Commonly known as the 'Santa Lucia fir' or 'Bristlecone fir', Abies bracteata is a rare, evergreen tree, and arguably one of the most outstanding and beautiful of all species within the genus. Native to the central coast of California, USA, it was first described and named for western science as Pinus venusta in 1836 by Scottish botanist David Douglas (1799–1834). It was then reclassified and renamed several times before being given its current accepted name by David Don (1799 – 1841), also a Scottish botanist. The first plants were introduced to English gardens in 1852 by Cornish plant collector William Lobb (1809–1864).

Under favourable conditions Abies bracteata will reach an approximate height of 15 metres, with a spread of 3-4 metres.  On mature specimens, the wrinkled bark is reddish-brown with resin vesicles. It is considered tender when young and will require frost protection against late spring frosts until it has grown to about 1.5-2 metres.The crown is conical in shape with a narrow-spired top. The lower branches have a characteristic droop.

Abies bracteata is particularly noted for its pale-brown, spindle-shaped winter buds which can be up to 2.5 cm long. The dark-green, needle-like leaves are rigid, tipped with spines, and have bright silver bands underneath. Each leaf is 3.5-5 cm long and occur on the branchlets in two ranks.

The cones are remarkable for having 5 cm long spines protruding from the bracts giving them a remarkable whiskery appearance.

In its native habitat Abies bracteata is found, and generally confined, to the slopes and bases of rocky canyons in the Santa Lucia Mountains. When grown as a landscape plant, it will perform best in full sun on deep soil over chalk.

Sadly, Abies bracteata is now listed on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species as it only exists in the wild as a small remnant community on the highest northern slopes of the Santa Susana Mountains.

Abies bracteata was awarded the First Class Certificate (FCC) from the Royal Horticultural Society in 1915.

For related articles click onto the following links:

No comments: