Index of Species Information
SPECIES: Abies fraseri
SPECIES: Abies fraseri
AUTHORSHIP AND CITATION :
Sullivan, Janet. 1993. Abies fraseri. In: Fire Effects Information System, [Online].
U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station,
Fire Sciences Laboratory (Producer). Available:
Abies balsamea (L.) Mill var. fraseri Nutt.
SCS PLANT CODE :
COMMON NAMES :
balsam Fraser fir
southern balsam fir
The accepted scientific name for Fraser fir is Abies fraseri (Pursh.)
Poiret. It is a member of the family Pinaceae and is very closely
related to balsam fir (A. balsamea) . Fir trees in Virginia and
West Virginia are intermediate between balsam fir and Fraser fir; the
putative hybrid is recognized as Abies x phanerolepis (Fern.) Liu
(synonymous with Abies intermedia Full.) [18,20].
LIFE FORM :
FEDERAL LEGAL STATUS :
No special status
OTHER STATUS :
DISTRIBUTION AND OCCURRENCE
SPECIES: Abies fraseri
GENERAL DISTRIBUTION :
Fraser fir is restricted to disjunct populations at higher elevations in
the southern Appalachian Mountains of southwestern Virginia, western
North Carolina, and eastern Tennessee .
FRES11 Spruce - fir
NC TN VA
BLM PHYSIOGRAPHIC REGIONS :
KUCHLER PLANT ASSOCIATIONS :
K097 Southeastern spruce - fir forest
SAF COVER TYPES :
17 Pin cherry
30 Red spruce - yellow birch
32 Red spruce
34 Red spruce - Fraser fir
SRM (RANGELAND) COVER TYPES :
HABITAT TYPES AND PLANT COMMUNITIES :
At the highest elevations Fraser fir forms nearly pure stands; American
mountain ash (Sorbus americana) is usually its only canopy associate.
At mid- and lower elevations Fraser fir occurs with eastern hemlock
(Tsuga canadensis), yellow buckeye (Aesculus octandra), and sugar maple
(Acer saccharum). Mountain maple (A. spicatum), striped maple (A.
pensylvanicum), and serviceberry (Amelanchier spp) are common understory
associates. Shrub associates include hobblebush (Viburnum alnifolium),
witherod (V. cassinoides), redberry elder (Sambucus pubens), southern
mountain cranberry (Vaccinium erythrocarpum), catawba rhodendron
(Rhodendron catawbiense), and smooth blackberry (Rubus canadensis)
[2,21]. In red spruce-Fraser fir forests, Fraser fir typically makes up
10 to 70 percent of the relative basal area and from 20 to 90 percent of
the relative density .
Publications that name Fraser fir as a dominant or codominant species in
forest classifications include the following:
Ground vegetation patterns of the spruce-fir area of the Great Smoky
Mountains National Park 
Vegetation of the Great Smoky Mountains 
SPECIES: Abies fraseri
WOOD PRODUCTS VALUE :
Its limited distribution and occurrence in inaccessible habitats renders
Fraser fir of little economic importance for timber .
IMPORTANCE TO LIVESTOCK AND WILDLIFE :
The red squirrel eats the seeds and the terminal buds of Fraser fir .
Compared with other species used as ornamentals, Fraser fir is ranked
low in preference for white-tailed deer .
NUTRITIONAL VALUE :
COVER VALUE :
VALUE FOR REHABILITATION OF DISTURBED SITES :
OTHER USES AND VALUES :
The primary value of Fraser fir is for watershed protection and scenic
attraction. Fraser fir is also grown for Christmas trees and is planted
as an ornamental .
OTHER MANAGEMENT CONSIDERATIONS :
Harvest methods that are recommended for Fraser fir include shelterwood
or group selection; single tree selection may also be feasible .
Fraser fir is subject to windthrow .
Diseases and infesting agents of Fraser fir include various heart rots,
root rots, and the twospotted spider mite. The worst problem, however,
is the introduced balsam woolly adelgid, which weakens trees and makes
them more susceptible to attack by other agents . Infestation by
balsam woolly adelgid was first noted in North Carolina in 1957.
Extensive mortality caused by balsam woolly adelgid infestations has
been noted since the 1960's; a large number of mature Fraser fir have
died as a result of this infestation. Many seedlings and saplings have
been killed or growth suppressed , although young Fraser fir have
not been found to support reproducing adults (early instar stages only)
. Dominance of red spruce and birch (Betula spp.) increases in
spruce-fir stands in North Carolina that have been damaged by this pest
. The continuing presence of Fraser fir in natural forests will
depend on a complex of survival, growth, and new reproduction. Current
seedlings will need to survive infestations, compete with a dense
understory of smooth blackberry, and reach reproductive age and height.
At present, seedlings are infested but appear to be overcoming the
effects. Smooth blackberry reduces the early survival of Fraser fir
seedlings, and decreases the number of suitable microsites for seedling
In some areas high levels of fir recruitment occur after balsam woolly
adelgid infestations .
Nitrogen fertilizers may enhance cone production. One study determined
that although nitrogen does appear to increase cone production, it is
usually not the limiting nutrient; phosphorus and magnesium are the most
limiting to cone yield .
BOTANICAL AND ECOLOGICAL CHARACTERISTICS
SPECIES: Abies fraseri
GENERAL BOTANICAL CHARACTERISTICS :
Fraser fir is a native, evergreen coniferous tree. It is small to
medium sized; the largest on record is 87 feet (26.5 m) tall and 34
inches (86 cm) d.b.h. The usual range is from 50 to 60 feet (15-18 m)
tall and less than 12 inches (30 cm) d.b.h. Average age at death is 150
Fraser fir is very shallow rooted . The bark is nearly smooth, with
blisters containing an oleoresin; the bark becomes more scaly on older
trunks. Pollen cones are usually less than 0.4 inch (1 cm) in length,
ovulate cones are 1.6 to 2.2 inches (4-5.5 cm) long .
RAUNKIAER LIFE FORM :
REGENERATION PROCESSES :
Sexual reproduction: Seed production in Fraser fir begins at about 15
years of age. Good seed crops are produced every other year, with light
crops in intervening years. Seeds are wind dispersed, with 50 percent
falling at least 900 feet (274 m) from the source; seeds can be carried
up to 1 mile (1.6 km) from the source .
Seed germination is good on mineral soil, moss, peat, and litter.
Decaying stumps and logs have higher than average rates of seedling
establishment and appear to be the best substrates for germination
[2,7,22]. Germination on surface litter usually results in seedling
mortality due to drought. Stratification does not enhance germination
rates . Seed longevity in the soil is unknown; viability may
decrease after only 1 year of artificial storage . Natural
reforestation is limited where harvesting or fire has opened canopies
and increased the rate of desiccation of the moss and peat layer .
Asexual reproduction: Fraser fir sometimes reproduces by layering when
lower branches come into contact with moist soil. This is not an
important reproductive mechanism .
SITE CHARACTERISTICS :
Fraser fir occurs in a cool-temperate, rain-forest climate with a
well-distributed mean annual precipitation ranging from 75 to 100 inches
(1,900-2,540 mm). Fog is present for 65 percent or more of the growing
season, actual moisture levels are therefore higher than measured
precipitation indicates .
Fraser fir occurs on soils with a wide variation in color, depth, and
amount of organic matter; they are usually shallow and rocky, and
bedrock is within 20 to 32 inches of the mineral soil . At upper
elevations where dense and stagnant stands have formed, soils are
usually podsolic and highly acidic. In a spruce-fir forest at 6,500
feet (1,980 m) in elevation, soil pH was 3.6 at the surface and 3.8 6
inches (15 cm) below the surface .
Fraser fir generally occurs at elevations ranging from 5,500 feet (1,676
m) to 6,684 feet (2,037 m). It may occur as low as 4,500 feet (1,372 m)
on north slopes and protected coves. At lower elevations, Fraser fir is
a minor component in spruce-fir forests; it increases in frequency with
SUCCESSIONAL STATUS :
Obligate Climax Species
Once established, Fraser fir seedlings grow best in full light. Fraser
fir is, however, very shade tolerant and can grow under dense canopies
in a suppressed state for many years. Under these conditions, Fraser
fir may only be 2 to 3 feet (0.6-0.9 m) in height after 20 years of
growth. In full sun, Fraser fir can be 8.2 feet (2.5 m) after 11 years.
When released after years of suppression, growth of Fraser fir can be
very rapid . Fraser fir often forms dense, stagnant pole-sized
stands at higher elevations .
In the red spruce-Fraser fir forests of the southern Appalachians,
windfalls that create small gaps (less than [200 sq m]) are the most
important and widely distributed disturbance, with a return interval of
111 to 178 years [7,29]. Gap capture is largely dependent on advance
reproduction; Fraser fir seedling and sapling densities are higher in
gaps than in the understory. There is a probable reciprocal replacement
between red spruce and Fraser fir . Similarly, in a study of the
dynamics of tree replacement in red spruce-Fraser fir forests, saplings
of Fraser fir were more numerous than those of red spruce, and were
found in higher densities under red spruce trees . Both species
require multiple release events in order to reach the canopy .
Fraser fir was found in late seral to climax communities developed
during primary succession on rocky slopes .
SEASONAL DEVELOPMENT :
Fraser fir cones open in mid-May to early June. Cones ripen from
September to mid-October, and seed dispersal follows maturation .
Reproductive bud differentiation coincides with rapid vegetative growth
and cone development .
SPECIES: Abies fraseri
FIRE ECOLOGY OR ADAPTATIONS :
Fraser fir occurs in habitats that are rarely subject to wildfire.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that forest fires often stop when they reach
the spruce-fir forest boundary . In the southern Appalachians, fuel
moistures and humidity are usually high, and therefore fires are not
intense or widespread [26,29].
FIRE REGIMES :
Find fire regime information for the plant communities in which this
species may occur by entering the species name in the FEIS home page under
"Find Fire Regimes".
POSTFIRE REGENERATION STRATEGY :
Tree without adventitious-bud root crown
Secondary colonizer - off-site seed
SPECIES: Abies fraseri
IMMEDIATE FIRE EFFECT ON PLANT :
Fraser fir is probably easily killed by fire . No specific
information on the intensity of fire needed to kill Fraser fir is
DISCUSSION AND QUALIFICATION OF FIRE EFFECT :
PLANT RESPONSE TO FIRE :
In 1955, an escaped campfire burned approximately one acre of red
spruce-Fraser fir forest in the Plott Balsam Mountains of western North
Carolina. The community was sampled in the early 1980's and was found
to have a tree layer similar in composition to that of postharvest,
second-growth spruce-fir stands that have been recovering for 30 to 50
years. Density and basal area of trees were lower than in the
postharvest communities. Fraser fir was of greater importance than red
spruce. Pin cherry (Prunus pensylvanica) was of greater importance in
the postfire community than expected, contributing to a reduced amount
of reproduction. The reproduction layer was dominated by Fraser fir and
yellow birch (Betula alleghaniensis), indicating that the site had not
yet fully recovered. Other plant species were found to differ from
those that typically occur in logged or logged and burned red
spruce-Fraser fir forests. Return to a closed-canopy Fraser fir-red
spruce-yellow birch forest is estimated to require many more decades.
The authors speculated that severe fires on steep rocky sites followed
by poor regeneration may be instrumental in the formation of shrubby
heath balds .
The most common, immediate postfire invaders in red spruce-Fraser fir
forests are pin cherry, American mountain-ash, and yellow birch.
Hobblebush and smooth blackberry can form very dense patches after fire
disturbance. In a red spruce-Fraser fir postfire community in the Great
Smoky Mountains National Park, yellow birch and pin cherry were still
dominant after 30 years. Fraser fir and red spruce were slow to
establish, and were represented by a few scattered 5- to 10-foot tall
(1.5-3 m) individuals .
DISCUSSION AND QUALIFICATION OF PLANT RESPONSE :
FIRE MANAGEMENT CONSIDERATIONS :
SPECIES: Abies fraseri
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nutritional influences on cone production in Fraser fir. Soil Science
Society of America Journal. 56(2): 586-591. 
2. Beck, Donald E. 1990. Abies fraseri (Pursh) Poir. Fraser fir. In:
Burns, Russell M.; Honkala, Barbara H., technical coordinators. Silvics
of North America. Volume 1. Conifers. Agric. Handb. 654. Washington, DC:
U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service: 47-51. 
3. Busing, Richard T.; Clebsch, Edward E. C.; Eagar, Christopher C.;
Pauley, Eric F. 1988. Two decades of change in a Great Smoky Mountains
spruce-fir forest. Bulletin of the Torrey Botanical Club. 115(1): 25-31.
4. Cain, Stanley A. 1931. Ecological studies of the vegetation of the Great
Smoky Mountains of North Carolina and Tennessee. Botanical Gazette. 91:
5. Cogbill, C. V.; White, P. S. 1991. The latitude-elevation relationship
for spruce-fir forest and treeline along the Appalachian mountain chain.
Vegetatio. 94(2): 153-175. 
6. Conover, M. R.; Kania, G. S. 1988. Browsing preference of white-tailed
deer for different ornamental species. Wildlife Society Bulletin. 16:
7. Crandall, Dorothy L. 1958. Ground vegetation patterns of the spruce-fir
area of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Ecological Monographs.
28(4): 337-360. 
8. DeSelm, H. R.; Boner, R. R. 1984. Understory changes in spruce-fir
during the first 16-20 years following the death of fir. In: White,
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White, Peter S., ed. Southern Appalachian spruce-fir ecosystem: its
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Gatlinburg, TN: U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service,
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16. Jacobs, Brian F.; Werth, Charles R.; Guttman, Sheldon I. 1984. Genetic
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the vascular flora of the United States, Canada, and Greenland. Volume
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Carolina Press; in confederation with Anne H. Lindsey and C. Richie
Bell, North Carolina Botanical Garden. 500 p. 
18. Klaehn, F. U.; Winieski, J. A. 1962. Interspecific hybridization in the
genus Abies. Silvae Genetica. 11: 130-142. 
19. Kuchler, A. W. 1964. Manual to accompany the map of potential vegetation
of the conterminous United States. Special Publication No. 36. New York:
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and naturalized). Agric. Handb. 541. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of
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21. Oosting, H. J.; Billings, W. D. 1951. A comparison of virgin spruce-fir
forest in the northern and southern Appalachian system. Ecology. 32(1):
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compiler. Abstracts, 15th annual scientific research meeting, 1989 May
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the vascular flora of the Carolinas. Chapel Hill, NC: The University of
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southern Appalachians. Forest Science. 15(3): 238-245. 
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27. Stickney, Peter F. 1989. Seral origin of species originating in northern
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29. White, Peter S.; MacKenzie, Mark D.; Busing, Richard T. 1985. Natural
disturbance and gap phase dynamics in southern Appalachian spruce-fir
forests. Canadian Journal of Forest Research. 15: 233-240. 
30. Whittaker, R. H. 1956. Vegetation of the Great Smoky Mountains.
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