Abies concolor (Gordon & Glend.) Hildebr.

Pinaceae – Pine Family

Abies concolor

English: White fir, Rocky Mountain white fir
Hopi: He’kwpa
Tewa: Tęnjo
Yana: Chaw-lo'-lo 

Natural History

White fir is an occasional member of the mountain forests of the Southern Rockies extending west to California and Southern Oregon and south to northern Mexico. It is a slow growing and long lived tree – up to 400 years – and is particularly abundant in areas with long winters and moderate to heavy winter snowpacks.  Here in southwestern Colorado White fir occurs most frequently in north-facing mixed conifer woodlands along with Ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa) and Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii).  Taxonomically White fir is sometimes divided into two distinct taxa, the Sierra Nevada white fir (A. concolor subsp. lowiana) and the Rocky Mountain white fir (A. concolor subsp. concolor) although more research is needed to determine if they represent one or two taxa. 

Unlike most conifer cones which hang below the branches, the cones of White fir are held erect.  Seeds are dispersed from the cone as it disintegrates and are dispersed by wind.  Various species of small mammal and bird are known to eat the seeds. White fir provides important habitat, especially dense cover, for a number of native animal species but its foliage is of generally poor quality and thus not widely used for browse.

Human history and use

White fir is an important timber species with the wood being used for construction framing and plywood. It is also a commonly used species for Christmas trees and the distinctive odor from the essential oils of its crushed needles (chemically a variety of terpene compounds) is well-recognized.

White fir has been used traditionally for a number of different purposes. Like today, the wood has been used in construction. Ancient Chacoan people used it as roofing for their ceremonial houses.  The foliage has been used as decoration in some traditional dances, for the production of ceremonial smoke, and medicinally in an infusion for rheumatism.  Lastly, resin from the bark has been used for the treatment of skin wounds and recently shown to have antibacterial activity in controlled laboratory experiments.


Elsasser, A. B. 1981. Notes on Yana Ethnobotany. Journal of California and Great Basin Anthropology 3: 69-77.

Heil, K.D., S.L. O’Kane, L.M. Reeves, and A. Clifford. 2013. Flora of the Four Corners Region,
Vascular Plants of the San Juan River Drainage: Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, and Utah.
Monographs in Systematic Botany from the Missouri Botanical Garden, Vol. 124. Missouri Botanical Garden Press, St. Louis.

Swank, George R., 1932, The Ethnobotany of the Acoma and Laguna Indians, University of New Mexico, M.A. Thesis

Zouhar, Kris. 2001. Abies concolor. In: Fire Effects Information System, [Online]. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory (Producer). Available: https://www.fs.fed.us/database/feis/plants/tree/abicon/all.html.