Thursday, December 11, 2014

'Tis The Season For Fraser Firs!

Immature cones on Fraser fir (Abies fraseri), photographed in spring at
the South Seattle College Arboretum.
I don't recall any mention in the Outlander books of Claire and Jamie having a Christmas tree. But if they did, you can be sure it would have been a Fraser fir.

Fraser firs are native to the Appalachian Mountains, in an area that includes western North Carolina, which is known to Outlander fans as the location of Fraser's Ridge. (I am NOT making this up.)

The trees are named, not for our beloved Jamie, but for the intrepid Scottish botanist, John Fraser, who explored the region in the 1780s and early 1800s. He trekked through areas no European had gone before, collecting plants that he sent back to his nursery in London, where they were propagated and introduced into the local landscape trade. Those plants included the firs that bear his name.

Here are some fun facts about Fraser firs:
  • Fraser fir is the official Christmas tree of North Carolina.
  • Fraser firs have been used more often than any other tree as the official White House Christmas tree by Presidents of the United States.
  • Steve Jobs had two fresh cut Fraser firs set up and decorated in the windows of every Apple store in the world at Christmastime in 2009.
  • Fraser firs are one of the most desirable Christmas trees in the world because of their shape, fragrance and tendency to hold onto their needles long after being cut. 
  • Fraser firs are grown on plantations in Scotland and sold throughout the UK and Ireland.  

Botanical Information

Family: Pinaceae
Genus: Abies
Species: Abies fraseri
Common name: Fraser fir, she-balsam, and sometimes (incorrectly) balsam fir, which is closely related (A. balsamea)

Fraser firs like acid soil and a cool, moist climate. They are well adapted in the UK and parts of Canada. They have a conical growth habit in youth, opening to a nearly parallel branching pattern as they age. They reach a maximum height of 30 - 50 feet. Unlike other conifers, firs, including the Fraser fir, hold their cones upright (as you see in the photo at the top of the page).

These trees are highly susceptible to attack by a non-native insect called the balsam wooly adelgid. This invasive species made its way from Europe to the US in the early 1900s. In the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, adelgids have destroyed 95% of the Fraser firs, creating what are called "ghost forests" of dead tree trunks.

Fortunately, there has been rapid regrowth of these trees with new seedlings replacing trees that have been lost. The future of the trees is uncertain, however. As Fraser firs mature, their bark begins to develop fissures which allow insects to penetrate. Perhaps it is best to cut them for Christmas trees before the insects get them, aye?

So there you have it Outlander fans. If you are shopping for a Christmas tree, you now know what kind to buy. As I always say - the thing about being an Outlander fan is that pretty soon everything in your life seems connected to a plot line or character from one of the books. And that includes Christmas trees.

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