The balsam fir (Abies balsamea) is a North American fir, native to most of eastern and central Canada (Newfoundland west to central Alberta) and the northeastern United States (Minnesota east to Maine, and south in the Appalachian Mountains to West Virginia).
It is a small to medium-size evergreen tree typically 14–20 metres (46–66 ft) tall, rarely to 27 metres (89 ft) tall, with a narrow conic crown. The bark on young trees is smooth, grey, and with resin blisters (which tend to spray when ruptured), becoming rough and fissured or scaly on old trees. The leaves are flat needle-like, 15 to 30 millimetres (½–1 in) long, dark green above often with a small patch of stomata near the tip, and two white stomatal bands below, and a slightly notched tip. They are arranged spirally on the shoot, but with the leaf bases twisted to appear in two more-or-less horizontal rows. The cones are erect, 40 to 80 millimetres (1½–3 in) long, dark purple, ripening brown and disintegrating to release the winged seeds in September.
There are two varieties:
- Abies balsamea var. balsamea (balsam fir) - bracts subtending seed scales short, not visible on the closed cones. Most of the species' range.
- Abies balsamea var. phanerolepis (bracted balsam fir or Canaan fir) - bracts subtending seed scales longer, visible on the closed cone. The southeast of the species' range, from southernmost Quebec to West Virginia. The name 'Canaan Fir' derives from one of its native localities, the Canaan Valley in West Virginia. Some botanists regard this variety as a natural hybrid between balsam fir and Fraser fir (Abies fraseri), which occurs further south in the Appalachian mountains.
This tree provides food for moose, American red squirrels, crossbills and chickadees, as well as shelter for moose, snowshoe hares, white-tailed deer, ruffed grouse and other small mammals and songbirds. The needles are eaten by some lepidopteran caterpillars, for example the Io moth (Automeris io).
Both varieties of the species are very popular as Christmas trees, particularly in the northeastern United states. The resin is used to produce Canada balsam, and was traditionally used as a cold remedy and as a glue for glasses, optical instrument components, and for preparing permanent mounts of microscope specimens. The wood is milled for framing lumber, siding and pulped for paper manufacture. Balsam fir oil is an EPA approved nontoxic rodent repellent. The balsam fir is also used as an air freshener and as incense.
- ^ "PLANTS Profile for Abies balsamea (balsam fir)". http://plants.usda.gov/java/profile?symbol=ABBA. Retrieved 2007-07-17.
- ^ http://www.epa.gov/opp00001/biopesticides/ingredients/factsheets/factsheet_129035.htm
- Conifer Specialist Group (1998). Abies balsamea. 2006. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. IUCN 2006. www.iucnredlist.org. Retrieved on 12 May 2006.
- Gymnosperm Database: Abies balsamea
- Flora of North America
- Karen Legasy, Shayna LaBelle-Beadman & Brenda Chambers. Forest Plants of Northeastern Ontario. Lone Pine Publishing / Queen's Printer for Ontario, 1995.