Fir, Balsam Abies balsamea
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Hardiness Zones 3 - 5The Balsam Fir can be expected to grow in the zones shown in color in the arborday.org zone map. View Map
Type of treeEvergreens
Mature HeightThe Balsam Fir grows to be 45' - 75' feet in height.
Mature SpreadThe Balsam Fir has a spread of about 20' - 25' at full maturity.
SunThis fir does well in full sun, partial shade.
Balsam fir prefers moist, cool, well-drained, acidic soil, but will tolerate some salt.
ShapeThis fir has pyramidal shape.
The Balsam fir is a native evergreen well adapted to the cold climates of the northern United States and Canada. Its symmetrical spire like crown, shining dark green color, and spicy fragrance have made it a favorite Christmas tree for hundreds of years. In the landscape it is used as a specimen or ornamental and as a screen or windbreak. The light weight wood is used for pulpwood and lumber, and the branches for other holiday greenery especially wreaths
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.
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 bear. Beaver occasionally use the wood for dam building.
Another common name for the Balsam fir is balm of Gilead fir. Other common names are Northern balsam, silver pine, and blister fir. It is native to Canada and a wide part of northern United States from northern Minnesota, southeast to Iowa, central Wisconsin to New York, Pennsylvania, and New England. It is found in the mountains of Virginia and West Virginia.
The Balsam fir prefers moist soil.
The fragrant needles are 5/8"-1", lustrous dark green above, silvery-blue with two gray or white stomatic bands below. They are flattened with blunt or rounded and sometimes notched tips.
Male is purple to yellowish red, female is purple and inconspicuous.
Late May to June, although may be as early as late April.
The cylindrical cones are 2"-4" long, dark violet when young becoming gray brown. . Seed crops occur at 2-4 year intervals. The species may bear cones as early as 15 years although regular seed production generally begins after 20-30 years.
Rate of growth refers to the vertical increase in growth unless specified differently. Rate, as is true for size, is influenced by numerous variables such as soil, drainage, water, fertility, light, exposure, ad infinitum. The designation slow means the plant grows 12” or less per year; medium refers to 13 to 24” of growth per year; and fast to 25” or greater.Manual of Woody Landscape Plants, by Michael Dirr.