We come now to the most regularly planted of all the main forest belts, composed almost exclusively of two noble firs—A. concolor and A. magnifica. It extends with no marked interruption for 450 miles, at an elevation of from 5000 to nearly 9000 feet above the sea. In its youth A. concolor is a charmingly symmetrical tree with branches regularly whorled in level collars around its whitish-gray axis, which terminates in a strong, hopeful shoot. The leaves are in two horizontal rows, along branchlets that commonly are less than eight years old, forming handsome plumes, pinnated like the fronds of ferns. The cones are grayish-green when ripe, cylindrical, about from three to four inches long by one and a half to two inches wide, and stand upright on the upper branches.
Full-grown trees, favorably situated as to soil and exposure, are about 200 feet high, and five or six feet in diameter near the ground, though larger specimens are by no means rare.
As old age creeps on, the bark becomes rougher and grayer, the branches lose their exact regularity, many are snow-bent or broken off, and the main axis often becomes double or otherwise irregular from accidents to the terminal bud or shoot; but throughout all the vicissitudes of its life on the mountains, come what may, the noble grandeur of the species is patent to every eye.
This is the most charmingly symmetrical of all the giants of the Sierra woods, far surpassing its companion species in this respect, and easily distinguished from it by the purplish-red bark, which is also more closely furrowed than that of the white, and by its larger cones, more regularly whorled and fronded branches, and by its leaves, which are shorter, and grow all around the branchlets and point upward.
In size, these two Silver Firs are about equal, the magnifica perhaps a little the taller. Specimens from 200 to 250 feet high are not rare on well-ground moraine soil, at an elevation of from 7500 to 8500 feet above sea-level. The largest that I measured stands back three miles from the brink of the north wall of Yosemite Valley. Fifteen years ago it was 240 feet high, with a diameter of a little more than five feet.
Happy the man with the freedom and the love to climb one of these superb trees in full flower and fruit. How admirable the forest-work of Nature is then seen to be, as one makes his way up through the midst of the broad, fronded branches, all arranged in exquisite order around the trunk, like the whorled leaves of lilies, and each branch and branchlet about as strictly pinnate as the most symmetrical fern-frond. The staminate cones are seen growing straight downward from the under side of the young branches in lavish profusion, making fine purple clusters amid the grayish-green foliage. On the topmost branches the fertile cones are set firmly on end like small casks. They are about six inches long, three wide, covered with a fine gray down, and streaked with crystal balsam that seems to have been poured upon each cone from above.