In the wild, the trees are tall, beautifully symmetrical and grow to over 200 feet in height. The bark is smooth with resin blisters when young and changes to brownish-grey plates with age.
The needles are roughly 4-sided (similar to spruce), over 1 inch long, bluish-green but appearing silver because of 2 white rows of stomata on the underside and 1-2 rows on the upper surface. The needles are generally twisted upward so that the lower surface of branches are exposed.
The pollen cones are reddish and the seed cones are large (often over 5 inches long), heavy cones concentrated in the tree tops. They are erect and the cones scales are nearly concealed by shaggy-edged, sharp pointed bracts. The cones dissipate in the fall to release their seeds.
The original Latin name Abies nobilis had to be changed when it was discovered another tree already had been given this name. However, the common name has persisted because of the magnificent proportions of the tree and the large, heavy cones.
Nobles are native to the Siskiyou Mountains of northern California and the Cascade and Coastal ranges of Oregon and Washington. It closely resembles the California red fir (Abies magnifica var. magnifica), commonly used as an uncultured tree called "silver tips" in the California fresh tree market, and the shasta fir (Abies magnifica var. shastensis) that is grown in some Pacific Northwest christmas tree plantations.
It grows in middle- to upper-elevation coniferous forests and is often associated with Abies amabilis (or "silver fir") and other conifers. The best stands are found in moist, middle elevation areas with deep, rich soils. Middle-elevation stands are usually more open than low-elevation forests and occur on poorer, thinner, rockier soils in areas more frequently disturbed by wind, snow and sometimes fire.
Long considered an excellent christmas tree because of its beauty, stiff branches and long keep ability, the species is growing in popularity. It is also widely used in the greenery business to make wreaths, door swags, garland and other christmas products.
Its lumber is sometimes marketed as "Oregon larch" - possibly after the Larch Mountains because they were covered with towering stands of noble fir.
The wood is moderately strong and light weight. It is valued for its light colour and uniform straight grain. The early wood (spring wood) is creamy white to light brown and the late wood (summer wood) gradually changes to reddish brown or lavender tinged. The heartwood is indistinct.
The wood is easy to work. Its warm, light colour and straight grain makes ideal interior finish material for siding, panelling and doors. It is often sold separately for appearance applications and as Hem-Fir (Hemlock-Fir) for construction applications.
The R.A.F. Mosquito planes of World War II were built with noble fir frames.