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Abies (bifolia)

Tara Luna
USDI NPS - Glacier National Park
West Glacier, Montana 59936
(406) 888-7835

Family Scientific Name: Pinaceae
Family Common Name: Pine family
Scientific Name: Abies bifolia A. Murray
Common Synonym: Abies lasiocarpa Nutt.
Common Name: Subalpine fir
Species Code: ABIBIF
Ecotype: Subalpine fir forest, Lunch Creek, 2038 m elev.ÿ
General Distribution: A. bifolia occurs from 800 m to treeline; from Alaska and the Yukon south to Oregon, east to central Idaho, Montana, and south to New Mexico and Arizona.A. bifolia is the Rocky Mountain segregate of A. lasiocarpa based on minor chemical and morphological features.
Propagation Goal: plants
Propagation Method: seed
ProductType: Container (plug)
Stock Type: 172 ml conetainers
Time To Grow: 2 Years
Target Specifications: Stock Type: Container seedling. Height: 3.5 cm. Caliper: 5 mm. Root System: Firm plug in container.
Propagule Collection: Cones are hand collected in early to mid September using cone picking poles when cones turn purple and begin to dehisce. Seed fill rates are usually low with this genus. Thus, large quantities of cones must be collected and carefully screened to obtain adequate amount of filled seeds.
Fir seeds undergo 2 stages of ripening. The first involves movement of materials from the cone scale to the seed. The second involves after-ripening of the seeds. For this reason, seeds must not be extracted from the cones immediately after collection. Cones are kept in burlap bags for several weeks in a well ventilated drying shed prior to cleaning. During storage, burlap sacks of cones must be inspected and turned once per week to facilitate evening curing and drying.
Propagule Processing: Once cones have cured, disintegrated cones can be tumbled or passed over screens to separate seeds from cone scales. Abies seeds are fragile and can be easily damaged during de-winging. Small lots can be gently de-winged by hand.
Seed longevity: up to 5 years at 0C in sealed containers.
Seed dormancy is classified as physiological dormancy.
Seeds/Kg: 76,000/ kg
% Purity: 100%
% Germination: 25% to 47%
Pre-Planting Treatments: 60 to 100 day naked cold, moist stratification.Glacier National Park seed sources are often collected at treeline, thus we use longer periods of cold , moist stratification than what is recommended for this species.
Running water soaks for 24 to 48 hours, or longer water soaks when water is changed daily, are often used to clean seeds of pathogens.
After fir seeds have been fully imbibed in water, they can be cold, moist stratified using naked stratification method. Naked stratification involves placing seeds in cheesecloth netting and suspending the cheesecloth bag inside a plastic bag with a small amount of water in the bottom. Bags are stratified at 1.6 to 2.7ø C (35 to 37ø F) for 38 to 60 days. Following stratification, seeds are sown at their fully imbibed state.
Growing Area Preparation/
Annual Practices for Perennial Crops:
Greenhouse and outdoor nursery growing facility.
Sowing Method: Light reduced germination of stratified seeds of subalpine fir, thus stratified seeds must be covered with thin layer of grit after sowing.
Growing medium used is 6:1:1 milled sphagnum peat, perlite, and vermiculite with Osmocote controlled release fertilizer (13N:13P2O5:13K2O; 8 to 9 month release rate at 21C) and Micromax fertilizer (12%S, 0.1%B, 0.5%Cu, 12%Fe, 2.5%Mn, 0.05%Mo, 1%Zn) at the rate of 1 gram of Osmocote and 0.20 gram of Micromax per 172 ml conetainer.
Greenhouse temperatures are maintained at 21 to 25C during the day and 16 to 18C at night. However, higher rates of germination are obtained with high elevation seed sources using lower greenhouse germination temperatures> If possible, set greenhouse temperatures at 10 to 16C during the day or plant germinants as they break dormancy at temperatures slightly above freezing during stratification in the refrigerator. The latter method will result in a non-uniform crop and requires that seeds are check for germinants daily and these are planted immediately. Under natural conditions, seeds of high elevation sources germinate during snow melt at temperatures slightly above freezing.
Seedlings are misted twice per day during germination and remain in greenhouse until mid May. Seedlings are then moved to outdoor nursery for the remainder of the growing season. Seedlings are irrigated with Rainbird automatic irrigation system in early morning until containers are thoroughly leached.
Average growing season of nursery is from late April after snowmelt until October 15th.
Establishment Phase: Germination is very non-uniform and continues over a 30 day period. Germination to true leaf stage is 3 weeks. Seedlings are thinned and transplanted at this stage.
Length of Establishment Phase: 4 weeks
Active Growth Phase: Plants are fertilized with Conifer Starter 7-40-17 liquid NPK at half the recommended rate for 2 months. Seedlings are very nonuniform in rate of development before bud set. The average seedling height of 3 seed lots collected at the upper limits of treeline was 1.5 cm at the end of the first growing season. Seedlings are moved from the greenhouse to the outdoor shadehouse in late May. Plants are fertilized with 20-7-19 liquid NPK for the next 3 months.
Length of Active Growth Phase: 20 weeks
Hardening Phase: Plants are fertilized with 10-20-20 liquid NPK at 200 ppm in early fall; pots are leached with water, irrigation is gradually reduced through September and October.
Length of Hardening Phase: 4 weeks
Harvesting, Storage and Shipping: Total Time To Harvest: 2 years
Harvest Date: Fall of the 2nd year.
Storage Conditions: Overwinter in outdoor nursery under insulating foam cover and snow.
Length of Storage: 5 months
Other Comments: Because this species exhibits slow initial growth, seedlings are outplanted as 2 or 3 year old seedlings, especially from high elevation seed sources. Seedlings produced at Glacier were not inoculated with mycorrhizal fungi. Lack of inoculant and high elevation genotype may account for the slow rate of growth.
References: Flora of the Pacific Northwest, Hitchcock and Cronquist, Univ. of Washington Press, 7th printing, 1973.
Seed Germination Theory and Practice, Second Edition, Deno, Norman, published 1993.
Glacier Park Native Plant Nursery Propagation Records, unpublished.
Seeds of the Woody Plants of the U.S., Agriculture Handbook #450, U.S.F.S., Washington D.C., 1974.


Luna, Tara; Evans, Jeff; Wick, Dale; Hosokawa, Joy. 2008. Propagation protocol for production of Container (plug) Abies bifolia A. Murray plants 172 ml conetainers; USDI NPS - Glacier National Park West Glacier, Montana. In: Native Plant Network. URL: http://NativePlantNetwork.org (accessed 2021/07/27). US Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, National Center for Reforestation, Nurseries, and Genetic Resources.

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