Abies bracteata (syn. Abies venusta)
Santa Lucia fir

Pinaceae (pine family)
Abies bracteata in front of Lou Henry Hoover Building. Sairus Patel, 11 Mar 2018

A fir of rather limited distribution in the Santa Lucia Mountains just south of Monterey. Its distinguishing feature, as reflected by its alternative name bristlecone fir, is the possession of needle-like bracts up to an inch long protruding from between the cone scales.

Some sources indicate the specimen on Serra Mall in front of the entrance to the Lou Henry Hoover Building, just to the left (when facing away from the building) was planted just before 1900 (map). The area was known as Encina Garden at the time when Encina Hall was the men’s residence. Maunsell Van Rensselaer (suggesting the tree is a bit younger) writes:

Though the Santa Lucia fir, Abies bracteata (syn. venusta), is regarded by botanists as the most remarkable of all firs, it is too seldom seen in cultivation. A fine specimen is growing near the Herbert Hoover Library on the campus of Stanford University, Palo Alto, California. Thought to be nearly 50 years old, the tree is now 66′ tall and has a trunk diameter at breast height of 16″ (measurements by George Hood, August 28, 1961). The writer has known the tree for 26 years and, during this period, it has always been in a vigorous, healthy condition.

Another specimen is at 654 Creek Drive, Menlo Park, once the home of the late horticulturist and garden writer Albert Wilson. Wilson recorded a second campus example in the 1930s:

Abies venusta (Santa Lucia Fir) California. Approx. age: 25 yrs. (2 specimens) Size: 35–40′. Condition: Excellent; Rare. Location: Stanford Campus. 1 at left hand side of Campus entry; 1 in Encina Gardens

– Wilson, A. (1938) Distinctive Trees, Shrubs, and Vines in the Gardens of the San Francisco Peninsula, p. 16.

Saint Lucy, a 3rd century Sicilian martyr, was venerated by early navigators in the Caribbean and other parts of Spanish America. Seeing that the Santa Lucia fir is a local native of good appearance, one might expect it to figure more prominently in future plantings of conifers.

Name derivation: Abies – Latin name for fir; bracteata – with bracts (on cones).

About this Entry: The main text of this entry is from the book Trees of Stanford and Environs, by Ronald Bracewell, published 2005. John Rawlings added the Van Rensselaer & Wilson quotes (c 2009). All locations verified (SP, Jul 2020).