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The silver fir (Abies alba) is a native of central Europe, the Alps and the Pyrenees. The species was introduced into the United Kingdom about the beginning of the 17th century, and the earliest trees recorded are two mentioned by Evelyn as
"being planted by Serjeant Newdigate in Harefield Park in 1603". Although mountains are its natural environment, the species thrives throughout the UK.
The mightiest conifer in Europe
This specimen is thought to be more than 250 years old, and even in 1881 it was recorded as a huge tree. Mr Wilkie, the estate forester, calculated that it contained 56 tonnes (57 tons) of timber and said that
"no true conception of this noble tree can be formed from reading a description of it".
About 1910, after a visit by Charles Sargent, once dubbed ‘the greatest living authority on trees’, Niall Diarmid Campbell (10th Duke of Argyll) wrote to the daughter of the owner of Ardkinglas saying,
"It is undeniably the mightiest conifer, if not the biggest bole, of any kind in Europe." Indeed, with a girth of 9.4 metres (31 feet), this colossal silver fir tends to stop people in their tracks.
'Unsurpassed in bulk'
In 1906 the eminent botanist H J Elwes said that he had
"never seen anything surpassing it in bulk, even in the virgin forests of Bosnia". This magnificent silver fir is still thriving and will probably continue growing for many years to come.
In 2005 Dr Robert van Pelt of Washington State University measured the timber volume of the tree to be a staggering 140 cubic metres, confirming it as one of the largest trees by volume in Europe.
Where to see the Mightiest Conifer:
Ardkinglas Woodland Garden at Cairndow, Argyll & Bute, off the A83 Loch Lomond to Inveraray road, on the eastern shores of Loch Fyne. The garden is open all year during daylight hours. Admission charges apply.
Image: copyright Edward Parker