What are the Different Types of Fir Trees?

Mary Elizabeth
Mary Elizabeth

The term fir trees has at least three separate and distinct meanings. First of all, fir trees in scientific terminology refers to the 40 species of the genus Abies. The pine family, of which the firs are members, contains 11 general in all and has 210 species. Second of all, fir trees is commonly used by lay people to refer to any coniferous evergreen. And third, fir trees is used to designate artificial Christmas trees of any type.

Most species of fir trees are found in and west of the Rocky Mountains.
Most species of fir trees are found in and west of the Rocky Mountains.

In scientific categorization, fir trees are actually in a separate category from other trees in the pine family, which includes, pines, firs, larches, etc. They can be distinguished by their leaves, often called needles. A true fir’s needles grow out of the branch and leave scars on the branch when they fall. Cones grow upright, with each scale holding two seeds. When the cones fall, they leave a small, upright attachment on the branch. Other pines have different leaf and cone arrangements.

Douglas firs are the most common kind of Christmas trees, although they are not a true fir tree.
Douglas firs are the most common kind of Christmas trees, although they are not a true fir tree.

There are 12 species of fir trees native to the United, most are found mainly in and west of the Rocky Mountains. The ten western first include four that can grow as tall as 200 feet (60 m), including the California red fir, the noble fir, the Pacific silver fir, and the white fir. The wood of western firs is of lower quality than pine and spruce. In the eastern United States, as well as in Canada, one finds the balsam fir, which is one of the most popular choices for Christmas trees and other ornamental use. The balsam fir characteristically grows to a height of between 40 and 60 feet (12 to 18 m).

Fir trees also grow in other parts of the world, including Central America, Europe, northern Africa, and Asia. An example of a species native to Europe and Asia is the silver fir. Used for ornamental purposes as well as timber, it grows to 150 feet (45 m). Not only is its wood used for carpentry, but it is also used as a source of turpentine and pitch.

People may be surprised to learn that the Douglas fir is not a true fir, although it is, of course, in the pine family. The Douglas fir comprises more or less six species of pine tree that are found in Western North America and eastern Asia. The tree species most commonly called by this name is, like the balsam fir, a popular Christmas tree.

A fir Christmas tree may feature a tree skirt.
A fir Christmas tree may feature a tree skirt.
Mary Elizabeth
Mary Elizabeth

Mary Elizabeth is passionate about reading, writing, and research, and has a penchant for correcting misinformation on the Internet. In addition to contributing articles to wiseGEEK about art, literature, and music, Mary Elizabeth is a teacher, composer, and author. She has a B.A. from the University of Chicago’s writing program and an M.A. from the University of Vermont, and she has written books, study guides, and teacher materials on language and literature, as well as music composition content for Sibelius Software.

You might also Like

Readers Also Love

Discussion Comments


How do you choose the right fir tree for a hotel? I am the manager at a hotel in my city, and the boss wants us to have Christmas trees up in the lobby.

He says he wants real ones, but first of all, I don't know where anyone would have fir trees for sale in November, and secondly, I think that a real fir tree would just be a pain to clean up after.

Do you know of any species of Christmas fir trees that tend to drop less needles, or that are particularly easy to care for? If not, I'm just going with the artificial fir tree. There's no way I'm vacuuming up a thousand little Christmas tree needles every morning!


Very interesting article -- I had no idea there were that many kinds of fir trees. I mean, sure I had heard of fraser fir trees and Christmas fir trees (of course), but I never knew that there were so many other species.

I guess that I'll have to rethink my stance on the simplicity of identifying fir trees. Before I just kind of assumed that whichever trees had the needles and looking kind of Christmas-like were firs -- but now I know better!

Thanks for the informative article; I'll definitely be keeping it in mind next time I go out on a nature walk.


Oh, I do love fir trees. I have a friend who grows Christmas fir trees; she's got a fir tree nursery, and I love just walking through the nursery in December.

I am definitely one of those people who has to have the live fir tree for Christmas -- no artificial fir trees in my house! There's just something about the smell of a fir tree that really smells like Christmas, don't you think?

Although I don't have the green thumb for growing fir trees myself, I sure do appreciate them. Christmas just wouldn't be the same without them.


My sister gave me a white fir tree. Does anyone know how to properly care for one? I've never tried to grow one before and I'm not quite sure how to.

Post your comments
Forgot password?