The Fraser fir tree is a fir species that is native to the Appalachian mountains of the southeastern United States. This tree is very closely related to the Balsam fir tree (abies balsamea) and is sometimes considered as being a subspecies.
Fraser firs are sometimes misspelled Frazier, Frasier, or Frazer; but the tree is named after the Scottish botanist, John Fraser. John Fraser is known for making numerous botanical collections in North America and bringing them to Europe in the early 18th century.
Here is a very strange fact about the Fraser fir: it has also be nicknamed “she-balsam”. Why? Because the resinous blisters that naturally occur on the bark can be “milked”. It is doubtful that there is a weirder background story about a tree name.
Whether you’re looking to brush up on your tree identification skills, you’re wondering what should be the next tree to plant in your garden, or you’re just feeling curious about trees, we’ve got you covered! 101 Types of Trees is a compiled list of trees from all over the world. We cover fruit trees, tall trees, small trees, rare trees, common trees.
Related: Douglas Fir Tree | Balsam Fir Tree
What is a Fraser Fir Tree?
Fir trees are known for having two kinds of root systems. First, they will develop a taproot (which they have in common with carrots) that grows very deep in the earth. This taproot delays the height growth of the tree, but it allows the tree to access moisture deep in the soil. This is important for fir trees as they tend to grow in dry areas.
Once the taproot is developed, lateral roots will then grow from the taproot and grow up to 7 times as wide as the canopy of the tree. This enables the tree to stay strong and upright in harsh windy conditions.
Fraser firs are quite short relative to some of their botanical siblings. They will only reach heights between 10 and 15 meters, with a trunk diameter between 16 and 20 inches. For reference, the noble fir tree can grow to be over 70 meters tall!
The Fraser fir tree has a very narrow conical crown. Branches grow horizontally and either straight or at an upward angle. The crown will be very dense and compact in a young tree, and it will open up as it matures. Fraser fir trees are one of the most popular choices of a Christmas tree, so just picture that iconic shape!
Young trees will have thin and smooth bark that is a dark gray/brown color. Young trees will also be covered in resin blisters (remember that creepy nickname we mentioned in the intro?). Mature trees develop scales and fissures and the bark will deepen in color.
Fraser fir trees grow needle-like leaves. These needles are arranged spirally along a twig and form two rows. A needle is less than an inch long. It is flat, and flexible with a slightly rounded tip, making it not so pointy (another desirable quality for a Christmas tree).
These conifer needles will not drop or change color as they persist on the tree. The topside is a dark to glaucous green color with a silvery underside. It is said that Fraser fir needles have a similar scent to turpentine.
How do Fraser Fir Trees Reproduce?
Fir trees are monoecious, meaning that they possess both male cones (pollen-producing) and female cones (ovule-producing) on the same tree. However, this does not mean that the tree will engage in self-pollination, as that lowers the genetic diversity of a species and can make them more susceptible to damage and pests.
A female cone is borne within the top tier of the tree crown. They are cylindrical in shape and 1-3 inches in length. They occur on the distal end of branches. A seed cone will emerge a dark purple color and eventually mature into a light brown. They are covered in bract scales that remain open to receive the pollen.
A male cone is borne in the bottom third of the tree crown. Pollen cones are a similar shape, size, and color to seed cones. They are also covered in open bract scales to release pollen.
Once a seed cone is fertilized, it will close as it matures. Once it is completely mature, usually between 4 and 6 months after pollination, it will slowly disintegrate in order to release the winged seeds for dispersal.
Fraser fir trees take about 7-10 years to reach 2 meters in height. Shortly after that, around the age of 15, they will start seed production. This isn’t too late in the game, as the Fraser fir tree has a life expectancy of 150-200 years. However, this isn’t completely ideal for Christmas tree farmers as they must wait a long time before a Frazer fir population is ready to be harvested.
Seeds will germinate very readily in mineral soil. Seedlings develop in moss, peat, forest litter, and decaying logs.
What are Some Other Fir Species?
The Balsam Fir Tree (Abies Balsamea)
Balsam fir trees are very closely related to Fraser fir trees. They are native to eastern and central Canada, as well as the northeastern United States. They are small to medium trees, gaining heights of up to 20 meters. They are also a popular choice of Christmas tree and have traditionally been using for medicinal and therapeutic purposes as well.
The Canaan Fir Tree (Abies Balsamea var. Phanerolepsis)
Canaan fir trees are a naturally occurring hybrid between the Balsam fir and the Fraser fir. Their name is derived from their impressive range that occurs in the Canaan Valley of West Virginia. They also grow in the southern Appalachian mountains. They are medium-sized trees reaching 25 meters, with similar needle formations.
The Concolor Fir Tree (Abies Concolor)
Concolor fir trees also referred to as the white fir tree, are native to the mountainous regions of North America. They only occur at high elevations. They are an extremely large tree, gaining heights of up to 75 meters, and their name comes from the distinct monochromatic pattern of their inner wood, bark, and foliage — concolor meaning all one color.
The Noble Fir Tree (Abies Procera)
Also known as being a red fir tree, noble fir trees are native to western North America. They occur at high altitudes only and have significant ranges in the Cascade range and the coastal range mountains of California and Oregon. They are very large trees, reaching heights up to 70 meters.
Where do Fraser Fir Trees Grow?
Fraser fir trees have a very restricted natural growing range. They only exist naturally in the southern Appalachian mountains of southwestern Virginia, in western North Carolina, and eastern Tennessee.
These trees only occur at high elevations, usually between 1200 and 2030 meters in altitude. They have been cultivated and naturalized all over the northern United States, up into southern Canada, and to Ireland, the United Kingdom, and Scotland as well.
They can often be found growing alongside the following tree species:
- carolina hemlock (tsuga caroliniana)
- paper birch (betula papyrifera)
- yellow birch (betula alleghaniensis)
- red spruce (Picea Rubens)
- Norway spruce (Picea abies)
- blue spruce (Picea pungens)
- scotch pine (pinus sylvestris)
- sugar maple (Acer saccharum)
What are the Growing Conditions of Fraser Fir Trees?
With such a limited growing range, it is clear that the Fraser fir tree has specific growing requirements, especially when it comes to soil. They prefer to grow in sandy loam soil that is moist, well-drained, and acidic.
Fraser fir trees are tolerant to full sun conditions, partial shade, or full shade.
Fraser firs prefer to live in climates that are on the cool side. They are very prosperous in regions that experience cool, short, and moist summers, and cold winters with heavy precipitation.
What Pests Affect Fraser Fir Trees?
The main damaging effect for the Fraser fir tree is damage from the balsam wooly adelgid (Adelges piceae). This is a noninvasive insect that effectively destroyed 80% of mature Fraser fir trees that grow in the wild.
However, young trees have been able to recover the population, as openings in the canopy where mature Fraser firs once stood allow for seedlings to grow more quickly. Unfortunately, once the young trees mature enough to develop fissures in their bark, there is a high chance that they too will be killed by the balsam wooly adelgid.
Because of this infestation, Fraser fir trees are now on the endangered list, along with a couple of other members of their forest ecosystem. Moss populations have declined because of the unexpected sun exposure on the forest floor, which in turn has endangered the population of the spruce-fir moss spider which lives in the moss.
How are Fraser Fir Trees Used?
The Fraser fir tree has very quickly become one of the most popular and perfect tree options as a holiday season Christmas tree. This is because of their dense pyramid shape, their strong branches (that can hold heavier ornaments and lots of Christmas lights), soft needles that stay for longer on the tree, and pleasant scent.
Fraser firs are used more than any other tree as a Christmas tree, and has been used more times as the White House Christmas tree as well!