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Balsam FirAbies balsamea

  • Northern Red Oak - Quercus rubra
The Balsam fir has a narrow, symmetrical, spire-shaped, dense crown. On young and open grown trees the long lower branches extend nearly to the ground. The bark is dull green or pale gray, smooth except for numerous prominent resin blisters. With maturity it becomes a roughened, scaly red-brown, and on very old trunks is broken into small, irregular plates. The blisters contain an oily resin called balsam. The needles are shiny dark green above, silvery with two gray or white bands below. The tips are blunt, rounded, or notched. Immature cones are a dark purple turning gray-brown and disintegrating at maturity. The root system is shallow and spreading making it only moderately windfirm. It is adapted to a wide variety of sites from swamps to high rocky mountainsides, but Balsam fir grows best in cold climates with well-drained, acid, moist soil. It takes shade more than other firs, but does not tolerate polluted areas.

Hardiness Zones

The balsam fir can be expected to grow in Hardiness Zones 3–5. View Map

Tree Type

This is an evergreen tree, keeping its foliage year-round.

Mature Size

The balsam fir grows to a height of 45–75' and a spread of 20–25' at maturity.

Growth Speed Slow Growth Rate

This tree grows at a slow rate, with height increases of less than 12" per year.

Sun Preference

Full sun and partial shade are best for this tree, meaning it prefers a minimum of four hours of direct, unfiltered sunlight each day.

Soil Preference

The balsam fir prefers moist, cool, well-drained, acidic soil but will tolerate some salt.

Attributes

This tree:
  • Is a popular Christmas tree choice.
  • Features lustrous dark green needles ⅝–1" in length with 2 white or gray stomatic bands on the underside. The tips are blunt, rounded or notched.
  • Yields cones 2–4" in length that start out dark purple, turning gray-brown and resinous at maturity. Once the seeds are ripe, the scales fall off, leaving only the central axis of the cone. Seed crops occur at 2–4 year intervals.
  • Has a narrow, symmetrical, spire-shaped, dense crown.
  • Develops blisters of oily resin (balsam) along the trunk.
  • Grows in a pyramidal shape.
  • Does best in colder climates.

Wildlife Value

The seeds and buds are food for birds including grouse, squirrels, mice and voles. Moose and white-tailed deer use the balsam fir for food, cover and shelter. The bark is browsed by black bears. Beavers occasionally use the wood for dam building.

History/Lore

Other common names for this tree are balm of Gilead, northern balsam, silver pine, and blister fir. The resin from this tree was once used to mount thin specimens under slides.