Abies Fraseri (Fraser Fir) Christmas Trees
Fraser Fir Trees (Abies fraseri) are a cousin of the balsam but only grow naturally in the southern Appalachian mountains at altitudes ranging from 5,500ft (Mount Rogers) to 6,684ft on top of Mount Mitchell, North Carolina, the highest mountain on the east coast. Fraser Fir trees grow best in a cold rain forests, not hot, tropical rain forests. The needs lots of rain (last night we got 2.5 inches of rain and it has been raining for months this spring). The average temperature on these peaks is 30 degrees F during the winter and 60 degrees F during the summer. Fraser Fir trees also love fog and we have lots of foggy days even when it is not raining.
At 5,500 feet Fraser Fir trees mix with Mountain Ash and yellow popular but at about 6300 feet the mountains have only Fraser Fir- with no other trees mixed in, these are known as pure stands. Viable seed production starts at 15 years of age if the tree has been allowed to mature and seed production alternates years between a heavy and light crop of seed. The Fir trees start seed production that is not as good many years before viable seed is produced, every year we spend at least a week picking cones with up to 15 workers. The cones have to be disposed of because they inhibit the growth of trees and the tree will lose density and beauty. Many of the seedlings on the forest floor in these natural stands that dominate mountains like Roan Mountain are twenty years old and only a few feet high. These “bonsi" Fraser Fir trees will start growing very rapidly after many years of waiting on the forest floor if they get their opportunity when wind blows some of their taller brothers and sisters down or when they are taken out by wooly adelgid.
We do not really know the etiology or the origin of Fraser Fir trees except that God created them. The question is- why are these trees only found on high mountain tops when we know that they can and do grow well at elevations up to 3000 feet lower? They do not grow in mature forests at lower elevations today because though they can grow on the forest floor they can not mature to the seed production stage and the ground of these lower elevation forests is not as wet and is not a good seed bed like the floor of Roan Mountain. The speculation that I have read is that during the last ice age (20,000 years ago), glaciers wiped out all the fir trees at lower elevations but the ice did not reach and destroy the fir trees on these high peaks and somehow the other trees (hardwoods etc.) came back after the glacier but the climate was not conducive for the firs' recovery at lower elevations. I am sure that it is more complicated than this. For instance during the last ice age the ice did not even reach Virginia or North Carolina. But I think this speculation gives us some hits to what might have happen. This is definitely a question that I am going to ask when I get to heaven if no real answer comes up before then.
Fraser Fir trees were named after John Fraser, who lived fro 1750-1811.