Balsam Fir (Abies balsamea)

Balsam Fir

The Balsam Fir (Abies balsamea), also known as Canada Balsam and Eastern Fir, is an evergreen, monoecious conifer in the Pine Family (Pinaceae). The genus name is Latin for "silver fir" and the species name is Latin for the aromatic gum of this tree that people in the ancient Mediterranean world used for perfume. The family name is from the Latin for "pine." This tree is harvested for pulpwood, Christmas trees, wreaths, aromatic usage and a resin used mostly in the past to mount microscope slides.

The following photograph shows three tall Balsam Firs framed by an aspen and spruce. Balsam Firs can be seen sticking up in many Maine forests. They inspired Maine author Sarah Orne Jewett to write the classic regional novel, The Country of the Pointed Firs.

Pointed Firs

This tree can grow to a height of 60 feet (18 meters) with a diameter up to 1½ feet (½ meter). It has a symmetrical and pyramidal shape.

The leaves are shiny green needles from ½ to 1 inch (12 to 25 millimeters) long. The underside of each needle has two whitish bands shown in the second photograph below. The needles grow in two rows on either side of the twig and at approximately right angles to the twig. The tip of the needle is rounded and some needles may be curved and/or notched at the tip.

Balsam Fir Needles


Balsam Fir Twig

The bark is gray to brown and somewhat greenish in young trees, thin and smooth. As the tree matures, the bark will become scaly. A distinctive feature of the Balsam Fir bark is the presence of numerous resin blisters seen as light-colored spots on the bark in the photograph below. These blisters contain the prized aromatic resin.

Balsam Fir Bark

The cylindrical cones are dark purple, from two to four inches (five to ten centimeters) long and grow upright at the top of the tree. They are often partly covered in resin. The brown seeds are winged and relatively large for a pine with 59,840 seeds per pound (0.45 kilograms). This tree is prolific but relatively short-lived. The following photograph shows mature balsam fir cones on the top branches of a Balsam Fir tree. Note the resin on the cones.

Balsam Fir Cones

The following photograph shows the top of a mature Balsam Fir near French Hill Pond, The vertical stalks on the top branches once held cones. Balsam Firs are easily identified if these stalks or vertical cones can be seen.

Balsam Fir Open Top

More often than not, the cones or cone stalks are difficult to distinguish as in the following photograph.

Balsam Fir Crowded Top

The minimum root depth of a Balsam Fir is 20 inches (51 centimeters).


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