Native Plant Trust

Abies balsamea

balsam fir


Balsam fir is a major component of northern forests and at higher elevations further south. Deep green, wonderfully scented needles give rise to standing cones with a great blue color in their early stages of development. Site this handsome tree in moist, cool, acidic soils for best resuts.

Click on these links to read in detail:  General Description | Benefits | Ecology | References


Height: 35-60 ft
Spread: 12-18 ft
Hardiness Zone: 3-6


Bloom Color: Non-Flowering

Characteristics & Attributes

Cultivation Status
Species
Exposure
Sun
Part Shade
Soil Moisture
Average
Wet
Ecoregion
(84) Atlantic Coastal Pine Barrens
(82) Acadian Plains and Hills
(58) Northeastern Highlands
(83) Eastern Great Lakes Lowlands
(59) Northeastern Coastal Zone
Ornamental Interest
Winter Interest and/or Evergreen
Attracts Wildlife
Host Plant
Pollinator Powerhouse Plant
Attracts Songbirds
Tolerance
Deer/Rabbit Resistant
Additional Attributes
Fragrant


North American Distribution


General Description

Bloom Description: The inconspicuous male and female parts are found on separate flowers(unisexual), but both exist on the same branch and individual plant (monecious). Young cones are purple. Mature cones sit erect on branches.

Growth Habit & Shape: An evergreen tree with narrow pyramidal or conical form and a spire-like crown.

Soil Preferences: Prefers cool, humusy, slightly acidic, and moist soils. According to the USDA PLANTS fact sheet for this specites: "The soils on which balsam fir grows range from silt loams developed from lake deposits to stony loams derived from glacial till. Fir will grow, but comparatively slowly, on gravelly sands and in peat bogs. It grows on soils of pH ranging from 4.0 to 6.0. "

Root Description: Though seedlings root deeply in the early stages, mature balsam fir are generally shallow-rooted relative to their height, making them susceptible to wind-throw. The lateral roots are usually well-developed, and extend horizontally to 5 or more feet from the base.

Garden Uses: Ornamental specimen tree, windbreaks, and evergreen screening in consistently moist soils.

Best Management & Maintenance: Keep well-watered during drought years.

Common Problems: No serious problems when planted as a landscape plant (rather than in pure or mixed stands in forest settings, or in siviculture settings, where it is susceptible to dieoff because of spruce budworm epidemics).. This tree is intolerant of urban settings.

Benefits

Ornamental Value: Balsam fir is a sumptuous evergreen with distinctive, upright cones and aromatic branches and needles year round.

Wildlife Benefits: Provides cover for birds, snowshoe hare, and other small mammals. Songbirds and squirrels forage on the seeds, and deer and moose browse the foliage. Host plant for 114 species of moth and butterfly larvae including: apple sphinx, fringed looper, imperial moth, Io moth, whitemarked tussock moth and more.

Other Practical/Environmental Benefits: Provides screening, shade, and wind protection.

Use in place of: Picea abies (Norway spruce)

Ecology

Habitat:
Found in cold, moist climates in upland and lowland forests, swamps, and wetland edges thoughout the northeastern US and Canada. This is a dominant tree species in boreal forests.


Response to Disturbance: Balsam fir is considered a sub-climax species in New England and a climax species further North in Canada, where it can be found and pure and mixed stands. The species reacts poorly to soil disturbance and wind, given its shallow root system, and is highly intolerant of drought. This plant does well in minimally-dynamic forest ecosystems, where it may be protected by other, taller tree species or others of its own. Young trees tolerate quite a bit of shade and deer or moose browse, though this may come at the expense of height. Individuals begin to regularly produce seed in their 20th to 30th years, though germination rates tend to be low, and seed viability does not persist for more than one year.

Native State Distributions:
Canada: AB, LB, MB, NB, NF, NS, NU, ON, PE, QC, SK
USA: CT, MA, ME, MI, MN, NH, NJ, NY, OH, PA, RI, VT, WI


Wetland indicator status: FAC

References

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balsam fir - Abies balsamea from Native Plant Trust
Photo by Dan Jaffe (c) Native Plant Trust
balsam fir - Abies balsamea from Native Plant Trust
by Dick Stiles (c) Native Plant Trust