Silver Fir (Abies alba)
The tree of the year in Germany is annually chosen by the Kuratorium "Baum des Jahres" (site available in German only).
Firs are spread almost all over the world. Our domestic silver fir, tree of the year 2004, feels most comfortable in the mountains because it only grows properly with precipitations of 1000 mm or more. Apart from that, it is relatively modest concerning nutrients or light - quite the opposite: It stands essentially more shadow than most of the other tree species. In pristine forests the silver fir can persevere for decades under the dense shield of other trees and then balloons at a single blow when one of the shadowing is cut down or dies back naturally. Whereas other tree species would already die of light deficiency after few years. For this reason, the fir is deemed to be a downright shadow tree species.
Fir seedlings look like little green stars because the 10-20 seminal leaves are all nearly arranged around the stalk in one plane. In the age of three years, the first branch is formed then. Juvenile firs are brachiated very consistent, wherefore the tree of the year is often used as a christmas tree - and also because it doesn't shed its needles so fast. Very old firs have at the very top a so-called stork's nest, meaning the upper lateral branches do also grow upwards, what then just looks like a big nest at the treetop.
The name silver fir incidentally doesn't come from the wax stripes on the underneath of the needles but from the silverish white tinge of the bark. Just because of the bark tinge, the common spruce is for example in German also referred to as 'Rottanne', which is to say 'red fir'. The both oblong wax stripes are deemed to be a reliable distinction between silver fir and common spruce incidentally. But there are other fir species without white wax stripes and in contrast spruce species with white tinge of the needle underneath.Always a sure distinction for firs are the upturned cones which do by the way never drop completely but always do crumble on the tree. That means, the seeds drop apartly with the related seed flake until only the narrow cone shaft remains. And: Fir needles always grow directly out of the branch, never on woody needle bumps as for the spruce. Fir needles have another feature: They don't have resin canals in contrast to most other conifers. That's just the reason why young silver firs are much more browsed by roe deer than other conifers.
At old age, the tree of the year 2004 has actually no more 'enemies': Neither needle-eating nor bark-inhabiting kinds of insects afflict the fir. Also storm doesn't matter much because the fir is anchored with the ground with its turnip-like taproot very firmly. Certainly silver firs are relatively sensitive towards air pollution and especially acid rain; but the fir extinction has been distinctly declining since the introduction of exhaust gas desulphurisation.
The wood of the fir is predominantly used as timber. In former times, it was even chosen over the spruce markedly, because fir wood is essentially more impervious concerning faeces and urine. So-called moon phase wood is said to have completely different capabilities: In the Black forest there are houses made out of fir which have been easily bearing since centuries without any impregnation; even the chimney out of fir wood has outlived thousands of fires without burning itself!