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Tree to 40 m, to 1 m dbh. Bark smooth, grey-brown with numerous resin blisters in young trees, breaking into plates in older trees. Crown narrow, pyramidical or conical. Branchlets slender, firm, yellowish grey or pale brown, then grey with age; densely pubescent though glabrous later; leaf scars small, circular; vegetative buds densely resinous. Leaves spirally arranged, 1.3–3 cm × 0.15 cm, apex emarginate to acute. Male strobili lateral and crowded on the underside of the shoot, 1.5 cm long, yellow with red microsporophylls. Female cones erect, nearly sessile, cylindrical, apex obtuse, 5–7.5 × 2.5–3.5 cm, purpleblue when immature, blue-brown or greenish brown when mature. Seed scales flabellate, 1–1.2 cm long. Bract scales included, short and rounded, 0.8 cm long with a tiny cusp. Seeds brown and cuneate, wings broad-cuneate, 1–1.2 cm long. Farjon 1990, Fu et al. 1999c. Distribution CHINA: Xinjiang; RUSSIAN FEDERATION: Amur, Buryatiya, Chita, Irkutsk, Itay, Khabarovsk, Krasnoyarsk, Tuva, West Siberia, Yakutiya. Habitat One of the characteristic tree species of the taiga, together with Picea obovata and Larix gmelinii. Occurs between 0 and 2000 m asl, on alluvial (and calcareous) soils. USDA Hardiness Zone 2. Conservation status Lower Risk. Illustration Liu 1971, Farjon 1990, Fu et al. 1999c; NT44, NT59. Cross-references B160, K44.
Bean’s rather cursory note on Abies sibirica (1976a) was probably appropriate, as this species does not do well in the British Isles and needs a colder climate to thrive. The new growth is very prone to spring frosts, which cripple the tree early in life. In the British Isles a few specimens have straggled up to 10 m and some even beyond this, the largest recorded being a 14 m (30 cm dbh) tree at Abbeyleix, Co. Laois, although this was in a poor state when measured in 2000 (TROI). The species may be worth trying in the United States in the upper Midwest, or in Canada, but the experience at Rogów is that although it can be fast-growing it is weak and short-lived, with damage to new shoots from spring frosts (P. Banaszczak, pers. comm. 2007).
This subspecies has yellow-brown branchlets with prominent ridges and grooves, and the buds are less resinous than in the type. The resin canals are marginal (medial in subsp. sibirica) and the cones are yellowish brown, with broader bract scales. Farjon 1990. Distribution KYRGYZSTAN: western Tien Shan. Habitat North slopes of mountains or steep valleys between 1300 and 2850 m asl. USDA Hardiness Zone 2. Conservation status Vulnerable. Illustration Liu 1971.
Seed of subsp. semenovii collected by John Silba in the Tien Shan in 1989 is the only introduction of this taxon that we can trace, but material seems to have been disseminated quite widely. For Keith Rushforth (pers. comm. 2007) in Devon it has proved hardier than subsp. sibirica, which has died out for him, subsp. semenovii by contrast having grown, slowly, to almost 2 m (in 15 years). At Howick two specimens planted in 1992 are about 2.5 m tall, and although not damaged by frost, have been reluctant to form good leaders (C. Howick, pers. comm. 2007). There is also a small tree at Wakehurst Place.