Fact Sheet for Abies balsamea

Plant Fact Sheet

Plant Materials

Plant Fact Sheet/Guide Coordination Page

National Plant Data Center


Abies balsamea (L.) P. Mill.

Plant Symbol = ABBA

Contributed by: USDA NRCS Plant Materials


Alternate Names

Pinus balsamea L.


Balsam fir is used primarily for Christmas trees and

pulpwood, although some lumber is produced from it

in New England and the Lake States. The wood is

light in weight, low in bending and compressive

strength, moderately limber, soft, and low in

resistance to shock.


Please consult the PLANTS Web site and your State

Department of Natural Resources for this plant’s

current status (e.g. threatened or endangered species,

state noxious status, and wetland indicator values).


Balsam fir is a small to medium sized coniferous tree.

Growth occurs in whorls of branches surrounding an

upright leader or terminal, making a symmetrical tree

with a broad base and narrow top. It is relatively

short-lived and is considered a sub-climax type

species in the New England states, but may be a

climax type in the zone below timberline.

Needles are 3/4 to 1 inch long, flat, and often

strongly curved. Twigs with needles have a generally

flattened appearance. Both male and female flowers

are found on the same branch. Cones are 2 to 4

inches long, purplish in color, and stand erect on

branches (as do those of all true firs). There are

about 60,000 seeds in a pound. The bark is smooth,

thin, and grayish, distinguished by soft blisters

containing a clear, odiferous resin known as

Canadian balsam.

Robert H. Mohlenbrock

USDA NRCS 1995 Northeast Wetland Flora


Adaptation and Distribution

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. It is generally found in areas with a cold moist

climate and with 30 inches or more of annual

precipitation. Fir is subject to windthrow, especially

on shallow wet soils. Because of its thin bark,

shallow root system, and flammable needles, balsam

fir is easily killed by fire.

Balsam fir is distributed throughout the Northeast and

upper Midwest. For a current distribution map,

please consult the Plant Profile page for this species

on the PLANTS Website.


The use of natural regeneration methods for balsam

fir is very effective on open and disturbed sites

(heavily cut areas), but an adequate seed source must

exist. This species can also be readily grown in

nurseries, for transplanting to abandoned fields,

Christmas tree plantations, and open areas. Use

conventional tree planting techniques and equipment.

Three or four year old seedling stock should be



This section is under development. Please consult

the Related Web Sites links on the PLANTS Plant


Cultivars, Improved, and Selected Materials (and

area of origin)

Although most available seedlings of balsam fir are

of unknown parentage, some are produced from local


Prepared By & Species Coordinator:

USDA NRCS Northeast Plant Materials Program

31Jan2002 JLK; 24may06jsp

For more information about this and other plants, please contact

your local NRCS field office or Conservation District, and visit the

PLANTS Web site or the Plant Materials

Program Web site

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