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Balsam FirAbies balsamea

  • Northern Red Oak - Quercus rubra

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. The branches are also popular in holiday wreaths and other greenery.

In the landscape, this fir is used as a specimen as well as part of a screen or windbreak.

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 4 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.