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Abies balsamea (Balsam fir)
Smith, R.W.

Abies balsamea

Abies balsamea (L.) Mill.

Balsam Fir, Blister Pine, Northern Balsam

Pinaceae (Pine Family)



USDA Native Status: L48 (N), CAN (N), SPM (N)

The only fir native to the Northeast, with narrow, pointed, spirelike crown of spreading branches and aromatic foliage.

A major pulpwood species. Interior knotty pine paneling is a special product; Canada balsam, an aromatic oleoresin obtained from swellings or resin blisters in the bark, is used for mounting microscopic specimens and for optical cement. Wood is used for pulp and paper.


From the Image Gallery

1 photo(s) available in the Image Gallery

Plant Characteristics

Duration: Perennial
Habit: Tree
Leaf Retention: Evergreen
Leaf Complexity: Simple
Leaf Shape: Linear
Breeding System: Flowers Unisexual , Monoecious
Fruit Type: Cone
Size Notes: Up to about 75 feet tall.
Leaf: Green
Fruit: Purple, Brown 2-3.5 in.

Bloom Information

Bloom Color: Yellow , Green , Purple , Brown
Bloom Time: Sep , Oct , Nov


USA: CT , IA , IN , MA , MD , ME , MI , MN , NH , NY , OH , PA , RI , VA , VT , WI , WV
Canada: AB , BC , MB , NB , NL , NS , ON , PE , QC , SK , YT
Native Distribution: Lab. & Nf. to MN & s. Man., s. to VA & n.e. IA; in North on low, swampy ground to well-drained uplands; in South above 3600 ft.
Native Habitat: Woodland, Riparian, Swamp, Marsh

Growing Conditions

Water Use: Medium
Light Requirement: Sun , Part Shade , Shade
Soil Moisture: Moist
Soil pH: Acidic (pH<6.8)
CaCO3 Tolerance: Low
Cold Tolerant: yes
Soil Description: Well-drained, acid, moist soils.
Conditions Comments: This slow-growing tree loses its lower branches as it matures, but maintains its dense, spire-like habit throughout its life. It needs to be kept cool and moist during the growing season. It is troubled by spruce budworm, woolly aphid and several canker diseases and is heavily browsed by deer. It is very resistant to attack by gypsy moth. The soft foliage makes balsam a favorite Christmas tree.


Use Ornamental: A common Christmas tree species. Christmas trees, wreaths, and balsam pillows utilize the aromatic foliage.
Use Wildlife: Songbirds and squirrels eat seed and deer browse foliage. Deer and moose browse the foliage in winter.
Use Other: Balsam has the fortunate property of refracting light to exactly the same extent that glass does so that the balsam matrix, the cover glass, and the microscope lenses become one optical system with the same refractive index. (Peattie)
Fragrant Flowers: yes
Interesting Foliage: yes
Fragrant Foliage: yes
Attracts: Birds , Butterflies


Description: Abies spp. are best propagated by means of seeds sown in early spring. In nature, Abies seeds often germinate on melting snow fields.
Seed Collection: Cone scales bear two seeds at the base. Mature seed has a large wing and is ovoid to oblong. Seeds can be damaged easily. Seeds store best in a dry, cool environment.
Seed Treatment: A stratification period of 15-30 days in moist medium at 34-41 degrees is recommended.
Commercially Avail: yes

Find Seed or Plants

View propagation protocol from Native Plants Network.

National Wetland Indicator Status

This information is derived from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers National Wetland Plant List, Version 3.1 (Lichvar, R.W. 2013. The National Wetland Plant List: 2013 wetland ratings. Phytoneuron 2013-49: 1-241). Click here for map of regions.

From the National Organizations Directory

According to the species list provided by Affiliate Organizations, this plant is on display at the following locations:

Natural Biodiversity - Johnstown, PA
Mt. Cuba Center - Hockessin, DE

Additional resources

USDA: Find Abies balsamea in USDA Plants
FNA: Find Abies balsamea in the Flora of North America (if available)
Google: Search Google for Abies balsamea


Record Modified: 2018-10-10
Research By: DEW

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