Sicilian fir (Abies nebrodensis)

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Sicilian fir in montane habitat
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Sicilian fir fact file

Sicilian fir description

KingdomPlantae
PhylumTracheophyta
ClassConiferopsida
OrderConiferales
FamilyPinaceae
GenusAbies (1)

This tall evergreen tree is known only from a single location. It has the characteristic fir tree shape, with a tall straight trunk and a broad, conical crown (2). In mature trees the bark is rough and scaly (2). The blunt, rounded leaves are located in whorls, in contrast to other firs in the region (3). Female cones are upright and cylindrical, and they turn brown when mature (2).

Size
Height: 10 - 15 m (2)
Trunk diameter: 40 - 60 cm (2)
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Sicilian fir biology

The Sicilian fir is an evergreen, and it therefore retains its leaves all year round. Both male and female cones appear on the same tree; once the seeds within the female cone are ripe, the cones disintegrate, leaving the seeds to drop to the forest floor (4).

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Sicilian fir range

Endemic to the island of Sicily, in the Mediterranean (1). This fir was once widespread in the Madonie Mountains but is today restricted to around 100 hectares in and around the Madonna degli Angeli Valley (3). Believed to be extinct at the turn of the 20th Century, the species was rediscovered in 1957 but only around 30 mature individuals persist in the wild today (3).

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Sicilian fir habitat

Found on rocky, calcareous soil (2) between 1,400 and 1,650 metres above sea level (3). It is thought that mixed forests of Sicilian fir together with the beech Fagus sylvatica (2), and Holm Oak (Quercus ilex) were once more widespread at lower altitudes in these mountains (3).

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Sicilian fir status

Classified as Critically Endangered (CR - D) on the IUCN Red List 2002 (1).

IUCN Red List species status – Critically Endangered

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Sicilian fir threats

The Sicilian fir was already severely reduced by the beginning of the 19th Century as a result of extensive logging for timber and firewood (3). This species appears to be facing competition from the beech Fagus sylvatica, which may be more adaptable to climatic changes. A reduction in deep soil following deforestation could also have played a part in the decline of the Sicilian fir (2). The small numbers of firs remaining are now at an inherent risk from any chance event, and fire poses a particular danger.

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Sicilian fir conservation

The Sicilian fir has been the subject of a concerted conservation programme to protect this rare and unique local species. The remaining wild trees occur within a Regional Park; grazing and visitor numbers in the valley are carefully controlled, and the trees are monitored and fenced off (3). In addition, an ex-situ conservation programme has been established and has produced around 110,000 trees that are available for replanting. To date, replanting efforts have met with little success but scientists at the University of Palermo are investigating this species’ optimum ecological conditions in an effort to rectify this (3). The rare Sicilian fir is a flagship species for the wealth of endemic flora found on this island (3).

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Authentication

Authenticated (7/11/03) by Hugh Singe, Editor of Plant Talk, the magazine on plant conservation worldwide.
http://www.plant-talk.org

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Glossary

Calcareous
Containing free calcium carbonate, chalky.
Endemic
A species or taxonomic group that is only found in one particular country or geographic area.
Ex-situ
Measures to conserve a species or habitat that occur outside of the natural range of the species. E.g. in zoos or botanical gardens.
Whorl
In animals, the spiral or convolutions in the shell of a snail. In plants, a set of leaves, flowers, or branches that spring from a stem at the same point and encircle it.
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References

  1. IUCN Red List (January, 2003)
    http://www.redlist.org
  2. Farjon, A. and Page, C. (1999) Conifers: Status Survey and Conservation Action Plan. IUCN/SSC Conifer Specialist Group, Online.
  3. Akeroyd, J. (2003) Rare firs and fan-palms lead conservation in Sicily. Plant Talk, 24: 26 - 30.
  4. Gelderen, D.M. (1996) Conifers: The Illustrated Encyclopedia. (Vol. 1). Timber Press, Oregon.
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Image credit

Sicilian fir in montane habitat  
Sicilian fir in montane habitat

© Hugh Synge

Hugh Synge
Plant Talk
10 Princeton Court
55 Felsham Road
Putney
London
SW15 1AZ
United Kingdom
Fax: +44 (0) 208 785 0440
hugh@plant-talk.org
http://www.plant-talk.org

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