Plant Fact Sheet
Plant Fact Sheet/Guide Coordination Page
National Plant Data Center
Abies balsamea (L.) P. Mill.
Plant Symbol = ABBA
Contributed by: USDA NRCS Plant Materials
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
Robert H. Mohlenbrock
USDA NRCS 1995 Northeast Wetland Flora
@ USDA NRCS PLANTS
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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Plant Fact Sheet