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Abies religiosa (H.B.K.) Schlecht.

Mexican Fir

Modern name

Abies religiosa (Kunth) Schltdl. & Cham.


Pinus religiosa H.B.K.

A tree to about 150 ft in the wild, rarely more; bark smooth and greyish when young, becoming rough and plated; buds resinous; young shoots red-brown to purplish, more or less downy, especially when young. Leaves 1 to 112 in. long, about 116 in. wide, apex usually pointed and rather horny, sometimes blunt or rounded, dark glossy green above, with two greyish bands of stomata beneath. Those on the lower side of the shoot spread horizontally, those on the upper side pointing forward and upward. Cones 4 to 6 in. long, cylindric but tapered at the apex, blue when young; bracts protruded and reflexed. Bot. Mag., t. 6753.

Native of Mexico and Guatemala; introduced in 1838. In its typical form it is common in the mountains of north-western Mexico at 8,000 to 10,000 ft, sometimes higher. The forms found further to the south-west and in Guatemala are by some botanists regarded as specifically distinct from A. religiosa. The Mexican fir is very tender and, in the very mild parts where it grows well, is liable to damage from Atlantic gales once it reaches a good height; of the two famous trees at Fota near Cork, one blew down early this century and the other in 1930. Many other promising trees have suffered the same fate or lost their tops, and no specimen of any size has been recorded in recent years.

A. vejari Martinez – A rare species in nature, first described in 1942; native of N.E. Mexico at 9,000 to 10,000 ft. It differs from A. religiosa in its irregularly arranged leaves, with stomata on both sides, and in its shorter and squatter cones (to about 312 in. long and 2 in. wide). Introduced in 1964 and therefore untried. Its main stands are in the state of Tamaulipas, where, according to Martinez, it covers an area of about 500 hectares and grows to over 100 ft high.

From the Supplement (Vol. V)

There is an example in the National Pinetum, Bedgebury, Kent, pl. 1965, measuring 38 × 112 ft (1983). Another of the same height and 214 ft in girth, pl. 1968, grows in the Hillier Arboretum, and has already coned (1983).

A. vejari – Although grouped with A. religiosa by Franco in his section Oyamel, this species is transferred to a section of its own by Liu. In the absence of cones, it is possible to distinguish the two by their leaves. In A. religiosa these are twisted at the base on horizontal shoots, as is usual in Abies, and have no stomata on the upper side except near the apex, while in A. vejari they are not twisted at the base, so exposing the lower surface when pointing forward, and have stomatal bands on both sides.

It was mentioned on page 166 that the main stands of A. vejari are in Tamaulipas, which is well to the north of the main area of A. religiosa; its other stands are still further north in Mexico, in the mountains between southern Coahuila and Nuevo Leon, where seed was collected by Keith Rushforth in 1984. The trees seen by him vary in the colour of their foliage from green to glaucous blue (field notes and The Garden (Journ. R.H.S.), Vol. 110, p. 384 (1984)).

A. vejari from earlier introductions is proving reasonably hardy and also drought-resistant.

† A. mexicana A Martinez A. vejari var. mexicana (Martinez) Liu – Allied to A. vejari, the main difference being that the bract-scales of the cones are included. It occurs in the same area as the Coahuila-Nuevo Leon stands of A. vejari, but at a lower altitude. Seed was collected by Keith Rushforth in 1984.

† A. hickelii Flous & Gaussen A. oaxacana Martinez – Described in 1932, this is closely allied to A. religiosa, the key difference being that the leaves have eight or even twelve resin-channels instead of the normal two. Native of south-eastern Mexico, overlapping with A. religiosa in Oaxaca and Veracruz, where seed was collected by James Russell in 1983, at about 9,400 ft.



Other species in the genus