Conifers for Urban Use: Abies concolor, with Jean Zimmerman

Mature concolor fir (Abies concolor) in Council Past President Andy Hillman’s yard. Photo by Andy Hillman

Concolor Fir (Abies concolor)

By Jean Zimmerman, Council Board Member and Commercial Arborist for SavATree

Some might see the concolor fir or white fir (Abies concolor) only as the perfect holiday tree. The soft silvery needles, the graceful form, and perhaps more than anything its scent, redolent of tangerines—all create a specimen that begs to be set up in a corner of the living room, bestrewn with decorations, with gaily wrapped gifts underneath. We’ve had one for many years during the holidays and it always brings pleasure.

At the cut-your-own tree farm we patronize, the saw-bearing hordes descend upon the generous grove of concolors, and a tree-toting worker told me it is in popularity second only to the fraser fir (A. fraseri). President of the New York State Urban Forestry Council Karen Emmerich of Emmerich Tree Farm said, “We sold a lot of concolors last holiday season, and they have grown in popularity over the years. More and more growers are planting them. They don’t have the disease issues that blue spruces have, and they have that lovely bluish tint to their needles. The upper branches don’t shade the lower branches (causing them to develop that scraggly look) like the spruces. My husband Kurt calls them ‘ugly ducklings,’ because when they are young they are kind of goofy looking, but after five or six years they really start to look great.”

Now take a look beyond the holiday season. Concolor is a fir that can be enjoyed on your property spring, summer, and fall as well as when snow sparkles on the ground. In 1953, naturalist Donald Peattie recognized the beauty and adaptability of the concolor and predicted that its future “lies in its value as an ornamental.” Its conical shape, blueish silver color and ability to thrive even on harsh sites has made the tree a favorite for urban landscaping. Full sun is best for this tree, meaning it prefers a minimum of four hours of direct, unfiltered sunlight each day, but it can also do well in part shade. The tree’s preferred pH range is acidic to neutral on moist, well drained, loamy soils, and its hardiness range is Zone 3 to 7.

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Sublime “Downtown Doors” Series Photo-Documents Staten Island Trees & Homes from 1940 to Today

This towering black tupelo (Nyssa sylvatica) in Staten Island’s West New Brighton neighborhood (at left, in 1940; at right, in 2020) really caught my attention this season. Although black tupelo generally occupies wet woods habitats, it can thrive under a variety of soil conditions. I’m gratified to see this eastern U.S. native tree species being planted more in cities. The fall color is spectacular. —John Kilcullen

One of my favorite urban forestry-related Instagram accounts belongs to John Kilcullen, an ISA Certified Arborist and Municipal Specialist and Director of NYC Parks-managed Conference House Park in Tottenville, Staten Island. In his free time, John prolifically and affectionately photographs the landscapes and architectural gems of the New York City borough of Staten Island, including its doors (hence the major theme of his Instagram, “Downtown Doors.”) This artistic focus of John’s will come as no surprise given that he is also the President of the Preservation League of Staten Island.

In the waterfront community of Midland Beach (formerly known as Woodland Beach) on the east-central coast of Staten Island, you can find this pin oak (Quercus palustris) standing tall and proud. A tree species that is native to wet growing conditions, this specimen has thrived and survived the many obstacles a shorefront environment can present: hurricanes, flooding, salt spray, and sandy, nutrient-poor soil. This octogenarian shelters a circa-1930s bungalow constructed in the shoreline resort community of Midland Beach. At the turn of the 20th century, the east and south shores of Staten Island had many summer communities. Woodland Beach and its immediate neighbor Midland Beach were a true study in contrast: Midland Beach had its casinos with its day-tripper “glitz and glamor” while Woodland Beach billed itself as a family beachfront retreat. In the late 1940s, the community began to change from a summer to a year-round population. In 1940, the house was occupied, and then owned, by Irish immigrant Patrick J. Rigney and his wife Elizabeth along with their three children (Elizabeth and her three year old daughter, Elizabeth, are believed to be shown in the 1940 photo.) —John Kilcullen

One sub-series within “Downtown Doors” is a phenomenal suite of posts that juxtapose pictures of homes—and the trees in front of them—from 1940 and from today. The historical images are tax photos from the NYC Records & Information Services Historical Records Department; they meet John at his nexus of interests perfectly, providing architectural documentation as well as evidence of trees that were small in the 1940s but that now are, in many cases, mature focal points of their own.

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Watertown Utilizes DEC Grant for Tree Planting & EAB Treatment

Thank you to City of Watertown Planner and Council Board Member Mike DeMarco for providing this summary and photos. 

In October 2018, the City of Watertown was awarded a $20,250 tree planting grant through the New York State (NYS) Department of Environmental Conservation’s (DEC) Urban and Community Forestry Grant Program. Watertown City Planning staff utilized data found in the City’s recently completed tree inventory and management plan to easily identify available planting sites for the 2019 DPW Bare-Root Tree Planting Project.

2019 DPW Tree Planting Project

  • 55 bare-root trees purchased – DEC funded
  • 73 bare-root trees purchased – City funded (includes 25% City match)

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Community Tree Recovery Grants through Arbor Day Foundation

Community Tree Recovery Program: “Tell us about your 2021 tree needs!”

Have questions? Please contact Lachel Bradley-Williams at

The Community Tree Recovery program is designed to help support canopy recovery for those experiencing tree loss caused by wildfires, floods, hurricanes, tornadoes and invasive pest species. This work is essential for re-establishing neighborhood trees, public green spaces, homeowner’s back yards and most critically, building a greater sense of community support and wellbeing. In this space, trees serve as a symbol of collective growth, hope and healing.

To date, more than 5 million trees have been planted and distributed across the globe through the Community Tree Recovery program. During each recovery project, our team works closely with highly valued local forestry partners on the ground to help organize events, ensuring right tree – right place – right time. Whether you are a State Coordinator, local Non-profit, regional Forester, City Parks and Recreation or local Garden Club, we want to hear from you!

We invite you to learn more about Community Tree Recovery online and explore the T.R.E.E. Proposal. In order to be eligible for financial support you must submit at least one project proposal. While not a guarantee of sponsorship, this is your opportunity to share how you plan to make a difference in your community through the power of trees. Paint a vivid picture to help us to tell your story and advocate for your local tree needs. If ever there were a time for trees, the time is now.


The Nature of Cities Online Festival 22-26 February 2021

At nominal cost, or free for those who need assistance:

The Nature of Cities (TNOC) Festival pushes boundaries to radically imagine our cities for the future. A virtual festival that spans 5 days with programming across all regional time zones and provided in multiple languages. The festival focuses on facilitating transdisciplinary dialogue, small group workshops, arts engagement, and fostering a collaborative spirit around urban solutions. It will even have online field trips in various cities! Participants will include a wide range of ways of knowing and modes of action: biophysical and social scientists, architects, artists, landscape architects, activists, planners, policymakers, practitioners, elected officials, engineers, and so on.

The core theme is “Better Cities for Nature and All People.” Do we truly believe in the benefits of nature for health, happiness, climate change mitigation, resilience, sustainability, and biodiversity? Then we must ask: who deserves to enjoy these benefits? Everyone. Does everyone? No. Thus, we want to view our work through a lens of justice and equity: how do we create cities that are full of nature that supports our global needs for resilience and sustainability, and the nature of which is available to all for increased livability?

TNOC Festival is our community’s effort to be fierce in finding new ways to engage internationally and be more inclusive. Last June in Paris, hundreds from 52 countries  joined us for TNOC Summit (catch the vibe of that event here). The meeting was a huge success, but it also left us with a lingering thought: How many thousands couldn’t come because of the physical and economic toll it takes to travel? How much carbon pollution? We can do better.

TNOC’s Global Festival comes to you online, and offers us the ability to truly connect local place and ideas on a global scale for much broader perspectives and participation than any one meeting in any one city, could ever achieve. Join us.


DEC Conservationist Magazine Includes Winter Pruning Feature by Christina McLaughlin

“Pruning in late winter and early spring minimizes
dieback of the inner bark and helps the wound-healing process. Pruning cuts can dry out some in winter due to low humidity, so waiting to cut a damaged limb until late winter or early spring can improve the tree’s healing process.”

—DEC Urban and Community Forestry Partnership Coordinator Christina McLaughlin

See the current Conservationist here

2021 Council Membership Drive & Renewal: Just $25 ($10 for Students)

Do you enjoy the Council’s popular online resources, grant programs, social media, and other output?

Please take a moment to renew your membership or join the Council. It’s fast, easy, inexpensive, and means the world to this nonprofit.

Mailings are exceedingly rare, and your info is not shared.

Thank you!

Free DEC ReLeaf Webinar on Urban Forest Health on Jan 28th

NYSDEC will host the first NYS ReLeaf webinar of 2021 on January 28th at 1 PM on Urban Forest Health.

Jess Cancelliere and Rob Cole will give an overview of DEC’s Forest Health Program, including the Diagnostic Lab and the services it offers. They’ll also talk about Beech Leaf Disease and White Pine Decline, two issues likely to impact urban forests across New York in the coming years.

This webinar is approved for ISA and DEC Pesticide credits.

To register for the free event please visit: