Characteristics of Sacred Fir Tree (Abies religiosa) in the Wild

Abies religiosa

Sacred fir or Oyamel (Abies religiosa) is a species of fir tree native to the mountains of central and southern Mexico, and western Guatemala.

This tree generally grows at altitudes between 2,000-4,000 m asl with cool and humid summers and dry winters in most of its habitat. In the state of Veracruz, the Sacred fir tree grows with rainfall throughout the year.

It is a tall mountain tree that is very resistant to cold, but not to heat. It prefers an average annual temperature of -10 °C to 15 °C, and a maximum of 25 °C with a yearly rainfall of about 1000 mm or more.

Sacred tree vegetation in volcanic soil, is slightly acidic with a pH of 5-7 and very rich in organic matter. It prefers a well-drained, moist substrate for most of the year, which is why it thrives mainly in ravines on the northern slopes of the mountains.

Abies religiosa was first described by Carl Sigismund Kunth (1788-1850), then completed in 1830 by Diederich Franz Leonhard von Schlechtendal (1794-1866) and Adelbert von Chamisso (1781-1838).

While the name Oyamel comes from the Spanish word Nahuatl oyametl, literally “threshing agave”. It is also called árbol de Navidad (Christmas tree) in Mexico. Its English name comes from the binomial Abies religiosa, literally “religious fir”. The name comes from the use of cut leaves at religious festivals (especially at Christmas) and in churches in Mexico.

The sacred fir is the preferred tree for the monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus) to live during hibernation in the forests of the Trans-Mexico Volcanic Belt.

Characteristics of Sacred Fir Leaf

Abies religiosa Leaf

The leaves are needle-like, flattened, 1.5–3.5 cm long and 1.5 mm wide by 0.5 mm thick, dark green above, and with two blue-white stomatal bands below. The leaf apex is pointed, and the leaf arrangement is spirally shaped on the shoot, but with each leaf twisted variably at the base so that it lies flat on both sides and above the shoot, without being under the shoot. Shoots are reddish-brown, hairless, or with scattered pubescence.

Characteristics of Sacred Fir Fruit

Abies religiosa Fruit

Cones are 8-16 cm long and 4-6 cm wide, dark blue to purple before ripening, bracts of scales purple or greenish, with open ends in closed cones. The winged seeds are released when the cones mature about 7-9 months after pollination.

Trees from the western end of the range at Nevado de Colima, Jalisco have cones with larger, reflex scale bracts (similar to the noble spruce cones), these are sometimes treated as a separate species, Abies colimensis.

Characteristics of Sacred Fir Tree

Abies religiosa Tree

The sacred fir is a medium to a large coniferous tree that can grow up to 50 meters tall with a trunk diameter of up to 2 meters.

Sacred fir wood is relatively soft and not very suitable for woodworking. However, its distribution is declining due to logging for fuel and other human-related disturbances.


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