status: Critically endangered, IUCN
Description and biology
The Baishan fir is an evergreen tree with spreading, whorled branches (whorled means that three or more branches grow from the same area of trunk in a circular pattern). Its bark is grayish-yellow. The tree can grow to a height of 56 feet (17 meters). Annual shoots (new stem and leaf growth) are pale yellow or gray-yellow in color and smooth. The leaves on the tree measure 0.4 to 1.7 inches (1 to 4.3 centimeters) long and 0.1 to 0.14 inch (0.25 to 0.36 centimeter) wide. Its cones are pale brown or brownish-yellow when mature. They measure 2.8 to 4.7 inches (7.1 to 11.9 centimeters) long and 1.4 to 1.6 inches (3.6 to 4.1 centimeters) wide. The cones ripen or open and shed their seeds in November.
Habitat and current distribution
Baishan firs are found only in southeastern China. They inhabit the sunny forest slopes of Baishanzu Mountain in southern Zhejiang Province. They grow at an elevation of 5,577 feet (1,700 meters), where the climate is marked by warm summers and cool, moist winters.
Currently, botanists (people specializing in the study of plants) know of only five living specimens of these firs in the wild.
History and conservation measures
The remaining Baishan firs are growing in an area where local farmers are constantly employing slash-and-burn agriculture. In this process, farmers cut down and burn all trees and vegetation in a forest to create cleared land. Although this technique opens up the land quickly, it robs the soil of essential nutrients. The land does not stay fertile for very long. Thus, farmers must continually clear new land in order to grow crops.
Baishan firs have suffered as a result of this farming method. Most have been either cut down or burned. Those that remain cannot reproduce very well because the surrounding soil is not fertile enough.
The local forestry department in Zhejiang Province has granted the Baishan fir a limited degree of protection. If the species is to survive, greater protection is necessary.