Practical ecological knowledge for the temperate reader.

Abies grandis - Grand Fir

Habitat / Range

"Moist to mesic slopes and river terraces in the lowland and montane zones; frequent in SW BC, infrequent in SC BC; S to N CA, ID, W MT, SE WA and NE OR." [IFBC-E-flora]


"Abies grandis is an evergreen Tree growing to 75 m (246ft) by 8 m (26ft) at a fast rate.
It is hardy to zone (UK) 6 and is not frost tender. It is in leaf 12-Jan, and the seeds ripen from Sep to October. The flowers are monoecious (individual flowers are either male or female, but both sexes can be found on the same plant) and are pollinated by Wind.
Suitable for: light (sandy), medium (loamy) and heavy (clay) soils and can grow in heavy clay soil. Suitable pH: acid and neutral soils. It can grow in full shade (deep woodland) semi-shade (light woodland) or no shade. It prefers moist soil. The plant can tolerates strong winds but not maritime exposure.
It cannot tolerate atmospheric pollution." [PFAF]

This is a tall evergreen, coniferous, tree species that is found from southern British Columbia (primarily southwestern BC) south to northern California.[IFBC-E-flora]

Status; Native.[E-flora]
General: Tall, straight tree, up to 80 m tall; bark greyish to light brown, with resin blisters, smooth to shallowly ridged, becoming flaky; branches flattened and spray-like. [IFBC-E-flora]
Leaves: Needles flat, rounded and usually notched at the tip; dark green and shallowly grooved above, having two distinct whitish bands of stomata below; definitely spreading horizontally, 2-4 (5) cm long. [IFBC-E-flora]
Cones: Seed cones erect, yellowish-green to green, 6-11 cm long, 3.5-4 cm thick, the bracts deciduous; pollen cones yellowish. [IFBC-E-flora]

USDA Blooming Period: Late Spring
USDA Fruit/Seed characteristics:

Ecological Indicator Information
"A shade-tolerant to shade-intolerant, submontane to montane, Western North American evergreen conifer distributed less in the Pacific than the Cordilleran region. Occurs in cool temperate and cool mesothermal climates; its occurrence decreases with increasing latitude, precipitation, and elevation. Grows in mixed-species stands (usually with Douglas-fir or western redcedar) on water-shedding and water-receiving sites. Tolerates fluctuating groundwater tables. Most productive on submontane, fresh to moist, nutrient-rich (alluvial and seepage) sites. Characteristic of nutrient-rich sites." [IPBC][E-flora]


Alopecia; Anodyne; Boil; Bruise; Canker; Cold; Collyrium; Cough; Dandruff; Gingivitis; Laxative; Pertussis; Psoriasis; Rejuvenation; Side; Skin; Sore; Stomach; Tonic; Tuberculosis; Wound [Duke]


Used as a tea plant [Turner,Davis]

"This tree was well known among the Kwakiutl for its medicinal value. Wilson (1969) has taken a tonic made from the bark every day since he can remember. He claims it keeps him young and strong. (When we talked to him, he was 75, but looked about 50. His youngest child was 10). The green bark is brought to a boil and allowed to stand overnight. Dried bark can also be used, but it must be broken into small pieces first.
Pitch collected from the small blisters on the young trees was used in many ways. It was mixed with water, boiled, and taken as a tonic and laxative, or for coughs and tuberculosis (Roberts, 1969; Brown, 1969; Cranmer, 1969; King, 1972). It was mixed with oulachen grease and eaten or rubbed on sores and boils (Brown, 1969). Sometimes for tuberculosis it was rubbed on a person's chest and back and left until it dropped off, or "until all the medicine was gone" (op. cir. ). It was also heated, mixed with catfish oil, and taken twice a day for constipation (Boas, 1966). Sometimes the root was held in the mouth to cure gum boils and canker sores (op. cit. ).
Grand fir branches were also used in Kwakiutl purification rites. A person would scrub his body with them until he was bleeding (Boas, 1935). In the winter ceremonials, the Cannibal Dancer of the Wolves rubbed the pollen all over his body (op. cir. ). Koskimo shamans wore head and neck rings of this tree (Boas, 1966)" [Turner&Bell]

"The pitch from the blisters of this tree was often rubbed on canoe paddles and other wooden articles, then scorched to provide a good finish (Barnett, 1955). According to Paul (1968), an infusion of the bark of the roots made an excellent hair tonic for falling hair and dandruff. It was prepared by pounding the bark from the roots, then steeping it in warm water. The resulting fluid was then rubbed into the scalp. Mr. Paul's late wife, a Nanaimo woman, sold a great deal of this hair tonic.
The Saanich mixed the pitch of this and other conifer species with venison suet, then rubbed this ointment on the skin to cure psoriasis and other skin diseases and to salve cuts and bruises (Paul, 1968). The Songish Indians warmed grand fir branches and applied them to the stomach and sides as a remedy for pains in those regions (Boas, 1890)." [Turner&Bell]

Ten Barks Medicine

It is part of the "ten barks" medicine used to treat TB and scrophula sores. This remedy contains; "Abies grandis (long strip of bark); Amelanchier alnifolia (strip of bark); Arbutus menziesii (long strip of bark, about 60 cm); Cornus nuttallii (strip of bark); Malus fusca (strip of bark); Oemleria cerasifonnis (stick about 30 cm long; said to work on your blood); Populus tremuloides (long strip of bark); Prunus emarginata (strip of bark from bottom part of tree); Rhamnus purshiana (strip of bark); Salix lasiandra (“Pussy Willow”; long strip of bark); and (possibly) Tsuga heterophylla (strip of bark; suggested during one interview as an ingredient by EC)." [Turner1990]

"Cut barks and sticks into piece, and boil together with a piece of rhizome of Polypodium glycyrriza about 20 cm long, preferably growing on a trunk or branch of Acer macrophyllum. (The rhizome was considered a sweetener, but also to have some medicinal properties" [Turner1990]

"Boil the materials for a long time, until the liquid is black and "really strong". Pour into sterilized jars. Cool to room temperature. Have patient drink about 250 ml (1 cup) per day until medicine is used up. Continue preparation and use as required, until affliction is healed." [Turner1990]


"Prefers a good moist but not water-logged soil[1]. Grows well in heavy clay soils and succeeds in poor sandy soils[185]. Very shade tolerant, especially when young, but growth is slower in dense shade[81]. Intolerant of atmospheric pollution[1]. Trees succeeds in very exposed positions, even if the top is blown out by the wind the trees make one or more new tops and continue growing with no loss of vigour[11, 185]. Prefers slightly acid conditions down to a pH of about 5[200]. Prefers growing on a north-facing slope[200]. This species thrives exceedingly well in the moister parts of Britain, where it grows very quickly[11]. It is cultivated for timber in W. and N. Europe[50]. Trees are slow growing for the first few years but they are then quite fast with trees growing 60 - 100cm in height and 8cm in girth per year even when they are quite large[1, 185]. New growth takes place from early May to July[185]. Trees grow best in the Perthshire valleys of Scotland and in the far west of Britain[11]. Some trees have reached heights in excess of 60 metres in 100 years in Wales and Scotland, making them amongst the tallest trees in Europe[200]. A very ornamental plant[1], it is rarely harmed by disease, insects or frost[1]. The crushed leaves have a fruity orange-flavoured aroma[185]. Trees should be planted into their permanent positions when they are quite small, between 30 and 90cm in height. Larger trees will check badly and hardly put on any growth for several years. This also badly affects root development and wind resistance[200]. Plants are strongly outbreeding, self-fertilized seed usually grows poorly[200]. They hybridize freely with other members of this genus[200]." [PFAF]


"Seed - sow early February in a greenhouse or outdoors in March[78]. Germination is often poor, usually taking about 6 - 8 weeks[78]. Stratification is said to produce a more even germination so it is probably best to sow the seed in a cold frame as soon as it is ripe in the autumn[80, 113]. The seed remains viable for up to 5 years if it is well stored[113]. When large enough to handle, prick the seedlings out into individual pots and grow them on for at least their first winter in pots. Plant them out into their permanent positions in late spring or early summer, after the last expected frosts. Alternatively, if you have sufficient seed, it is possible to sow in an outdoor seedbed. One report says that it is best to grow the seedlings on in the shade at a density of about 550 plants per square metre[78] whilst another report says that they are best grown on in a sunny position[80]." [PFAF]


Further Reading

  1. [Duke], Accessed Dec 23, 2014
  2. [E-flora] grandis&redblue=Both&lifeform=1, Accessed Jan 12, 2015
  3. [] - Material obtained from Plants For A Future Database,, Accessed Jan 12, 2015

Page last modified on Wednesday, June 3, 2020 9:17 AM