Abies pinsapo. SPANISH FIR. California
PINACEAE (Pine Family)

A very pleasing tree indeed with plump stiff blunt leaves arranged like a bottlebrush. It is impossible to resist stroking the foliage. A well known and noble example is at 634 Alvarado Row. There is a memorable specimen in Frost Amphitheater, which was planned in 1937 by comptroller Almon E. Roth (1886–1964) with Leland Stanford’s arboretum concept clearly in mind. It is located on the slope near the west side of the stage. Another specimen can be seen in Palo Alto in the lawn opposite 112 Kingsley Avenue near the Embarcadero Road underpass.

The word “fir” in English is cognate with tree names in various Northern European languages (e.g. German Föhre) and since the genus Abies did not extend to Northern Europe the word fir in English literature does not necessarily imply Abies as specified by Linnaeus. Scotch fir, for example, belongs to Pinus, not to Abies. What fir meant to King James is open to discussion; his translators used the word to render the Hebrew brosh, which today means cypress. The Latin abies is similarly of obscure denotation. Before Linnaeus introduced the binomial system, abies, pinus and quercus were common names, used as the locals pleased. In fact fir and quercus are themselves related (as are four and quattuor).

Illustration: McMinn, Howard E. and Evelyn Maino. 1951. An illustrated manual of Pacific coast trees; with lists of trees recommended for various uses on the Pacific coast by H. W. Shepherd. 2d ed. Berkeley, Calif.: University of California Press.

Illustrations (links open new windows): habit |


Name derivation, genus | species Latin name for fir | possible short for soap-fir because crushed needles in water produce a soapy substance

Related material:

Botanical name index | Common name index | Family
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