Kingdom : Plantae
Phylum : Spermatophyta
Subphylum : Gymnospermae
Class : Pinopsida
Family : Pinaceae
Genus : Abies
Species : religiosa
The sacred fir, Abies religiosa, is a fir native to the mountains of central and southern Mexico, as well as western Guatemala. Abies religiosa is a medium to large evergreen coniferous tree with a trunk diameter of up to 2 metres that grows to a height of 25–50 metres (82–164 feet) (6.6 ft).
Each year, their branches develop in a whorl around the tree, making it easy to determine the tree’s age. They have upright cones that face up rather than down, as many other evergreen species do.
These cones only last one season before disintegrating in the winter. The fir tree’s root system also serves in soil erosion prevention. This is the most common and abundant Abies species in Mexico; its range of occurrence and likely area of occupancy exceeds the standards for endangered status. It is likely to have been some influence from logging, but not enough to bring the population below the threatened thresholds. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species rates the plant as ‘Least Concern’ (2013).
The tree’s wood is primarily used locally and is taken from the wild. The tree has sacred importance for the locals, and it is utilised to decorate churches during religious holidays. The tree is occasionally used as a decorative plant.
The sacred fir is a favourite tree of monarch butterflies during their winter hibernation, and it may be found mostly in the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve in southern Mexico. Monarch Butterflies (Danaus plexippus) are among the world’s most well-known butterflies.
Their vivid colours are meant to warn predators of their unpleasant taste. Monarch butterflies are unable to withstand the cold winters of most of the United States, therefore they fly south and west each autumn to avoid the cold. The monarch migration normally begins in October, but it may begin earlier if the weather becomes colder before then. They cuddle together amid the Oyamel fir trees when they arrive in Mexico. Hundreds of thousands of ‘roosting’ butterflies may cover each tree. They linger in semi-dormancy, practically motionless, surviving the winter on stored energy.
In some locations, logging and general deforestation, particularly in Guatemala and southern Mexico, are virtually certainly having a negative impact on this species. It’s tough to measure, but a fair estimate would be a 10% decline in the past three generations, or around a century. Although there are certain protected places where this species can be found, the majority of its population lives outside of them. Polluted air from Mexico City may be an important causal factor in fir decline. Drought, due to excessive removal of soil water, insects, mites and pathogens, and poor forest management are possible contributing and interactive factors in fir decline.
The World Wildlife Fund collaborates with the Mexican government, local people, and other partners to promote excellent forest management and sustainable tourism in Mexico’s Monarch Butterfly Reserve. The WWF also sponsors tree nurseries that help restore the forest in the Reserve, providing new sources of income for the region’s residents.