Balsam Fir (Abies balsamea)

Other Common Names:

  • Fir

Characteristics:

  • Medium, conical evergreen tree.
  • Trunk has gray, smooth bark with many resin-filled blisters.
  • Leaves are aromatic, needle-like, attached singly to the branches, very flat, up to 1” long, with two white bands on the bottom of the leaf. Leaves are arranged spirally on branch, but the bases twist so that the leaves appear to be arranged in two horizontal rows on either side of branch.
  • Cones are purple, up to 3” long, and stand erect on the branches.

Reproduction:

  • Seeds are winged, and dispersed by the wind.
  • Seed production begins when trees are about 20 years old (roughly 15 feet tall).
  • Firs can reproduce by layering in some environments.
  • Male and female flowers are cones (strobili), both on different branches of the same tree.
  • Male cones are up to 1/3” long, found in leaf axils.
  • Female cones are upright, up to 3” long, and found on the uppermost branches. Cones don’t open like other conifers, but they disintegrate, and release winged seeds.

Similar Species:

  • Fir can be distinguished from other conifers by the configuration and shape of the needles. Needles emerge singly from the branches. Only spruce shares this leaf configuration. (The needles of pine trees emerge in clusters of two or more). Between spruce and fir, fir needles are flat, while spruce trees have a four-sided cross section. Spruce needles roll easily between the fingers, as opposed to fir needles.

Ecological Role:

  • Food source for moose and deer.

Edibility:

  • Needles can be used for tea

Other Uses:

  • Commonly used for Christmas trees

Etymology:

Other: