The Gymnosperm Database


Forest of A. pinsapo growing at 1400 to 1700 m elevation on a north slope in the Parque Natural Sierra de las Nieves, Ronda Mountains, Spain [Jose Angel Campos Sandoval].


Mature tree in habitat [Jose Angel Campos Sandoval, 2008.05].


Very young ovulate cones on a tree in the Parque Natural Sierra de las Nieves [Jose Angel Campos Sandoval].


Maturing cones on a tree in habitat [Jose Angel Campos Sandoval, 2008.05].


Foliage of A. pinsapo in the in Parque Natural Sierra de las Nieves, Spain [Jose Angel Campos Sandoval].


Bark of mature tree [Jose Angel Campos Sandoval, 2008.05].


Emergent seedling with cotyledons [Jose Angel Campos Sandoval, 2008.05].


Mature tree in the Parque Natural Sierra de las Nieves [Jose Angel Campos Sandoval].


A very large tree, about 30 m tall, in the Parque Natural Sierra de las Nieves [Jose Angel Campos Sandoval].


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Conservation status
(var. marocana is the same; var. pinsapo and var. tazaotana are "vulnerable")

Abies pinsapo

Boissier 1838

Common names

Pinsapo, abeto español [Spanish], Spanish silver spruce, Spanish fir (van Gelderen et al. 1986, Vidakovic 1991).

Taxonomic notes

One of two species (with A. numidica) in Abies section Piceaster. There are three varieties, the type in Spain and the others, A. pinsapo var. marocana and A. pinsapo var. tazaotana, both endemic to Africa. Both varieties are recognized by some authors at specific rank. A 2007 study of chloroplast DNA revealed that the marocana populations are extremely similar, and that the tazaotana population is quite similar to the marocana populations, generally supporting the morphological determination that these taxa are difficult to distinguish. The African populations were, however, highly distinct from the Spanish populations of var. pinsapo, with 85% of variance in the cpDNA data attributable to differences in African vs. European populations (Terrab et al. 2007).

Synonymy (Farjon 1998):

for Abies pinsapo Boiss. var. pinsapo:

for Abies pinsapo Boiss. var. marocana (Trab.) Ceballos et Bolaño 1928:

for Abies pinsapo Boiss. var. tazaotana (S. Cozar ex Villar) Pourtet 1954:


Trees up to 25–30 m high and up to 150 cm DBH. Usually a single, round, straight trunk with a deep crown that is narrowly conical in young trees but irregular in older trees, comprised of long branches that ascend in the upper crown and curve downward in the lower; trees in exposed sites may have very irregular form. Bark smooth, dark gray, with age becoming longitudinally fissured, rough and scaly. Branchlets stout, very stiff (more than in perhaps any other species of Abies) red-brown or green-brown turning grey, glabrous, faintly ridged; leaf scars large, purple-gray. Buds globose, 5 × 4 mm, very resinous; scales red-brown, triangular, keeled, free at the apex. Leaves spirally arranged, spreading radially and perpendicular to the branchlet, shade foliage somewhat pectinate but much less so than in most species of Abies; 6-20 × 2-3 mm, not twisted at base, round or slightly flattened, rigid, apex obtuse or acute, stomatal bands on all surfaces, color from dark green to highly glaucous (not counting a golden cultivar); two small medial resin canals; persisting for up to 13 years. Pollen cones lateral, crowded on branchlets, 5-7 mm long, yellow with red or violet microsporophylls. Seed cones on short peduncles, lateral, erect, cylindrical, with obtuse apex, 9-16 × 3-5 cm, green-purple ripening to brown; rachis persistent, narrowly conical, purple-brown. Seed scales triangular, 2.5-2.8 × 2.2-2.5 cm, smooth, slightly striated, upper margin entire, undulate, incurved. Bract scales 1-1.3 cm long, entirely included, oblong, the apex with a tiny cusp. Seed obovate, 6–10 mm long, light brown; the wing is twice this size, light brown; 1,000 seeds weigh ca. 50 g. Cotyledons 5–8. Phenology: Flowers in April and May; cones mature in September and October (Farjon 1990, Vidakovic 1991).

Var. marocana differs from the type as follows (Farjon 1990):

Var. tazaotana differs from the tipe only in having resinless buds (Farjon 1990).

Distribution and Ecology

The three varieties have disjunct ranges. Var. pinsapo occurs in Spain: the provinces of Malaga and Granada, in the Sierrania de Ronda (Sierra de las Nieves, S. de Bermeja and S. de Yunquera). It grows at 1,000–2,000 m (Farjon 1990, Vidakovic 1991).

Distribution of Abies in the Mediterranean region. Data from Conifers of the World BRAHMS database, downloaded 2017.11.05. Taxa are color coded; see pull-out menu at left of map for details. Click on each occurrence for further information.

Var. marocana occurs in Morocco: the western Rif Mountains (Mts. Tissouka, Mago, Kraa, and Bab Rouida), at elevations of 1,400-2,100 m (Farjon 1990).

Var tazaotana occurs only on Mt. Tazaot in the Rif Mountains, SW of Tetuan, Morocco; also at elevations of 1,400-2,100 m (Farjon 1990).

All varieties occupy similar habitat: N-facing slopes on rocky soils derived from dolomitic limestone or serpentine, with deep drainage. The climate is montane, with a mediterranean influence: dry, warm summers alternate with cool, moist winters, with annual precipitation around 1,000 mm. The trees grow in pure, scattered stands (very rare in Spain) or mixed with Cedrus atlantica (Morocco). Other associates include broad-leaved trees such as Quercus ilex , Q. lusitanica, and Q. canariensis (Morocco), and sclerophyllous shrubs such as Ulex baliticus, Cistus spp., Pistacia lentiscus, Daphne laureola and Berberis hispanica (Farjon 1990). Hardy to Zone 6 (cold hardiness limit between -23.2°C and -17.8°C) (Bannister and Neuner 2001).

Big tree


"This fir can attain an age of over 300 years" (Vidakovic 1991).




An engaging account of traveling to see the African populations is provided by Nicholson (1986).


"Seed bearing begins in the 25th to 35th year. Trees in natural stands in Spain bear a full seed crop every 3 to 5 years. Solitary plants may yield as much as 100 kg of cones per tree. 1 kg of cones contains 8-9 cones out of wich [sic] 250 g of seeds is extracted, i.e. cca 500 seeds. On the average, about 20,000 seeds are contained in 1 kg. Germination rate is, according to data from Spain (Catalan and Pardos, 1977) 50-60 percent, while in trees which are grown in other countries it is somewhat less. This fir may be successfully propagated by grafting" (Vidakovic 1991).

Farjon (1990) quite plausibly asserts that all populations of this taxon are isolated relicts of a much wider distribution in the past. It would be interesting to know how this species fared during the Pleistocene glacial maxima, when it presumably would have had a much lower elevational range.


Farjon, Aljos. 1990. Pinaceae: drawings and descriptions of the genera Abies, Cedrus, Pseudolarix, Keteleeria, Nothotsuga, Tsuga, Cathaya, Pseudotsuga, Larix and Picea. Königstein: Koeltz Scientific Books.

Nicholson, R. 1986. Collecting rare conifers in North Africa. Arnoldia 46(1):20-29. Available:, accessed 2010.02.12.

Terrab, A., S. Talavera, M. Arista, O. Paun, T. F. Stuessy, and K. Tremetsberger. 2007. Genetic diversity at chloroplast microsatellites (cpSSRs) and geographic structure in endangered West Mediterranean firs (Abies spp., Pinaceae). Taxon 56(2):409-416.

See also

Mediterranean conifer and mixed forests (PA0513), accessed 2010.02.12.

The species account at Threatened Conifers of the World.

Linares, Juan C. and José A. Carreira. 2009. Temperate-like stand dynamics in relict Mediterranean-fir (Abies pinsapo, Boiss.) forests from southern Spain. Annals of Forest Science 66:610-619. Available:, accessed 2009.10.14.

Last Modified 2017-12-29