(photo property of Morris Arboretum, Pennsylvania)
A native of the higher mountains of Greece. Leaves a lustrous bright green above with silvery effect underneath. It grows best in moist but not water-logged soil. A large tree in time 100 feet tall by 25 feet wide. Cylindrical, green-brown cones 4-6 inches long. The Greek fir is a very rare plant, seen only at a few botanic gardens but worthy of further use
Here's a story of a tree that has a special place in my garden.
If you have read my older posts about reviving my nanna's garden, you might recall me mentioning the dreadful state the place was left in after the construction workers stormed through our estate. I didn't really care about material things that much, but losing an old Lebanese Cedar, over 40 years of age, really did make me lose my marbles. The whole area that it used to grace was left ...looking bare and abandoned. So soon enough we went to the local nursery looking for substitutes, preferably two mature Italian Cypress trees that I have seen on my last visit to the place. But as if it was meant to be, something else caught our eyes as soon as we entered the outdoor area. Among high, mature Cypress trees, all sorts of Spruce and Pine trees, there was this special, strikingly beautiful tree (some 9ft high). I recognized the looks of a beautiful fir tree, but a kind that I have never seen before. So tall and yet so dense and compact, with a beautiful dark green color and so rich in new sprout, a shape that wins over your heart instantly. I leaned down under it's dense shade, to check it's price and ID. Abies cephalonica it said. Isn't that an island in Greece? , I asked my mum (she's a Greek addict who spent a lot of her younger days both working and living in Greece, and thus has patriotic issues when it comes to anything Greek). I looked at my mum, her face was already in a frenzy, she flew over to the sales manager and shot out her usual portion of ecstatic questions. The guy said it's quite rare, not a hybrid, and it's the only original mature specimen they have ever had and as he recalled it was ordered quite some time ago by a certain Arboretum. My mum had already put on her discouraged figure, but the guy then said there's an issue with that tree and said he has to ring his boss up and ask if it is for sale. And what do you know, they've had it for some time and as the Arboretum manager delayed paying for it, and finally gave up on the whole thing, it was now for sale. Wiiiicked!!! We had to order a truck delivery and in a few days SHE arrived, the new queen of our garden. It was this very tree that made us visit the island of Kefalonia in first place, and upon discovering just how enchanting and stunning the island was, it came as a logical conclusion that such tree must hale from such a special place.
Mount Ainos on the Greek island of Kefalonia could easily be the oldest nature preserve in Greece. Proudly dominating panoramas from almost any spot of the island, the Black Mountain is so high as to have its own ecosystem, and it can even get some snow. Its main importance is its great variety starting from the areas of coastal up to the alpine terrains at 1628 m (5112 feet).
Much of the park is covered by the endemic Greek / Cephalonian fir (Abies cephalonica), that was heavily destroyed for shipbuilding until the 19th century, and the main objective of the park is to protect this very much unique tree. The fir population is darker than other vegetation and expressively darkens the flanks of MtAinos, which is thus often called the Black mountain.
Owing to the isolation of the island, the species has remained pure and has not produced hybrids. It can thrive at heights of 800-1600 metres but can also be found at higher or lower altitudes elsewhere in Greece. It develops in the shadow of another tree where it can remain for a hundred years. When it leaves behind this maternal clump of trees, however, it develops very quickly and can live up to 500 years. On rare occasions it can reach a height of 30m. Peculiar to the Kefalonian Fir Tree are its needles, which are 15-22mm long and arranged in spirals. Hard and pointed, they are flat and a dark green colour on top, while underneath they are shaped like the keel of a boat with two parallel white lines running along the length. The tree blossoms in May and June. Just like other types of fir tree, the male blossoms are separate from the female ones, although they coexist on the same tree. The tree bears fruit when about 20-30 years old, and continues up to a hundred years old, with a full crop every 2-4 years. Its seeds have only a 60-70% chance of germinating. It thrives in rich, deep soil, which is loose and moist. It can also develop in rocky, chalky ground. It can survive droughts and high temperatures as well as cold winds. Greek fir is altogether too rare in cultivation and deserves a heightened status within the conifer market. Based upon the location of existing specimens, it is fully hardy throughout USDA zone 6. While most native stands of Abies cephalonica in the Mediterranean region grow on calcareous soils that are basic, it can be found growing well in the Mid-Atlantic region on acidic soil. (from the ''Vegetation of Ainos mountain'')
In addition to being hardy and adaptable, Greek fir has a number of outstanding ornamental attributes. Greek fir has dark green foliage that may have a slight bluish tint. Its needles are thick and lustrous, with rounded or pointed tips. On the bottom side of the needle the characteristic white bands normally seen on fir needles are present. Needles are directed forward slightly, and are usually radially arranged. On cone-bearing branches almost all needles face upward, which is facilitated by a twisted base on the lower needles. The needles are slightly aromatic, though the fragrance is very subtle. Also, it has drooping branches so snow easily slips off.
It is supposed to be quite intolerant of pollution; we've had it for four years now but I guess it has adapted quite well and is growing vigorously and carries her title of the Garden Queen with much grace. A dash of Greece, what is more, of Kefalonia itself (my favorite place in the world) beneath my very window. I hope it will stay that way for a long, long time and some day it might bring a touch of magic natural beauty to our future greenthumbs. What more could one wish for ?