabrous, brown; buds reddish, resinous. Leaves densely arranged all round the branchlet (more equally than in any other fir, but still somewhat more densely above), and standing out stiffly from it at right angles; they are 1⁄2 to 3⁄4 in. long, about 1⁄12 in. broad; thick, abruptly pointed or blunt at the apex, dark green with numerous faintly defined lines of stomata on both surfaces. Cones cylindric, with a tapered apex, 4 to 5 in. long, about 11⁄2 in. wide, purplish brown; bracts small and completely enclosed.
Native of S.E. Spain, in the mountains about Ronda, always on limestone; discovered in 1837 and introduced to England two years later. It succeeds admirably in this country, whether the soil is calcareous or not. It is, perhaps, the most distinct and unmistakable of firs, especially in the short, blunt leaves being set about equally all round the branchlet. The best specimens lie for the most part outside the cooler and moister areas favoured by the majority of firs, as the following records show: Rhinefield, New Forest, Hants, 102 × 53⁄4 ft, forks from the base (1962), and another in Rhinefield Drive, 93 × 61⁄4 ft, on a fine single stem (1964); Bodnant, Denbigh, pl. 1876, 96 × 91⁄4 ft (1957); Eridge Castle, Kent. pl. 1886, 88 × 61⁄4 ft (1963); Poltimore, Devon, 89 × 10 ft (1964); Leonardslee, Sussex, 88 × 41⁄2 ft (1958); Longleat, Wilts, 83 × 101⁄4 ft, fine bole (1963); Lydhurst, Sussex, 73 × 12 ft, single-stemmed to the top (1965); Drop-more, Bucks., two of the original introduction, pl. 1843, 84 × 7 and 75 × 7 ft (1964). The rate of growth in younger trees is shown by: Wakehurst Place, Sussex, pl. 1915, 57 × 41⁄2 ft (1964).
specimens: The Frythe, Herts, the tree mentioned under this species proves to be A. cephalonica; Wakehurst Place, Sussex, in The Oaks, 69 × 43⁄4 ft (1978); Lydhurst, Sussex, 80 × 12 ft (1980); Knepp Castle, Sussex, 87 × 81⁄4 ft (1981); Eridge Castle, Kent, pl. 1886, 82 × 61⁄4 ft (1971); Rhinefield Drive, New Forest, Hants, 108 × 7 ft (1980); Longleat, Wilts., 82 × 101⁄2 ft (1971); Murthly Castle, Perths., 88 × 8 ft and 95 × 63⁄4 ft (1983); Dupplin Castle, Perths., 82 × 93⁄4 ft (1983); Rosehaugh, Inv., 75 × 113⁄4 ft, with a 25 ft bole, (1983).
[A. marocana] – This fir is best regarded as a variety of A. pinsapo – var. marocana (Trabut) Caballos & Bolanos. Another variety occurs on Mount Tazaotan, to the south-east of this – var. tazaotana (Cozar) Huguet del Villar, first described as a species in 1946.
This species was described by Bean (B163, S29) and Krüssmann (K43). A key to the varieties is provided below.
Vegetative buds not resinous; Morocco (Mt. Tazaot)
Vegetative buds very resinous or slightly resinous
Leaf arrangement pectinate, flat; leaves with faint groove, and fewer stomata on the upper surface, apex acuminate; cones large, 10–18 cm long; Morocco (Rif Mts.)
Leaf arrangement perpendicular from shoots, bristly; leaves without groove, several rows of stomata on the upper surface, apex obtuse; cones smaller, 9–14 cm long; Spain (Andalucía)
(A. pinsapo × cephalonica )
A. marocana Trab.
Compared with var. pinsapo, var. marocana has larger, less resinous buds, the leaf arrangement is slightly flatter and pectinate, the leaf apices more acute or acuminate, and there are fewer stomata on the upper surface. The distinctive spiky texture of the leaves is very different from that in the type variety (Laver 2003). The cones are slightly larger (10–18 × 3.5–5 cm vs. 9–14 × 3–4 cm in var. pinsapo) and the bract scales are subulate rather than oblong. Farjon 1990. Distribution MOROCCO: western Rif Mts. (Mts. Tissouka, Mago, Kraa and Bab Rouida). Habitat North-facing slopes between 1400 and 2100 m asl. USDA Hardiness Zone 7. Conservation status Lower Risk, though vulnerable to overgrazing. Illustration Liu 1971, Farjon 1990; NT44, NT45.
All three varieties are cultivated at Wakehurst Place, where they can be usefully compared. As seen there, var. pinsapo with its short, densely spaced needles is the most distinct, the other two being much closer in appearance to each other than to var. pinsapo. The Wakehurst specimen of var. tazaotana, a conical young tree 3.5 m tall in 2005, was raised from seed collected by B. Valdes (no. 2063) in 1992 at 1600 m on Jebel Lakraa, on the way to the type locality on Jebel Tassaot. Also growing at Wakehurst Place are plants labelled var. marocana, grown from collections again made by Valdes (no. 2228) on Jebel Lakraa, but on a different part of the mountain. These have leaves intermediate in length and density of placement between those of var. pinsapo and of the single specimen of var. tazaotana (which has the longest and least closely spaced of the three, radiating from all round the stem like the quills of an angry porcupine). At Kew, however, there is a specimen of var. marocana with short, densely packed leaves, closely resembling those of var. pinsapo. This has an equally authentic provenance, having been collected on Mount Tisouka, near Chechaouen in 1982, by an Arnold Arboretum expedition. It is making a good tree. There is clearly considerable variation in wild populations in Morocco, and names should perhaps be regarded with some suspicion. An old tree of unknown origin but considered to be var. marocana in the Hillier Gardens was measured at 15.5 m (47 cm dbh) in 2002 (Sir Harold Hillier Gardens database). As might be expected of a species from Spain and the Atlas, it will do well in drier conditions than most firs, but though it will grow on chalk, good soil will give the best results (Horsman 1984, Rushforth 1987a).