Pinaceae (pine family) Abies

Abies bracteata Santa Lucia fir

Coastal central California
Abies bracteata, George P. Shultz 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.

A tall and attractive specimen, planted in 1898, grows next to the front entrance of the George P. Shultz Building, in the grove on Jane Stanford Way (map pin). The area was known as Encina Garden at the time when Encina Hall was the men’s residence. Another of similar stature, now long removed, was reported in 1938 to the left of the entrance gate on Palm Drive by the late horticulturist and garden writer Albert Wilson. He also grew one in front of his home at 654 Creek Drive, Menlo Park, which survived up to 2023.

Abies bracteata at Woodside Library; spiny needle tips and fusiform vegetative bud (tapering at both ends). Sairus Patel, 6 Oct 2023
Abies bracteata pollen cones, George P. Shultz Building. Sairus Patel, 4 Jun 2023

Saint Lucy, a 3rd century Sicilian martyr, was venerated by early navigators in the Caribbean and other parts of Spanish America. A fine Santa Lucia fir over 20 feet tall and 4.6 inches in trunk diameter can be found at the very back of the native garden behind the Woodside Library. Seeing that this species is a local native of good appearance, one might expect it to figure more prominently in future plantings of conifers.

Abies bracteata on Creek Drive, Menlo Park (survived up to 2023). Sairus Patel, 10 Jul 2020


William Parker (Some Stanford Heritage Trees, 1977. SC 486, 2005-041, Box 1):

Abies bracteata. Santa Lucita [sic] fir. Planted in 1898. Front of Hoover Annex. Site of Encina Gardens; began 1898

Horticulturalist Maunsell Van Rensselaer suggests the tree at the Shultz Building is a bit younger than reported by Parker (source unknown):

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.

Albert Wilson’s record of the two campus specimens, also estimating they are a bit younger (Distinctive Trees, Shrubs, and Vines in the Gardens of the San Francisco Peninsula, 1938, p. 16):

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

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 (Jul 2020, SP). Added Woodside example, Noted Menlo Park example has deceased; updated building and street names; edits (Oct 2023, SP).