abies-koreanaTHE KOREAN FIR, Abies koreana, wins my award for best “pine” cones ever, with 3-inch purple cones produced even on quite-young plants. If only this fantastic conifer displayed its cones at Christmastime here, instead of in June, though I’m not sure that purple actually matches anybody’s holiday palette, does it?

The Korean fir in the photo was my Charlie Brown-style Christmas tree perhaps a half-dozen years ago, a scrawny potted baby I festooned with a few shiny things and positioned in the cool back mudroom. (By late summer, its cones turn tan-colored, so it didn’t decorate itself the way it had in summer. And you can only loosely call them pine cones: A. koreana is in the Pinaceae or Pine Family, but not a true pine.) After the holiday I heeled it in for the rest of winter, moving it to a permanent spot in spring.

This beautiful smallish tree, to perhaps 15 or 20 feet tall (30 tops, I’ve read), has just one drawback: It can’t take the heat. For my location, that’s just fine; its ideal setting is zone 5 or 6, just like here. Various references say it is hard from Zone 5 to 7, or some claim as cold as 4 and warm as 8.

  1. tina says:

    These trees are the coolest! I had the pleasure of seeing one in front of a town office in Maine. I will be happy when they are bred to withstand the heat so I can plant one in my Tennessee garden. I simply love them. Great picture of it too! Happy Holidays to you!

  2. Brian G. says:

    The only evergreens I have on my property are the three giants near the road which last week during the ice storm dropped limbs the size of a cadillac near ( but luckily not on) my little house. I would like to start adding groups of evergreens here and there to break up the winter gray blah look of my hardwood laden plot. Suggestions would be welcomed (anything but white pines).
    Merry Christmas to you Margaret and all else who celebrate and Happy Holidays to all! I hope the coming year is happy and healthy for all the visitors of A Way to Garden and their loved ones and even those in our lives we don’t love so much;-)


  3. cat says:


    While you’re considering needled evergreens, please don’t forget hollies. I can’t tell you how much their shining leaves brighten the winter days!


  4. Susan says:

    Oh my god, I am so excited over purple pine cones, I never would have thought. I can never have enough purple, this will hold a special place in my garden. June is just fine for display, maybe they might be late one year and surprise us all on Christmas. Happy Holidays. Peace and Joy

  5. Ketzel Levine says:

    Hey Margaret – Have you been hoarding that gorgeous picture just for this perfect time of year? I’ve also lamented that we can’t have those cones in December but to know we have them at all is just deserts.

    If anyone wants to read more, there’s an essay on this plant in my book, Plant This!

  6. margaret says:

    Welcome, Ketzel. Yes, I have a whole folder called “Photos not Posted” on my Mac desktop, and a white-board list of topics for the winter that correspond to some of those images. Sort of my version of provisioning for a long cold spell, you know?

    Glad to see you here, and also at your new blog.

  7. Steve Zick says:

    This post reminded me of an old conifer lesson: during my long-ago days as a tram driver at the Chicago Botanic Garden (best summer job EVER, btw), we were taught a quick shorthand to identifying conifers–fir cones point UP and pine cones hang DOWN. Easy breezy, and it kept the garden visitors satisfied. I confess that I haven’t subjected this to a ton of field research–and I’m pretty shaky on my conifers overall, but this gorgeous photo gave me a repressed memory flashback! Thanks Margaret!

    1. margaret says:

      Hi, Steve…you know, I never thought about it, but it sounds correct. I have probably 6 or 7 pine species here and all are indeed downward, and maybe three fir species (up). Let’s say it’s so. Thanks.

    1. margaret says:

      Welcome, Kevin. I got mine (two of them) at Windy Hill Farm in Great Barrington, MA, as 2-foot babies, and they grew pretty fast, really. They normally also stock larger ones that are the age that already make cones. It’s about an hour from you; I would call first, (413) 298 3217. I suspect any nursery near to you with a good selection of woody plants will have it or can get it. Hope to see you soon again.

  8. Loretta Torraville says:

    I feel so lucky to have loads of those beauties at the back of my property and one tiny 1 now taking off in front .If it’s cold they want it’s cold they here in Port au Choix,Newfoundland,Canada(zone 3)!!!!!!

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Loretta. Even after many years with the purple “pine” cones, I can’t believe them every year when they first appear. Such a color! Glad you are a fan (and can give them the wanted cold, as I can). Thanks for saying hello, and don’t be a strangr.

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Miley. I have never done anything but collect them and let them dry naturally; some keep their shape and some don’t. I have read about putting them on a tray in a barely warm oven and about using spray preservative and even polyurethane, but I have never done any of that. I like them just as they evolve on their own, in big bowls in the house. Not sure what your specific purpose was so not sure how to advise?

  9. katrina says:

    we just bought ourselves one of these beauties for a living christmas tree ( only lived inside for an hour for pictures, then hung out decorated on the back porch for the last week) and we’re wondering if we should wait for spring to plant it or do it now. the ground is cold and hard but not frozen (we live in seattle) so we could break ground, but is that what’s best for it or is it’s container a happy home? if we keep it in it’s container are there any special care instructions? thanks!

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Katrina. I would get it into the ground as best you can, even if the hole cannot be completely filled in as well as you would in spring or summer or fall. I just think allowing the roots to get insulation and start to settle is probably better if the ground is not frozen. Here we plant even in November — as long as the ground is not ice. I hate leaving things above-ground in their little pots, but if you prefer to do that can you tuck the pot into a big leaf or mulch pile for more insulation?

  10. Judy says:

    Hi Margaret, I really enjoy your blog…and I Love your property! Your gardens and skills are amazing. This tree is truly beautiful and I’ve never seen such lovely purple cones before. It’s so unique. I don’t think it would do well here (central NJ, zone 6-6a), really not cool enough during our humid and steamy days in the summer. I would love to have one, if it were cooler.

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Judy. The plant is rated for zones 5-6 or even some references say the cooler end of 7, so I think you would do fine with it. I’d start with a smallish plant and let it adjust. Don’t plant it in heavy clay, though.

  11. Jung, Jaewon says:

    I am glad to see Korean fir.
    It is The symbol tree of Daegu city.
    I live Daegu city, Korea.
    Korean fir’s Korean name is Jeon-namu.

    Thank you, Magaret.
    Although I do not know English very well,
    but I see your beautiful Plant story.

    1. Margaret says:

      Thank you for this story of the Korean fir, Jaewon Jung. It is one of my favorite trees, but I did not know of its symbolism for your city. There are few more beautiful cones on any tree. (And your English is very good!)

  12. Tracey Goncher says:

    Hello, Margaret,
    Unfortunately, my Korean fir, not as beautiful. I just read your post regarding not planting in heavy clay. I am afraid that is right where mine is. 35 minutes south of Chicago, zone 5 on a heavily wooded lot. I have mine in a sunny location, which is very difficult to come by on our property. This is the fourth spring the little tree has been struggling in its spot, just not putting on much growth at all. I have noticed now this spring the little tree has fallen victim to the scraping of deer. Previously, there had been no damage whatsoever. I am contemplating removing, and have not decided what to do with him after.

  13. Lisa says:

    I LOVE the korean fir for its beautiful shape, soft needles and pine cones! Silberlocke is exquisite too. I have 4, which all thrive in my zone 4 Minnesota garden, but I noticed that, oddly, all failed to bear cones this year for the first time.

    1. margaret says:

      Hi, Lisa. I am so short on fruit and cones here, too, I assume because last year there was a bumper crop (a very wet year) and this year is dry. Sad!

  14. Carmell says:

    I was wondering, I live in the Pacific North West . My tree for the first time dropped some cones. I would love to start some new trees . How do I start new seeds? I have found 3 large cones . Thank you.

    1. margaret says:

      I don’t know, Joanne, sorry to say. I don’t know where you garden but I have read that it is not a plant that thrives in warmer zones than about Zone 7, in case that is a factor. But they tend to produce cones even when young and do so each year pretty reliably (might skip a year after transplant in case it’s a newly planted specimen).

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