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Abies firma: Japanese Fir1

Edward F. Gilman and Dennis G. Watson 2


Japanese fir has a similar form to white fir, but has stiffer, medium to dark green needles and may grow taller. It probably grows 20 feet in 30 years. The trunk grows straight up the center of the tree and the crown maintains a soft, tight, pyramidal shape without pruning. Branches are held upright on young trees but give way to a more horizontal form as the tree grows older. The tree looks best with lower branches left on the tree so they sweep the ground. Growth is very slow in the seedling stage and after transplanting, but once established the tree will grow about 12 inches per year.

Figure 1. Middle-aged Abies firma: Japanese fir
Figure 1.  Middle-aged Abies firma: Japanese fir
Credit: Ed Gilman

General Information

Scientific name: Abies firma

Pronunciation: AY-beez FEER-muh

Common name(s): Japanese Fir

Family: Pinaceae

USDA hardiness zones: 5B through 8B (Fig. 2)

Origin: not native to North America

Uses: Christmas tree; highway median; specimen; screen; Bonsai

Availability: not native to North America

Figure 2. Range
Figure 2.  Range


Height: 20 to 30 feet

Spread: 10 to 15 feet

Crown uniformity: symmetrical

Crown shape: pyramidal

Crown density: dense

Growth rate: slow

Texture: fine


Leaf arrangement: spiral (Fig. 3)

Leaf type: simple

Leaf margin: entire

Leaf shape: needle-like (filiform)

Leaf venation: parallel

Leaf type and persistence: evergreen, needled evergreen

Leaf blade length: less than 2 inches

Leaf color: green

Fall color: no color change

Fall characteristic: not showy

Figure 3. Foliage
Figure 3.  Foliage


Flower color: unknown

Flower characteristics: not showy


Fruit shape: cone, elongated

Fruit length: 3 to 6 inches

Fruit covering: dry or hard

Fruit color: brown

Fruit characteristics: does not attract wildlife; not showy; fruit/leaves not a litter problem

Trunk and Branches

Trunk/bark/branches: branches droop; not showy; typically one trunk; thorns

Pruning requirement: little required

Breakage: resistant

Current year twig color: green

Current year twig thickness: medium, thick

Wood specific gravity: unknown


Light requirement: full sun

Soil tolerances: clay; sand; loam; acidic; well-drained

Drought tolerance: high

Aerosol salt tolerance: unknown


Roots: not a problem

Winter interest: no

Outstanding tree: yes

Invasive potential: little invasive potential

Ozone sensitivity: unknown

Verticillium wilt susceptibility: resistant

Pest resistance: free of serious pests and diseases

Figure 3. Foliage
Figure 3.  Foliage

Use and Management

It is used as a Christmas tree in the western United States, and should be tried in the East as a landscape plant and Christmas tree. Although rare in the nursery trade, Japanese fir is a beautiful plant making an outstanding specimen that should be grown and planted more often. It can be seen in a number of arboreta in the southern part of the country. Use it to create a slow-growing screen planted on 10-foot centers, or as a specimen.

Grown best in acid soil in the full sun, Japanese fir is surprisingly tolerant of heat and drought, even in clay soil (but allow for good drainage). It has not grown well in alkaline soil. It should be a low-maintenance tree requiring little or no fertilizer or irrigation. It is probably one of the best (if not the best) firs to grow in the Southeast.

Propagation is by seed.

Pests and Diseases

There are no reports of serious pest problems, although the tree has not been grown much or extensively tested in the East.


1. This document is ENH-162, one of a series of the Environmental Horticulture, UF/IFAS Extension. Original publication date November 1993. Reviewed February 2014. Visit the EDIS website at
2. Edward F. Gilman, professor, Environmental Horticulture Department; and Dennis G. Watson, former associate professor, Agricultural Engineering Department, UF/IFAS Extension, Gainesville, FL 32611.

Publication #ENH-162

Release Date:March 21, 2014

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