Growing the Korean Fir (Abies koreana)

Blue-black female cones of Korean fir (Abies koreana), June

Cora Niele/Getty Images

If you like the appearance of fir trees but do not have much room in your yard, choose the Korean fir. This diminutive conifer does not grow quickly and usually is at most 30 feet tall. An attractive feature is the display of purple cones that appear as the tree begins fruiting. As the season progresses they become tan in color.

  • Latin Name: This tree is a member of the Abies (fir tree) genus. The botanical name assigned to this particular species is Abies koreana. It is classified as part of the Pinaceae family.
  • Common Names: The Korean name for this fir tree is gusang namu. In the United States and other English-speaking countries, it is called the Korean fir.
  • Preferred USDA Hardiness Zones: If your home is located in Zones 5 to 7, this tree should grow well for you. It is native to South Korea.
  • Size and Shape of the Korean Fir: This species is shorter than other fir trees and will reach a mature height of 15 to 30 feet tall with a spread six to 15 feet wide. It grows in a pyramidal shape.
  • Exposure: You can place this where it will receive a little shade if needed, but for best results plant in a location that receives full sun.

Foliage, Flowers, and Fruit

Each needle is 1/2 to one inch long and while they are green on top, they feature two white stripes on the underside. Like other fir trees, they are affixed to the branch by a base resembling a suction cup.

The flowers on these gymnosperms are called strobili and each will be male or female. Both are found in this monoecious tree.

Purple cones that are up to three inches long appear on the tree each year. Once they are mature, they will become tan. Unlike other conifers, the cones are borne on top of the branches and stand upright.

Design Tips

The purple cones are definitely a way to add color to your garden, especially since they start appearing at a relatively young age.

This is a desirable option for a living Christmas tree. Make sure you dig a hole earlier in the year before the ground freezes if you are in a colder area.

Some available cultivars include:

  • 'Aurea' (golden needles)
  • 'Compact Dwarf'
  • 'Horstmann's Silberlocke' or just 'Silberlocke' (young needles are silver)
  • 'Kohout Hexe' (dwarf)
  • 'Kristal Kugel' (dwarf)
  • 'Prostrata' or 'Prostrate Beauty' (dwarf)
  • 'Silver Snow' (young needles are silver)

Growing Tips

Acidic or neutral soil is favored by the Korean fir. You need to make sure your tree is sited where the soil will drain well. It likes soil that is moist but does not like wet feet, so it will very likely struggle in clay soil. If you live in an urban area, this tree may potentially have some problems since it does not tolerate pollution well. You can propagate this species by collecting seeds from the cones.


Most conifers do not need much pruning, and this is especially true of the slow-growing Korean fir. You can do a bit of trimming to help develop any desired shapes (such as taking out any branches that are growing in a direction that is not appealing) and prune any dead, diseased, or dying branches.

Pests and Diseases

Diseases that are seen include:

  • Needle rust
  • Root rots
  • Twig blight

Potential pests include:

  • Aphids
  • Bagworms (Psychidae family)
  • Balsam wooly adelgids (Adelges piceae)
  • Bark beetles
  • Deer
  • Scales (superfamily Coccoidea)
  • Spider mites (Tetranychidae family)
  • Spruce budworms (Choristoneura spp.)