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Overview

Brief Summary

Pinaceae -- Pine family

    Robert M. Frank

    Balsam fir (Abies balsamea) is one of the more important  conifers in the northern United States and in Canada. Within its range it  may also be referred to as balsam, Canadian balsam, eastern fir, and  bracted balsam fir. It is a small to medium-sized tree used primarily for  pulp and light frame construction, and it is one of the most popular  Christmas trees. Wildlife rely extensively on this tree for food and  shelter.

  • Burns, Russell M., and Barbara H. Honkala, technical coordinators. 1990. Silvics of North America: 1. Conifers; 2. Hardwoods.   Agriculture Handbook 654 (Supersedes Agriculture Handbook 271,Silvics of Forest Trees of the United States, 1965).   U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Washington, DC. vol.2, 877 pp.   http://www.na.fs.fed.us/spfo/pubs/silvics_manual/table_of_contents.htm External link.
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Robert M. Frank

Source: Silvics of North America

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Abies balsamea, balsam fir, is a coniferous evergreen tree in the Pinaceae family, native to areas with cold climates northeastern U.S. and Canada. It is important in northeastern North America, where it forms large single-species stands or is one of the dominant species in several boreal forest types in the northern United States and in Canada. A small- to medium-sized tree with light and relatively week wood, its timber is used primarily for pulpwood for paper manufacture, and in light interior construction (or as plywood), but it is a popular Christmas tree, and is the Provincial tree of New Brunswick.

Balsam fir typically grows to 14–20 meters (46–66 feet) tall, with a narrow, symmetrical, conic crown. Bark on young trees is smooth, grey, and dotted 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 millimeters (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, 4–8 cm (1.5–3 inches) long, dark purple, ripening brown and disintegrating to release the winged seeds in September.

In addition to its use as for pulpwood and Christmas trees, balsam fir bark and leaves produce oleoresins that are used to make turpentine, varnishes, and Canada balsam (used as a slide fixative) and in the manufacture of medicinal compounds. The resin is reported to have numerous medical uses, as an antiseptic and general healing agent, and was used to treat sore throat and coughs, colds, and fevers by North American native peoples including the Ojibwa, as well as in Western pharmaceuticals such as Buckley’s Mixture cough syrup in Canada.

Balsam fir grows in low swampy areas and areas with ample moisture, although it may also occur on well-drained hillsides. It commonly occurs with trees species such as spruces (Picea), birches (Betula sp.), and aspens (Populus sp.). It is moderately important to wildlife. The young trees are used as cover for mammals and nesting sites for birds. Deer and moose browse the leaves, sometimes extensively in winter "deer yards." At least 8 species of songbirds and several mammal species eat the winged seeds.

Balsam fir is popular for the fragrance of its needles, inspiring poetic reflections: “To anyone whose childhood summers were spent [in the great North Woods], the delicious spicy fragrance of Balsam needles is the dearest odor in all of Nature” (Peattie 1991).

(Burns and Honkala 1990, Farrar 1995, Harlow et al. 1991, Martin et al. 1951, Peattie 1991, PFAF 2011, Wikipedia 2011)

  • Burns, Russell M., and Barbara H. Honkala, tech. coords. 1990. Silvics of North America. Vol 1. Conifers. Agriculture Handbook 654. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Washington, DC. Available online from http://na.fs.fed.us/spfo/pubs/silvics_manual/Volume_1/abies/balsamea.htm.
  • Farrar, J. 1995. Trees of the Northern United States and Canada. Ames, IA: Iowa State University Press. Pp. 81–85.
  • Harlow, W.M., E.S. Harrar, J.W. Hardin, and F.M. White. 1991. Textbook of Dendrology. 7th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill. Pp. 160–179.
  • Martin, A.C., H.S. Zim, and A.L. Nelson. 1951. American wildlife & plants a guide to wildlife food habits: the use of trees, shrubs, weeds, and herbs by birds and mammals of the United States. Prepared for U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Dept. of Interior. New York: Dover. Pp. 292–3.
  • PFAF. 2011. Abies balsamea—Mill. Plants For A Future online database. Retrieved 20 November 2011 from http://www.pfaf.org/user/Plant.aspx?LatinName=Abies+balsamea.
  • Peattie, D.C. 1991. A Natural History of Trees of Eastern and Central North America. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. Pp. 57–59.
  • Wikipedia. 2011. “Buckley’s.” In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 20 November 2011 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buckley's.
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Comprehensive Description

Description

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.

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USDA NRCS Plant Materials Program

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Alternative names

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Distribution

National Distribution

Canada

Origin: Native

Regularity: Regularly occurring

Currently: Present

Confidence: Confident

United States

Origin: Native

Regularity: Regularly occurring

Currently: Present

Confidence: Confident

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Balsam fir is widely distributed in northeastern North America. It
occurs from Newfoundland west across northern Quebec, northern Ontario,
central Manitoba, and Saskatchewan to northwestern Alberta, south about
400 miles (640 km) to central Alberta, southeast to northern Minnesota
and Wisconsin, and east to New England [21]. In the United States,
scattered populations occur in southern Minnesota, southern Wisconsin,
northeastern Iowa, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and northern Virginia.
The two varieties are distributed as follows [5]:

var. balsamea - from Newfoundland and Labrador west to northeastern
Alberta and south to Minnesota, Wisconsin, southern
Ontario, northern Pennsylvania, New York, and New
England. It is local in northeastern Iowa.

var. phanerolepis - from Newfoundland and Labrador to Ontario and Maine
and in the high mountains of New Hamphire, Vermont,
and New York. It is also common in the higher
mountains of Virginia and West Virginia.
  • 21. Frank, Robert M. 1990. Abies balsamea (L.) Mill. balsam fir. In: Burns, Russell M.; Honkala, Barbara H., technical coordinators. Silvics of North America. Volume 1. Conifers. Agric. Handb. 654. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service: 26-35. [13365]
  • 5. Bakuzis, E. V.; Hansen, H. L.; with contrib. by Kaufert, F. H.; Lawrence, D. B.; Duncan, D. P.; [and others]

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Occurrence in North America

CT IA ME MA MI MN NH NY PA VT
VA WV WI AB LB MB NB NF NS ON
PE PQ SK

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In Canada, balsam fir extends from Newfoundland and Labrador west  through the more northerly portions of Quebec and Ontario, in scattered  stands through north-central Manitoba and Saskatchewan to the Peace River  Valley in northwestern Alberta, then south for approximately 640 km (400  mi) to central Alberta, and east and south to southern Manitoba.

    In the United States, the range of balsam fir extends from extreme  northern Minnesota west of Lake-of-the-Woods southeast to Iowa; east to  central Wisconsin and central Michigan into New York and central  Pennsylvania; then northeastward from Connecticut to the other New England  States. The species is also present locally in the mountains of Virginia  and West Virginia (23,30).

    Balsam fir grows from sea level to within 15 to 23 m (50 to 75 ft) below  the 1917 m (6,288 ft) summit of Mount Washington in the White Mountains of  New Hampshire. At this elevation prostrate balsam fir is found in  sheltered areas (1).

     
- The native range of balsam fir.

  • Burns, Russell M., and Barbara H. Honkala, technical coordinators. 1990. Silvics of North America: 1. Conifers; 2. Hardwoods.   Agriculture Handbook 654 (Supersedes Agriculture Handbook 271,Silvics of Forest Trees of the United States, 1965).   U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Washington, DC. vol.2, 877 pp.   http://www.na.fs.fed.us/spfo/pubs/silvics_manual/table_of_contents.htm External link.
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Robert M. Frank

Source: Silvics of North America

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Distribution and adaptation

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.

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Physical Description

Morphology

Description

More info for the terms: duff, tree

Balsam fir is a native, coniferous, evergreen, small to medium-sized,
upright tree. At maturity it may reach a height of 40 to 90 feet (12-27
m) and a d.b.h. of 12 to 30 inches (30-75 cm) [5]. Maximum age is about
200 years. Balsam fir has a dense, narrowly pyrimidal crown terminating
in a slender, spirelike top. Open-grown trees may have live branches
extending to the ground, but trees in well-stocked stands have dead,
persistent lower branches [29]. The needles are flat, resinous, and 0.4
to 1.2 inches (1-3 cm) long [5]. Erect cones occur on the upper side of
1-year-old branches in the upper crown. The bark is gray and smooth and
contains numerous raised resin blisters. On older trees the bark
becomes brown and scaly but is less than 0.5 inch (1.2 cm) thick [5].
Balsam fir has a shallow root system that is mostly confined to duff and
upper mineral soil layers. Roots rarely penetrate more than 30 inches
(75 cm) below the ground surface, except in sandy soils [21].
  • 21. Frank, Robert M. 1990. Abies balsamea (L.) Mill. balsam fir. In: Burns, Russell M.; Honkala, Barbara H., technical coordinators. Silvics of North America. Volume 1. Conifers. Agric. Handb. 654. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service: 26-35. [13365]
  • 29. Hosie, R. C. 1969. Native trees of Canada. 7th ed. Ottawa, ON: Canadian Forestry Service, Department of Fisheries and Forestry. 380 p. [3375]
  • 5. Bakuzis, E. V.; Hansen, H. L.; with contrib. by Kaufert, F. H.; Lawrence, D. B.; Duncan, D. P.; [and others]

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Physical Description

Tree, Evergreen, Monoecious, Habit erect, Trees without or rarely having knees, Primary plant stem smooth, Tree with bark smooth, Tree with bark rough or scaly, Young shoots 3-dimensional, Buds resinous, Leaves needle-like, Leaves alternate, Needle-like leaf margins entire (use magnification), Leaf apex obtuse, Leaf apex mucronulate, Leaves < 5 cm long, Leaves < 10 cm long, Leaves not blue-green, Needle-like leaves flat, Needle-like leaves not twisted, Needle-like leaf habit erect, Needle-like leaf habit drooping, Needle-like leaves per fascicle mostly 1, Needle-like leaf sheath early deciduous, Needle-like leaf sheath persistent, Twigs glabrous, Twigs pubescent, Twigs not viscid, Twigs without peg-like projections or large fascicles after needles fall, Berry-like cones orange, Woody seed cones < 5 cm long, Woody seed cones > 5 cm long, Bracts of seed cone exerted, Bracts of seed cone included, Seeds brown, Seeds purple, Seeds winged, Seeds unequally winged, Seed wings prominent, Seed wings equal to or broader than body.
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Stephen C. Meyers

Source: USDA NRCS PLANTS Database

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Description

Trees to 23m; trunk to 0.6m diam.; crown spirelike. Bark gray, thin, smooth, in age often becoming broken into irregular brownish scales. Branches diverging from trunk at right angles, the lower often spreading and drooping; twigs mostly opposite, greenish brown, pubescence sparse. Buds hidden by leaves or exposed, brown, conic, small, resinous, apex acute; basal scales short, broad, nearly equilaterally triangular, glabrous, resinous, margins entire, apex sharp-pointed. Leaves 1.2--2.5cm ´ 1.5--2mm, 1-ranked (particularly on lower branches) to spiraled, flexible; cross section flat, grooved adaxially; odor pinelike (copious ß-pinene); abaxial surface with (4--)6--7(--8) stomatal rows on each side of midrib; adaxial surface dark green, slightly or not glaucous, with 0--3 stomatal rows at midleaf, these more numerous toward leaf apex; apex slightly notched to rounded; resin canals large, ± median, away from margins, midway between abaxial and adaxial epidermal layers. Pollen cones at pollination red, purplish, bluish, greenish, or orange. Seed cones cylindric, 4--7 ´ 1.5--3cm, gray-purple, turning brown before scale shed, sessile, apex round to obtuse; scales ca. 1--l.5 ´ 0.7--1.7cm (relationship reversed in more western collections), pubescent; bracts included or exserted and reflexed over scales. Seeds 3--6 ´ 2--3mm, body brown; wing about twice as long as body, brown-purple; cotyledons ca. 4. 2 n =24.
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Diagnostic Description

Synonym

Pinus balsamea Linnaeus, Sp. Pl. 2: 1002. 1753
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Ecology

Habitat

Habitat and Ecology

Habitat and Ecology
Abies balsamea occurs from lowland plains to upland hills and mountains in the vast Boreal forest of North America, from sea level to 1,200 m a.s.l. in West Virginia, with an isolated station on Mt. Washington (NH) at ca. 1,900 m. It is most common on usually podzolized moderately acid soils in silt or sand. In some areas it may also grow on wet, peaty soil. The climate is cold continental in the interior, cool maritime in the eastern part of the range, with precipitation between 250 and 1,250 mm and very cold winters. The growing season ranges from 80 days in the interior of Canada to 180 days in the Appalachian Mountains. It is a constituent of coniferous forests with Picea spp., Pinus strobus, Tsuga canadensis and sometimes Pinus banksiana, or it grows mixed with broad-leaved trees such as Populus tremuloides, Betula spp. and, further south, Acer spp., Fagus grandifolia and Betula alleghaniensis. Taxus canadensis is the most common conifer shrub in these mixed forests.

Systems
  • Terrestrial
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Habitat characteristics

More info for the terms: bog, shrub

Balsam fir grows on a wide variety of upland and lowland sites. It
occurs on mountain slopes and glaciated uplands as well as on alluvial
flats, peatlands, and swamps. It is found in pure, mixed coniferous,
and mixed coniferous-deciduous stands.

Soils: Balsam fir grows on sites underlain by a variety of parent
materials, including gneiss, schist, anorthosite, diabase, slate,
sandstone, and limestone. It grows mostly on acid Spodosol, Inceptisol,
and Histisol soil orders [21]. It grows on all soil textures, from
heavy clay to rocky. It tolerates a wide range of soil acidity. In the
Lake States, balsam fir is most common on cool, wet-mesic sites with
soil pH values between 5.1 and 6.0 [21]. In northeast Wisconsin it
commonly grows on limestone outcrops [45].

Associated trees: Associated trees of uplands include white spruce, red
spruce, paper birch, aspen, white ash (Fraxinus americana), yellow birch
(Betula alleghaniensis), American beech (Fagus grandifolia), red maple,
sugar maple (Acer saccharum), eastern hemlock, and white pine. Lowland
associates are black spruce, white spruce, tamarack (Larix laricina),
red maple, black ash (Fraxinus nigra), and northern white-cedar [17].

Understory: Common shrub associates include beaked hazel (Corylus
cornuta), bog Labrador-tea (Ledum groenlandicum), mountain maple (Acer
spicatum), Canada yew (Taxus canadensis), red raspberry (Rubus idaeus),
sheep laurel (Kalmia angustifolia), and hobblebush (Viburnum
lantanoides) [21].

Elevation: Balsam fir grows from near sea level along the Atlantic
seaboard to timberline at 5,600 feet (1,700 m) in the Appalachian
Mountains, and to 6,200 feet (1,890 m) in the White Mountains in New
Hampshire [21].
  • 17. Eyre, F. H., ed. 1980. Forest cover types of the United States and Canada. Washington, DC: Society of American Foresters. 148 p. [905]
  • 21. Frank, Robert M. 1990. Abies balsamea (L.) Mill. balsam fir. In: Burns, Russell M.; Honkala, Barbara H., technical coordinators. Silvics of North America. Volume 1. Conifers. Agric. Handb. 654. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service: 26-35. [13365]
  • 45. Rudolf, Paul O. 1966. Botanical and commercial range of balsam fir in the Lake States. Res. Note NC-16. St. Paul, MN: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, North Central Forest Experiment Station. 4 p. [9196]

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Key Plant Community Associations

More info for the terms: climax, tree

Balsam fir is more commonly found in mixed than in pure stands. It does
occurs as a dominant species in pure stands in Newfoundland, Ontario,
and Quebec. Its importance as a major forest tree declines west of
Manitoba [5]. Balsam fir is a principal tree of boreal mixed stands in
Canada, where it occurs with paper birch (Betula papyrifera), aspen
(Populus tremuloides), black spruce (Picea mariana), and white spruce
(P. glauca) [46].

In the Lake States, climax stands of balsam fir are relatively uncommon
[21,45]. In Maine, balsam fir forms pure stands on flats between swamps
and uplands [5]. In the Adirondacks, balsam fir sometimes dominates
upper slopes above 3,200 feet (975 m) [5]. In New England and the Lake
States, balsam fir is more commonly found in mixed stands, especially in
forests dominated by black spruce, red spruce (Picea rubens), white
spruce, eastern hemlock (Tsuga canadensis), northern white-cedar (Thuja
occidentalis), paper birch, aspen, and red maple (Acer rubrum)
[5,30,45].

Balsam fir is listed as a dominant part of the vegetation in the
following community type (cts) and ecosystem (eas) classifications:

Area Classification Authority

PQ: Gaspe Peninsula forest veg. cts Zoladeski 1988
ON forest eas Jones & others 1983
  • 21. Frank, Robert M. 1990. Abies balsamea (L.) Mill. balsam fir. In: Burns, Russell M.; Honkala, Barbara H., technical coordinators. Silvics of North America. Volume 1. Conifers. Agric. Handb. 654. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service: 26-35. [13365]
  • 30. Johnston, William F. 1986. Manager's handbook for balsam fir in the North Central States. Gen. Tech. Rep. NC-111. St. Paul, MN: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, North Central Forest Experiment Station. 27 p. [9219]
  • 45. Rudolf, Paul O. 1966. Botanical and commercial range of balsam fir in the Lake States. Res. Note NC-16. St. Paul, MN: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, North Central Forest Experiment Station. 4 p. [9196]
  • 46. Samoil, J. K., ed. 1988. Management and utilization of northern mixedwoods: Proceedings of a symposium; 1988 April 11-14; Edmonton, AB. Inf. Rep. NOR-X-296. Edmonton, AB: Canadian Forestry Service, Northern ForestryCentre. 163 p. [13039]
  • 5. Bakuzis, E. V.; Hansen, H. L.; with contrib. by Kaufert, F. H.; Lawrence, D. B.; Duncan, D. P.; [and others]

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Habitat: Plant Associations

More info on this topic.

This species is known to occur in association with the following plant community types (as classified by Küchler 1964):

K093 Great Lakes spruce - fir forest
K095 Great Lakes pine forest
K096 Northeastern spruce - fir forest
K107 Northern hardwoods - fir forest
K108 Northern hardwoods - spruce forest

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Habitat: Ecosystem

More info on this topic.

This species is known to occur in the following ecosystem types (as named by the U.S. Forest Service in their Forest and Range Ecosystem [FRES] Type classification):

FRES10 White - red - jack pine
FRES11 Spruce - fir
FRES18 Maple - beech - birch
FRES19 Aspen - birch

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Habitat: Cover Types

More info on this topic.

This species is known to occur in association with the following cover types (as classified by the Society of American Foresters):

1 Jack pine
5 Balsam fir
12 Black spruce
13 Black spruce - tamarack
15 Red pine
16 Aspen
17 Pin cherry
18 Paper birch
21 Eastern white pine
22 White pine - hemlock
23 Eastern hemlock
24 Hemlock - yellow birch
25 Sugar maple - beech - yellow birch
26 Sugar maple - basswood
30 Red spruce - yellow birch
31 Red spruce - sugar maple - beech
32 Red spruce
33 Red spruce - balsam fir
35 Paper birch - red spruce - balsam fir
37 Northern white cedar
38 Tamarack
39 Black ash - American elm - red maple
60 Beech - sugar maple
107 White spruce
108 Red maple
201 White spruce
202 White spruce - paper birch
204 Black spruce
251 White spruce - aspen
253 Black spruce - white spruce

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Soils and Topography

Balsam fir grows on a wide range of inorganic and organic soils  originating from glaciation and generally falling within the acid  Spodosol, Inceptisol, and Histosol soil orders. These are characterized by  a thick mor humus and a well-defined A2 horizon,  usually gray in appearance because of leaching, and commonly caused by  abundant rainfall, cool climate, and coniferous cover. Many of the glacial  till soils in New England are shallow and have a compact layer about 46 cm  (18 in) below the surface (11).

    Soil moisture was the most important predictor of site index in a study  in Newfoundland. Soil nutrient status and topography, in that order, were  of lesser importance. Glacial tills, often shallow, cover much of the area  (27).

    Balsam fir has been reported as growing on soils of a wide range of  acidity. In the northern Lake States it is most common on cool, wet-mesic  sites with pH values between 5.1 to 6.0 (19). Optimum growth occurs on  soils where the pH of the upper organic layers is between 6.5 and 7.0 (1).  On gravelly sands and in peat swamps, growth is comparatively slow (41).

  • Burns, Russell M., and Barbara H. Honkala, technical coordinators. 1990. Silvics of North America: 1. Conifers; 2. Hardwoods.   Agriculture Handbook 654 (Supersedes Agriculture Handbook 271,Silvics of Forest Trees of the United States, 1965).   U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Washington, DC. vol.2, 877 pp.   http://www.na.fs.fed.us/spfo/pubs/silvics_manual/table_of_contents.htm External link.
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Robert M. Frank

Source: Silvics of North America

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Climate

Balsam fir grows best in the eastern part of its range in southeastern  Canada and the Northeastern United States. This area is characterized by  cool temperatures and abundant moisture. Growth is optimum in areas with a  mean temperature of 2° to 4° C (35° to 40° F), a  January average ranging from -18° to -12° C (0° to 10°  F), a July mean temperature ranging from 16° to 18° C (60°  to 65° F), and mean annual precipitation ranging from 760 to 1100 mm  (30 to 43 in) (1).

    The mean annual temperature within the range of balsam fir varies from  -4° to 7° C (25° to 45° F). Mean annual precipitation  records show as much as 1400 mm (55 in) to as little as 390 mm (15 in).  The amount of growing season precipitation is from 150 to 620 mm (6 to 25  in) (1). There are 80 to 180 frost-free days and about 110 days for  optimum growth (1).

  • Burns, Russell M., and Barbara H. Honkala, technical coordinators. 1990. Silvics of North America: 1. Conifers; 2. Hardwoods.   Agriculture Handbook 654 (Supersedes Agriculture Handbook 271,Silvics of Forest Trees of the United States, 1965).   U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Washington, DC. vol.2, 877 pp.   http://www.na.fs.fed.us/spfo/pubs/silvics_manual/table_of_contents.htm External link.
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Robert M. Frank

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Habitat & Distribution

Boreal and northern forests; 0--1700m; St. Pierre and Miquelon; Alta., Man., N.B., Nfld., N.S., Ont., P.E.I., Que., Sask.; Conn., Iowa, Maine, Mass., Mich., Minn., N.H., N.Y., Pa., Vt., Va., W.Va., Wis.
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Dispersal

Establishment

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 utilized.

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Associations

Associated Forest Cover

Tree species associated with balsam fir in the boreal region of Canada  are black spruce (Picea mariana), white spruce (Picea glauca),  paper birch (Betula papyrifera), and quaking aspen (Populus  tremuloides). In the more southerly northern forest region, additional  associates include bigtooth aspen (Populus grandidentata), yellow  birch (Betula alleghaniensis), American beech (Fagus  grandifolia), red maple (Acer rubrum), sugar maple (Acer  saccharum), eastern hemlock (Tsuga canadensis), eastern white  pine (Pinus strobus), tamarack (Larix laricina), black ash  (Fraxinus nigra), and northern white-cedar (Thuja  occidentalis). Red spruce (Picea rubens) is an important  associate in New Brunswick and Maine. Occasional associates are balsam  poplar (Populus balsamifera), gray birch (Betula populifolia),  red pine (Pinus resinosa), jack pine (Pinus banksiana),  and American elm (Ulmus americana) (10).

    Pure stands of balsam fir or stands in which balsam fir is the major  component of growing stock make up the forest cover type Balsam Fir  (Society of American Foresters Type 5) (10). Balsam fir is also a major  component in two other eastern forest cover types: Red Spruce-Balsam Fir  (Type 33) and Paper Birch-Red Spruce-Balsam Fir (Type 35). It is an  associated species in 22 eastern forest cover types and in 4 western  forest cover types.

    Common shrubs associated with balsam fir include beaked hazel (Corylus  cornuta), mountain maple (Acer spicatum), Labrador-tea  (Ledum groenlandicum), Canada yew (Taxus canadensis), red  raspberry (Rubus idaeus var. strigosus), sheep-laurel (Kalmia  angustifolia), and hobblebush (Viburnum lantanoides) (10,41).

    Among the herbaceous plants commonly found under balsam fir are  twinflower (Linnaea borealis), bunchberry (Cornus canadensis),  starflower (Trientalis borealis), creeping snowberry (Gaultheria  hispidula), sedges (Carex spp.), common woodsorrel  (Oxalis montana), bluebead lily or cornlily (Clintonia  borealis), painted trillium (Trillium undulatum), cinnamon  fern (Osmunda cinnamomea), sweetscented bedstraw (Galium  triflorum), Canada mayflower (Maianthemum canadense), and  spinulose woodfern (Dryopteris spinulosa).

    Certain associations of shrubs, herbs, and mosses indicate forest site  quality (41). The four main indicator associations, designated as  Hylocomium/ Hypnum, Cornus/Maianthemum, Oxalis/Cornus, and Viburnum/Oxalis  indicate, in the order listed, increasing productivity of site and  increasing proportions of shrubs and hardwood trees in natural stands.  Only the Hylocomium/Hypnum sites are likely to be occupied by pure  balsam fir.

  • Burns, Russell M., and Barbara H. Honkala, technical coordinators. 1990. Silvics of North America: 1. Conifers; 2. Hardwoods.   Agriculture Handbook 654 (Supersedes Agriculture Handbook 271,Silvics of Forest Trees of the United States, 1965).   U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Washington, DC. vol.2, 877 pp.   http://www.na.fs.fed.us/spfo/pubs/silvics_manual/table_of_contents.htm External link.
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Robert M. Frank

Source: Silvics of North America

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Diseases and Parasites

Damaging Agents

Many agents act to hinder the growth of balsam  fir. Insects and diseases may be devastating. Flammable needles, often  close to the ground, shallow root systems, and thin resinous bark make  balsam fir susceptible to severe damage and mortality from fire.  Susceptibility to wind damage is especially high in old unmanaged stands  growing on wet shallow soils. Various species of mice, voles, and birds  consume balsam fir seed; birds and squirrels nip buds; and black bears   girdle mature trees.

    Balsam fir has several insect enemies, the most important by far being  the spruce budworm. Despite its name, the spruce budworm prefers fir over  spruce; it is most likely to cause heavy damage and mortality in stands  that contain mature fir, or that have a dense stocking of fir or a high  proportion of fir in relation to other species. Vast budworm outbreaks in  eastern North America, perhaps as many as 11 since 1704, have killed tens  of millions of cubic meters (hundreds of millions of ft³) of balsam  fir (6). Defoliation causes extensive root mortality. Evidence of budworm  attack such as deformation, buried leaders, and decay can be seen 40 or  more years later (1). Detailed articles about this important insect pest,  with suggestions to alleviate damage, have been written (7,32) and a  comprehensive bibliography assembled (25).

    A classification system for tree vigor and budworm resistance was  developed as a guide for selecting spruce and fir trees to remove or  retain so as to make spruce-fir stands less vulnerable to spruce budworm  attack. Silvicultural techniques designed to increase stand resistance to  budworm cannot achieve their aim in the short term; several stand entries  over the long term may be required, especially in stands dominated by  balsam fir regeneration (46).

    The balsam woolly adelgid (Adelges piceae), an introduced  insect, is found in Southeastern Canada and in the Northeastern United  States. Unless checked by low winter temperatures, populations build up  and weaken or kill many trees. Severe stem attack can kill trees within 3  years. The insect also attacks twigs and buds, causing swellings and  resulting in loss of new buds, gradual death of twigs and tops, and severe  damage to regeneration. An abnormal growth of tracheids caused by insect  saliva results in dark, brittle "redwood" (41).

    The red heart fungus (Haematostereum sanguinolentum), causes  much decay in living balsam fir. It enters almost entirely through  injuries to the trunk and living branches (18). Losses from red heart rot  are two or three times greater than those caused by butt rots (11,41). Six  root and butt rots in balsam fir are economically important. These include  the shoestring rot (Armillaria mellea), the two brown cubical rots  (Tyromyces balsameus and Coniophora puteana), and the  three white stringy rots (Poria subacida, Resinicium bicolor, and  Scytinostroma galactinium). Another root disease of importance is  Serpula himantioides. Phaeolus schweinitzii and Inonotus  tomentosus also cause a small percentage of the root and butt rot in  balsam fir (18). Mechanical or insect-caused wounds to the roots or basal  areas of trees provide entrances for these fungi (41). Although the root  and butt rots are not responsible for an excessive amount of cull in  standing trees, they do weaken trees and make them more susceptible to  wind damage, especially if trees are 20 cm (8 in) d.b.h. and larger. The  defect caused by these rots is severe enough to be the decisive factor in  setting the pathological rotation of fir at about 70 years (11,18,41).

    Rot can begin in balsam fir as early as 40 years and increases as the  trees get older. More than half generally are infected by the time they  are 70 years old. No reliable external indicator of rot is known and even  fruiting bodies are rare on living trees. Site seems to have an effect on  the incidence and severity of rot; generally, the drier the site, the  greater the damage from rot (41).

    Specific causes of seedling diseases in nurseries have not been  thoroughly reported. The foliage diseases of balsam fir are many but none  are economically important to wood production. The same can be said for  balsam fir's many stem or canker diseases (18).

    The most conspicuous disease of balsam fir is witches' broom, caused by  the rust fungus Melampsorella caryophyllacearum. Broomed shoots  are upright and dwarfed and have yellow needles. Trunk and branch  swellings are produced in the shoots (18).

  • Burns, Russell M., and Barbara H. Honkala, technical coordinators. 1990. Silvics of North America: 1. Conifers; 2. Hardwoods.   Agriculture Handbook 654 (Supersedes Agriculture Handbook 271,Silvics of Forest Trees of the United States, 1965).   U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Washington, DC. vol.2, 877 pp.   http://www.na.fs.fed.us/spfo/pubs/silvics_manual/table_of_contents.htm External link.
Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial 3.0 (CC BY-NC 3.0)

Robert M. Frank

Source: Silvics of North America

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General Ecology

Fire Management Considerations

More info for the terms: fuel, prescribed fire, tree

Prescribed fire: Prescribed fire can be used to convert balsam fir
forests to other species. It is an important silvicultural tool in
spruce budworm-infested stands. Burning infested stands eliminates the
unaffected balsam fir understory and prepares the site for other
commercial species, particularly black spruce [25]. In northern
Ontario, prescribed burning on sites pretreated by tramping (leveling
the dead trees with bulldozers) successfully prepared a spruce
budworm-killed balsam fir stand for planting [38]. Tramping aided fire
spread in this summer burn, when green herbaceous plants might otherwise
have hindered it. The standing dead trees were dry before tramping.
Some large balsam fir boles were completely consumed and 55 percent of
balsam fir slash between 2.75 and 5 inches (7-13 cm) in diameter were
consumed. Prescribed fires can also be used to kill balsam fir
seedlings and saplings in pine and mixed-wood types. In these types,
low-intensity surface fires are sufficient to kill balsam fir saplings
[37].

Fire behavior: Balsam fir tree mortality is often between 70 and 100
percent after the collapse of a spruce budworm outbreak [25]. These
altered forests are more flammable because the dead trees provide dry
aerial fuel and the newly exposed understory is drier than normal. Fire
suppression in spruce budworm-killed stands is extremely difficult [25].
Experimental burns in spruce budworm-killed stands have been explosive.
In balsam fir stands with 30- to 90-year-old dead trees averaging 23 to
39 feet (7-12 m) in height, spring fires (before flushing of understory
vegetation), under conditions of high but not extreme fire danger,
burned with intensities as high as 38,000 KW/m and spread rates in
excess of 148 feet/minute (45 m/min.) [50]. Tree crown and surface fuel
consumption were nearly complete, and standing tree boles smoldered for
hours after the passage of the fire front. These hot fires transport
large amounts of peeling bark, fine twigs, and branchlets in convection
columns which start spot fires downwind [49].

Decay after fire: Fire-killed balsam fir deteriorates rather slowly.
Commercial salvage operations are possible for a number of years after
stand-killing fires [5]. However, budworm-killed trees quickly succumb
to wood-rotting fungi and are largely unusable after 1 to 3 years [34].
  • 25. Furyaev, V. V.; Wein, Ross W.; MacLean, David A. 1983. Fire influences in Abies-dominated forests. In: Wein, Ross W.; MacLean, David A., eds. The role of fire in northern circumpolar ecosystems. Scope 18. Chichester; New York: John Wiley & Sons: 221-234. [14610]
  • 34. MacLean, David A. 1980. Vulnerability of fir-spruce stands during uncontrolled spruce budworm outbreaks: a review and discussion. Forestry Chronicle. 56: 213-221. [14609]
  • 37. Methven, Ian R.; Murray, W. G. 1974. Using fire to eliminate understory balsam fir in pine management. Forestry Chronicle. 50(2): 77-79. [7631]
  • 38. McRae, D. J. 1986. Prescribed burning for stand conversion in budworm-killed balsam fir: an Ontario case history. Forestry Chronicle. 62(2): 96-100. [12379]
  • 49. Stocks, B. J. 1987. Fire potential in the spruce budworm-damaged forests of Ontario. Forestry Chronicle. 63(1): 8-14. [12369]
  • 5. Bakuzis, E. V.; Hansen, H. L.; with contrib. by Kaufert, F. H.; Lawrence, D. B.; Duncan, D. P.; [and others]
  • 50. Stocks, Brian J.; Alexander, Martin E. 1980. Forest fire behaviour and effects research in northern Ontario: a field oriented program. In: Martin, Robert E.; Edmonds, Robert L.; Faulkner, Donald A.; [and others]

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Broad-scale Impacts of Plant Response to Fire

More info for the term: tree

Fire creates seedbeds favorable for balsam fir germination and
establishment. If seed is available, balsam fir readily establishes on
burned sites. In northern Minnesota, balsam fir seedlings were
established within 5 years of a stand-destroying fire; seed originated
from an unburned mixed-conifer stand across a river [28]. Balsam fir
seedlings establish after fall fires that occur when seed is ripe and
still on the tree [11].
  • 11. Damman, A. W. H. 1964. Some forest types of central Newfoundland and their relation to environmental factors. Forest Science Monograph 8. Washington, DC: Society of American Foresters. 62 p. [14281]
  • 28. Heinselman, Miron L. 1973. Fire in the virgin forests of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area, Minnesota. Quaternary Research. 3: 329-382. [282]

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Plant Response to Fire

Balsam fir is generally slow to reestablish after fire. Because most
trees are killed by fire, it relies on rare survivors found in protected
pockets within the burn or trees from adjacent unburned areas to provide
seed for postfire seedling establishment. Associates such as aspen,
paper birch, black spruce, and jack pine usually seed in aggressively
following fire and quickly dominate the site. Balsam fir is usually
rare or absent for the first 30 to 50 years after fire, but thereafter
gradually establishes under the canopy of its seral associates
[2,14,20].
  • 14. Day, R. J.; Harvey, E. M. 1981. Forest dynamics in boreal mixedwood. In: Whitney, R. D.; McClain, K. M., compilers. Boreal mixedwood: Proceedings of a symposium; [Date of conference unknown]
  • 2. Apfelbaum, Steven; Haney, Alan. 1981. Bird populations before and after wildfire in a Great Lakes pine forest. Condor. 83: 347-354. [8556]
  • 20. Foster, D. R.; King, G. A. 1986. Veg. pattern & diversity in s.e. Labrador, Canada: Betula papyrifera (Birch) forest development in relation to fire history & physiography. Journal of Ecology. 74: 465-483. [14651]

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Immediate Effect of Fire

More info for the term: wildfire

Balsam fir is the least fire-resistant conifer in the northeastern
United States [48]. Most fires kill balsam fir trees and destroy the
seeds [14]. Trees have thin, resinous, easily ignitable bark and
shallow roots [1,21]. Seeds have no endosperm to protect them from high
temperatures. Cones are not necessarily destroyed by fire, but immature
seeds will not ripen on fire-killed trees.

If balsam fir trees are killed over extensive areas by summer fires, no
seed will be available to revegetate the burned area. This occurred
following the 1936 wildfire on Isle Royale which burned 26,000 acres
(10,500 ha). Most of the balsam fir trees were killed, and for 30 years
after the fire, balsam fir was largely absent from the burned area [27].
  • 1. A. D. Revill Associates. 1978. Ecological eff. of fire and its mgmt. in Canada's national parks: a synthesis of the literature. Vols 1&2. Lit. Rev. & Annot. Bibliography. Ottawa, ON: Parks Canada, National Parks Branch, Natural Resources Division. 345 p. [3416]
  • 14. Day, R. J.; Harvey, E. M. 1981. Forest dynamics in boreal mixedwood. In: Whitney, R. D.; McClain, K. M., compilers. Boreal mixedwood: Proceedings of a symposium; [Date of conference unknown]
  • 21. Frank, Robert M. 1990. Abies balsamea (L.) Mill. balsam fir. In: Burns, Russell M.; Honkala, Barbara H., technical coordinators. Silvics of North America. Volume 1. Conifers. Agric. Handb. 654. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service: 26-35. [13365]
  • 27. Hansen, H. L.; Krefting, L. W.; Kurmis, V. 1973. The forest of Isle Royale in relation to fire history and wildlife. Tech. Bull. 294; Forestry Series 13. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota, Agricultural Experiment Station. 44 p. [8120]
  • 48. Starker, T. J. 1932. Fire resistance of trees of northeast United States. Forest Worker. 8(3): 8-9. [81]

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Post-fire Regeneration

More info for the terms: root crown, secondary colonizer

Tree without adventitious-bud root crown
Secondary colonizer - off-site seed

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Fire Ecology

Balsam fir is easily killed by fire. Seedlings establish after fire
only if surviving seed trees are present. Balsam fir is therefore a
rare postfire pioneer [14].
  • 14. Day, R. J.; Harvey, E. M. 1981. Forest dynamics in boreal mixedwood. In: Whitney, R. D.; McClain, K. M., compilers. Boreal mixedwood: Proceedings of a symposium; [Date of conference unknown]

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Successional Status

More info on this topic.

More info for the terms: climax, mesic

Balsam fir is a late successional or climax species. Following fire, it
is replaced by pioneering hardwoods and conifers, such as aspen, paper
birch, balsam poplar (Populus balsamifera), jack pine, and black spruce.
Except for scattered survivors, it is mostly absent for the first few
postfire decades. In Ontario, balsam fir seedlings often first appear
under aspen-birch-spruce types 30 to 50 years after fire [5,36]. Balsam
fir seedlings are shade tolerant and less exacting in seedbed
requirements than many associates. It readily establishes under a
canopy of hardwoods and conifers. In the Lake States, an understory of
balsam fir seedlings is almost ubiquitous in several upland and lowland
forests [30]. In boreal forests, it is usually a common understory
component beneath pines, aspen, and paper birch [7,15,28]. In the
continued absence of fire, balsam fir may assume dominance as the canopy
of the pioneering trees begins to break up.

In the Lake States, balsam fir can become climax on poorly drained clay
soils. It often succeeds aspen, paper birch, and sometimes black spruce
[17]. On mesic sites, it is often replaced by shade-tolerant hardwoods
such as sugar maple [30].
  • 15. Dix, R. L.; Swan, J. M. A. 1971. The roles of disturbance and succession in upland forest at Candle Lake, Saskatchewan. Canadian Journal of Botany. 49: 657-676. [12808]
  • 17. Eyre, F. H., ed. 1980. Forest cover types of the United States and Canada. Washington, DC: Society of American Foresters. 148 p. [905]
  • 28. Heinselman, Miron L. 1973. Fire in the virgin forests of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area, Minnesota. Quaternary Research. 3: 329-382. [282]
  • 30. Johnston, William F. 1986. Manager's handbook for balsam fir in the North Central States. Gen. Tech. Rep. NC-111. St. Paul, MN: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, North Central Forest Experiment Station. 27 p. [9219]
  • 36. MacLean, D. W. 1960. Some aspects of the aspen-birch-spruce-fir type in Ontario. Tech. Note No. 94. Ottawa, Canada: Department of Forestry, Forest Research Division. 24 p. [14608]
  • 5. Bakuzis, E. V.; Hansen, H. L.; with contrib. by Kaufert, F. H.; Lawrence, D. B.; Duncan, D. P.; [and others]
  • 7. Bergeron, Yves; Dubuc, Michelle. 1989. Succession in the southern part of the Canadian boreal forest. Vegetatio. 79: 51-63. [5042]

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Regeneration Processes

More info for the terms: hardwood, layering, litter, natural, tree

Seed production and dispersal: Balsam fir is a prolific seed producer.
Seed production begins when plants are about 20 years old or 15 feet
tall [5], and regular seed production occurs after trees are about 30
years old. Some seed is produced every year, with heavy seed crops
occurring at 2- to 4-year intervals [21]. Most seeds are shed in
autumn, but small amounts fall throughout the winter and into spring
[21]. The winged seeds are primarily dispersed by wind. Most fall
within 80 to 200 feet (25-60 m) of the tree, but some travel up to 525
feet from the tree (160 m) [21]. Some seed is dispersed by small
mammals.

Only about 50 percent of balsam fir seeds are sound [24]. Germinative
capacity is relatively low, ranging from about 20 to 50 percent [5].
Seeds remain viable for less than 1 year under natural conditions [21].

Germination and seedling establishment: Most seeds germinate between
late May and early July [21]. If moisture is sufficient, seedlings will
establish on almost any substrate, but establishment is generally best
on mineral soil. Other good seedbeds include rotting wood embedded in
humus because it can remain moist even during prolonged drought, and
rotting logs and stumps because they have a tendency to shed hardwood
leaf litter which can smother seedlings [36]. Hardwood leaf litter is a
poor seedbed; seedlings on deep layers of hardwood litter usually die
within a few weeks of germination [5]. However, balsam fir establishes
more readily on shallow litter (less than 3 inches [7.5 cm]) than other
conifers because seedlings quickly develop a deep root system [21].
Seedlings are very shade tolerant. Once established they can withstand
many years of suppression.

Vegetative reproduction: Layering occurs in swamps and mossy areas, and
under white and jack pine (Pinus strobus, P. banksiana) overstories [5].
In the White Mountains of New Hampshire, prostrate balsam fir above
5,500 feet (1,700 m) in elevation reproduce almost entirely by layering
[5].
  • 21. Frank, Robert M. 1990. Abies balsamea (L.) Mill. balsam fir. In: Burns, Russell M.; Honkala, Barbara H., technical coordinators. Silvics of North America. Volume 1. Conifers. Agric. Handb. 654. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service: 26-35. [13365]
  • 24. Franklin, Jerry F. 1974. Abies Mill. fir. In: Schopmeyer, C. S., technical coordinator. Seeds of woody plants in the United States. Agric. Handb. 450. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service: 168-183. [7566]
  • 36. MacLean, D. W. 1960. Some aspects of the aspen-birch-spruce-fir type in Ontario. Tech. Note No. 94. Ottawa, Canada: Department of Forestry, Forest Research Division. 24 p. [14608]
  • 5. Bakuzis, E. V.; Hansen, H. L.; with contrib. by Kaufert, F. H.; Lawrence, D. B.; Duncan, D. P.; [and others]

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Growth Form (according to Raunkiær Life-form classification)

More info on this topic.

More info for the term: phanerophyte

Phanerophyte

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Life Form

More info for the term: tree

Tree

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Reaction to Competition

Balsam fir has a strong ability to  become established and grow under the shade of larger trees (7,11). It is  classified as very tolerant. Because relative tolerance of species may  vary with soil fertility, climate, and age, balsam fir is rated as both  more and less shade tolerant than red spruce, and more tolerant than  either black or white spruce (41). Intraspecific competition is evident in  many sapling and small pole-size stands of pure balsam fir. As these  stands mature, dominance usually is expressed. Competition is severe in  dense fir thickets, however, and growth rates of individual trees suffer  greatly. Other major competition is from the shade-tolerant hardwoods.

    In New England, balsam fir is considered a subclimax type, except that  it may be a climax species in the zone below timberline. It tends to  become climax in Quebec and in the Lake States (41).

  • Burns, Russell M., and Barbara H. Honkala, technical coordinators. 1990. Silvics of North America: 1. Conifers; 2. Hardwoods.   Agriculture Handbook 654 (Supersedes Agriculture Handbook 271,Silvics of Forest Trees of the United States, 1965).   U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Washington, DC. vol.2, 877 pp.   http://www.na.fs.fed.us/spfo/pubs/silvics_manual/table_of_contents.htm External link.
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Robert M. Frank

Source: Silvics of North America

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Rooting Habit

Balsam fir root systems are mostly confined to  the duff layer and to the upper few centimeters of mineral soil (11).  Windfall potential is high. Damage from wind is especially likely when the  shallow root systems are loosened by heavy rainfall and gusty winds and  where timber removals from stands not previously thinned have been poorly  conducted. These usually older, dense stands are susceptible probably  because root development has been poor.

    Root penetration on deep or shallow soils extends to 60 to 75 cm (24 to  30 in) and has been reported to a depth of 137 cm (54 in) in sandy soils  in northern Ontario. Lateral roots of balsam fir are usually strongly  developed and extend horizontally in all directions to 1.5 m (5 ft) or  more (1).

    Root breakage and other root damage caused by swaying trees may not be  as severe as is commonly thought. Most investigators agree, however, that  some root breakage probably occurs because of frostheaving and swaying.  During epidemics of spruce budworm (Choristoneura fumiferana), rootlet  mortality can reach 75 percent after 3 consecutive years of defoliation  (1).

    Balsam fir root grafts are probably common and have been reported  frequently. Abrasion of the bark of roots of swaying trees on lowland  soils and interroot compatibility and growth pressure on upland soils  apparently account for the majority of root grafts. Infection may spread  through grafted roots to damage other balsam fir trees (1).

  • Burns, Russell M., and Barbara H. Honkala, technical coordinators. 1990. Silvics of North America: 1. Conifers; 2. Hardwoods.   Agriculture Handbook 654 (Supersedes Agriculture Handbook 271,Silvics of Forest Trees of the United States, 1965).   U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Washington, DC. vol.2, 877 pp.   http://www.na.fs.fed.us/spfo/pubs/silvics_manual/table_of_contents.htm External link.
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Robert M. Frank

Source: Silvics of North America

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Life History and Behavior

Cyclicity

Phenology

More info on this topic.

Phenological events proceed as follows [5]:

Event Southern part of range Northern part of range

flowering begins early May early June
seeds ripen late August-early Sept. October
seedfall begins early September October
  • 5. Bakuzis, E. V.; Hansen, H. L.; with contrib. by Kaufert, F. H.; Lawrence, D. B.; Duncan, D. P.; [and others]

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Reproduction

Vegetative Reproduction

Layering is not an important means of  regeneration except for prostrate balsam fir growing in the more northern  and mountainous locations such as Isle Royale in Lake Superior, and the  White Mountains of New Hampshire. Layering also occurs in open swamps and  deep mossy areas and under white pine and jack pine overstories. Trees of  any age apparently may layer. Second generations, vegetatively produced,  develop when connecting tissues decay and separate (1).

    Balsam fir apparently grafts easily (41). In a study in New York,  greenhouse grafts were 85 percent successful and field grafts were 80  percent successful. One attempt to air-layer balsam fir was unsuccessful  (1). Balsam fir Christmas trees are stump cultured from lateral branches  or adventitious shoots.

  • Burns, Russell M., and Barbara H. Honkala, technical coordinators. 1990. Silvics of North America: 1. Conifers; 2. Hardwoods.   Agriculture Handbook 654 (Supersedes Agriculture Handbook 271,Silvics of Forest Trees of the United States, 1965).   U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Washington, DC. vol.2, 877 pp.   http://www.na.fs.fed.us/spfo/pubs/silvics_manual/table_of_contents.htm External link.
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Robert M. Frank

Source: Silvics of North America

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Seedling Development

Within the range of suitable temperatures,  moisture is more important than light for germination. In fact, light  intensities of only 10 percent of full sunlight result in successful  germination (1). The low capacity of planted balsam fir seeds to germinate  may be attributed in part to seed injury during the cleaning process. The  age of the tree may also contribute to the viability of seeds.

    A study in Michigan (41) showed that germination was highest for a  41-year-old tree (68 percent), varied for trees 30 years old (8 to 57  percent), and was lowest for trees 155 years old (10 percent). Testing of  32 commercial seed lots showed average germination of about 26 percent  with a range of 4 to 62 percent (42). Once the seed reaches the ground,  its viability diminishes quickly and is gone within 1 year (13). It has  been suggested, however, that in cold swamps viability of some seeds is  retained for 2 to 3 years (1).

    Most germination occurs from late May to early July. Survival the first  winter is questionable if germination occurs after mid-July (1). If enough  moisture is available, almost any seedbed type is satisfactory, but  mineral soil-neither too sandy nor too heavy-with some shade is best.  Litter and humus are poor seedbeds, especially if moisture is inadequate  or -light is excessive. Competition, often severe, makes heavy sod the  poorest seedbed (11).

    A thick layer of duff exceeding about 8 cm (3 in) is less favorable for  balsam fir but even worse for the slower growing associated spruces.  Balsam fir seedlings may have a heavy central root, much like a taproot,  that extends to the bottom of the humus layer and then splits into several  laterals. In general, balsam fir roots grow more rapidly and penetrate  deeper than red spruce roots. Where seasonal root elongation of young  balsam fir growing in humus averaged 10.6 cm (4.2 in), red spruce was 7.6  cm (3.0 in), and white spruce 9.0 cm (3.5 in), or 39 percent and 18  percent less, respectively (1).

    Because the surface of thick duff usually dries out, there may be some  delayed germination as late as August. Few seedlings become established,  however. The closer seeds lie to mineral soil, the greater the initial  establishment of seedlings.

    Seedlings starting in the open may sustain heavy mortality when surface  temperatures exceed 46° to 54° C (115° to 130° F) or  when there is drought or frost heaving. Seedlings may also be smothered or  crushed by litter, ice, snow, and hardwood leaves. Losses after the first  year usually are minor. As seedlings develop, light at intensities of at  least 50 percent of full sunlight are necessary for optimum growth  (11,41). Damage caused by late spring frost to new foliage of young  seedlings is seldom severe.

    Balsam fir seedlings about 15 cm (6 in) tall can be considered to be  established (11), especially if secondary branching has occurred. Early  growth is then determined largely by the amount and character of dominant  competition. Bracken, raspberry, and hardwood sprouts-especially the  maples-are the chief competitors on heavily cutover lands in the  Northeast. These species may increase dramatically when the original basal  area is reduced by 50 percent or more and may dominate the site for 10 to  25 years (2). Unless there has been some soil disturbance, there will be  little regeneration of balsam fir and spruce immediately following logging  (45). Both balsam fir and the spruces can survive many years of  suppression and still respond to release (11,41). The space required for  the continual development and establishment of new seedlings probably  exceeds that created by the removal of individual trees. To ensure  successful regeneration relatively small groups of trees should be removed  initially (12).

  • Burns, Russell M., and Barbara H. Honkala, technical coordinators. 1990. Silvics of North America: 1. Conifers; 2. Hardwoods.   Agriculture Handbook 654 (Supersedes Agriculture Handbook 271,Silvics of Forest Trees of the United States, 1965).   U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Washington, DC. vol.2, 877 pp.   http://www.na.fs.fed.us/spfo/pubs/silvics_manual/table_of_contents.htm External link.
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Seed Production and Dissemination

Regular seed production  probably begins after 20 to 30 years. Cone development has been reported  for trees 15 years of age and younger and only 2 m (6.6 ft) tall. Good  seed crops occur at intervals of 2 to 4 years, with some seed production  usually occurring during intervening years (1). On the average, 35 L  (bushel) containing 1,000 to 2,000 cones weighs approximately 16 kg (35  lb) and yields 1000 to 1200 g (35 to 42 oz) of cleaned seeds. The number  of cleaned seeds per kilogram (2.2 lb) ranges from 66,000 to 208,000 and  averages 131,000. These are about 134 seeds per cone (42). The seed yield  of balsam fir ranged from 5.6 to 20.2 kg/ha (5 to 18 lb/acre) during  several good seed years in Ontario (1). Over a 37-year period, annual seed  production in this area averaged 1,950 seeds per square meter (181/ft²)  (15).

    The period of balsam fir seedfall is long and dissemination distances  vary. Seedfall begins late in August, peaks in September and October, and  continues into November. Some seeds fall throughout the winter and into  early spring. Most of the seeds are spread by wind-some to great distances  over frozen snow-and some are spread by rodents. Although seeds may  disseminate from 100 m (330 ft) to more than 160 m (525 ft), effective  distances are 25 m to 60 m (80 to 200 ft) (1,11,28). Many seeds falling  with the cone scales land close to the base of the tree.

    Balsam fir seeds have dormant embryos and should be stratified in moist  sand at about 50 C (410 F) for at least 30 days before planting.  Germination is epigeal (42).

  • Burns, Russell M., and Barbara H. Honkala, technical coordinators. 1990. Silvics of North America: 1. Conifers; 2. Hardwoods.   Agriculture Handbook 654 (Supersedes Agriculture Handbook 271,Silvics of Forest Trees of the United States, 1965).   U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Washington, DC. vol.2, 877 pp.   http://www.na.fs.fed.us/spfo/pubs/silvics_manual/table_of_contents.htm External link.
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Flowering and Fruiting

Exposure to light influences flowering  in balsam fir. In New Brunswick, female strobili were observed on 83  percent of dominant, 59 percent of codominant, and 6 percent of  intermediate trees. None were found on suppressed trees (41).

    Balsam fir is monoecious. In spring, 1 year before pollination, male  (staminate) and female (ovulate or pistillate) strobili differentiate from  flower buds. The strobili are microscopically recognizable at this time.  Male strobili usually are distinguishable before the female strobili  because they initially develop more rapidly. Flower buds usually open in  late May or early June before vegetative buds (41) but have been  reported as flowering as early as late April (42).

    Male strobili, yellowish-red and tinged with purple, develop in the  axils of leaves along the undersides of the 1-year-old twigs, usually in  dense clusters. Their position in the crown is mostly within 5 m (15 ft)  of the top and is almost always below the female strobili. Female strobili  are purplish and are found singly or in small groups, confined to the top  1.5 m (5 ft) of the crown. They are located on the upper side of the twig  and, like the male strobili, develop on the previous year's twig. Flower  production is best on the outer end of branches (41,42). At  maturity, male flowers are about 3 mm (0.1 in) long; female flowers are  about 25 mm (1.0 in) long (1).

    Pollen grains are yellow; when developed, their average diameter is 90 µ  (0.00354 in). In one series of observations in Ontario, fertilization  occurred on June 25 (1). The mature fruit is an erect cone 5 to 10 cm (2  to 4 in) long with short, round, irregularly notched scales and pointed  tips. There are thin, closely overlapping fan-shaped scales near the  center of the cone. The cone matures and ripens during the first fall in  late August and early September. The scales and shorter bracts drop away  with the seeds, leaving the central axis, which can persist for many  years.

  • Burns, Russell M., and Barbara H. Honkala, technical coordinators. 1990. Silvics of North America: 1. Conifers; 2. Hardwoods.   Agriculture Handbook 654 (Supersedes Agriculture Handbook 271,Silvics of Forest Trees of the United States, 1965).   U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Washington, DC. vol.2, 877 pp.   http://www.na.fs.fed.us/spfo/pubs/silvics_manual/table_of_contents.htm External link.
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Growth

Growth and Yield

Balsam fir at maturity is small to medium  size, depending on location and growing conditions. In general, heights  range from 12 to 18 m (40 to 60 ft); diameters range from 30 to 46 cm. (12  to 18 in) at breast height (41). Where growth is optimum, as in the Green  River watershed in New Brunswick, some trees can reach 27 m (90 ft) in  height and 75 cm. (30 in) in d.b.h. The reported record d.b.h. for balsam  fir is 86 cm (34 in). Maximum age is about 200 years (1). How large or how  fast balsam fir grows, or how much a stand of balsam fir will yield is  related to site factors such as biotic, climatic, and soil conditions, and  to age. The condition of the tree or stand and the composition and  structure of the stand also influence growth.

    Diameter growth was related to vigor and crown length-to-height ratio in  a study in Maine. Balsam fir with high vigor and a ratio of at least 0.7-  the proportion of live-crown length to total tree height averaged 6.1 cm  (2.4 in) of growth in d.b.h. in 10 years. Less vigorous trees with smaller  crown-length ratios ranged downward to an average of 1.0 cm (0.4 in) of  growth in 10 years. Vigorous trees with room to grow attain a d.b.h. of at  least 25 cm (10 in) in about 50 years (41). In uneven-aged stands of  several density classes in Maine, balsam fir grew faster in diameter than  spruce and hemlock (35).

    Data obtained from stem analysis of balsam fir growing on sites of  varying quality in northern Maine has shown height growth curves to be  polymorphic (fig. 1). Height growth varies with site quality. From these  curves the average site index of a stand can be estimated (16).  Monomorphic or harmonized site index curves for balsam fir are also  available (17).

     
Figure 1-Polymorphic site index curves (base age 50 years 
at breast height) for balsam fir in northern Maine, as derived 
from stem data
(16).

    Balsam fir is a strong contender for space in stands in which it grows.  A 20-year record of stands containing balsam fir in the Penobscot  Experimental Forest in Maine showed that the periodic annual volume  ingrowth of the species, as a proportion of total volume ingrowth, greatly  exceeded its representation in the original stands (12). Because of its  many natural enemies, however, volume mortality of balsam fir also greatly  exceeds its original representation in these stands.

    Balsam fir accounted for 35 percent of the average annual net growth in  predominantly softwood stands and 32 percent in mixed stands that were  extensively managed. These stands were growing at annual rates of 3.5 m³/ha  (49.3 ft³/acre) and 2.9 m³/ha (41.1 ft³/acre), respectively  (31).

    Yields in total cubic-foot volume, including stump and top, of all trees  larger than 1.5 cm (0.6 in), in d.b.h. are given in table 1. These yields  are based on sample plots in even-aged spruce-fir stands, mostly on old  fields. They tend to exaggerate the yields that might be expected from the  irregular stands that develop after harvesting (41).

                       Table 1- Total tree volume (exclusive of roots) of  balsam fir greater than 1.5 cm (0.6 in) in d.b.h. by age and site index  (41).                  Site index¹                 12.2 m 
or 40 ft  15.2 m 
or 50 ft  18.3 m 
or 60 ft  21.3 m 
or 70 ft      Age            yr    m³/ha           20  6  8  9  12      30  50  67  85  102      40  136  182  229  276      50  204  274  344  414      60  245  329  413  497      70  267  360  452  543      80  286  384  481  579      90  300  403  506  609      yr    ft³/acre           20  80  110  135  165      30  720  960  1,210  1,455      40  1,940  2,600  3,270  3,940      50  2,190  3,920  4,920  5,910      60  3,500  4,700  5,900  7,100      70  3,820  5,140  6,450  7,760      80  4,080  5,480  6,870  8,270      90  4,290  5,760  7,230  8,700      ¹Base age 50 years when age is measured at  d.b.h.- total tree age is estimated to be 65 years at that time.                      Simulating the management and growth of forest stands containing balsam  fir is possible because of advances in computer technology. A matrix  model, FIBER (36), has been developed for stands in the Northeast.  Even-aged and multi-aged stands, containing balsam fir, spruce, northern  hardwoods, and other associated species, can be programmed to simulate a  range of silvicultural treatments.

    In a ranking with both hardwoods and softwoods from around the world,  balsam fir is highest with a total above-ground ovendry biomass at age 50  of 184 t/ha (82 tons/acre). Annual increment or annual net primary  production averages 10.3 t/ha (4.6 tons/acre) (20). In New Brunswick (3),  dry-matter production of balsam fir in pure stands increased dramatically  with increases in stand densities of from 1,730 stems per hectare  (700/acre) to 12,350/ha (5,000/acre). At an average age from release of 43  years, total above-ground biomass was 96 t/ha (43 tons/acre) for the least  dense stand and 143 t/ha (64 tons/acre) for the most dense stand.

  • Burns, Russell M., and Barbara H. Honkala, technical coordinators. 1990. Silvics of North America: 1. Conifers; 2. Hardwoods.   Agriculture Handbook 654 (Supersedes Agriculture Handbook 271,Silvics of Forest Trees of the United States, 1965).   U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Washington, DC. vol.2, 877 pp.   http://www.na.fs.fed.us/spfo/pubs/silvics_manual/table_of_contents.htm External link.
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Molecular Biology and Genetics

Genetics

Population Differences    Variation in balsam fir appears to be clinal and continuous and related  to altitudinal gradient and to both east-west and north-south geographic  gradients. Variation has been explored in a number of studies.

    Balsam fir seedlings grown from seed collected along an elevational  gradient in New Hampshire showed a clinal pattern of carbon dioxide uptake  with respect to the elevational gradient. This suggests an adaption to  temperature through natural selection (14). Another study failed to show  that geographical variation in food quality of balsam fir needles is  important to the spruce budworm diet but did suggest variation in food  quality between locations (33).

    In the southern Appalachians the monoterpenes- alpha-pinene and  beta-phellandrene- appear to be the best taxonomic characteristics for  separating balsam fir from Fraser fir, with alpha-terpene increasing  southward and beta-terpene increasing northward. Because no regional  variation pattern was evident for wood specific gravity or tracheid  length, it has been suggested that only one species of balsam fir with  three varieties be recognized in the Eastern United States: Abies  balsamea var. balsamea, Abies balsamea var. phanerolepisand Abies balsamea var. fraseri (29,39).

    Balsam fir provenances from eastern portions of the range exhibited more  vigor than those from western portions (24). This trait continued  through 11 (22) and 13 years of total tree age (9). Southern  sources tended to flush later, indicating selection for minimizing damage  from the balsam gall midge (Dasineura balsamicola) and for  resistance to late spring frost.

    Specific gravity and tracheid length generally vary along an east-west  gradient, with eastern sources of lower specific gravity and longer  tracheids (9). Generally, trees from slow-growing sources have  higher specific gravities and shorter tracheids than trees from  fast-growing sources.

    Races and Hybrids    No distinct races of balsam fir have been identified. Botanical  varieties of balsam fir have been described, Abies balsamea var.  phanerolepis being most important. This variety, the bracted  balsam fir, is distinguished by its cone scales, which are shorter than  the bracts. The variety phanerolepis is found infrequently from  Labrador and Newfoundland to Maine and Ontario, and in the high mountains  of New Hampshire, Vermont, and New York. It is found locally in northern  Virginia and West Virginia (21,41,42), and commonly in several  locations in Nova Scotia.

    Until the late 1930's, natural or artificial hybrids of balsam fir had  not been reported in North America. There were earlier reports, however,  of hybrids between balsam fir and Siberian fir (Abies sibirica) in  Europe (1).

    Balsam fir is closely related to Fraser fir (A. fraseri). A  taxon of doubtful status, A. intermedia, representing a possible  cross between the two species, has been reported. This cross has also been  reported as A. balsamea var. phanerolepis (1). Subalpine  fir (A. lasiocarpa) also may hybridize with balsam fir where they  adjoin in Alberta (42). Workers in Canada apparently have been  successful in some instances in hybridizing balsam fir with several  species of Abies, among them European silver fir (A. alba),  alpine fir, and Fraser fir (1). Similar attempts in the United States  have been only partially successful.

    European horticulturists have propagated many forms of balsam fir for  ornamental purposes. Plant form, needle color, and branch length and angle  are characteristics usually manipulated. Nineteen such cultivars have been  listed (1).

  • Burns, Russell M., and Barbara H. Honkala, technical coordinators. 1990. Silvics of North America: 1. Conifers; 2. Hardwoods.   Agriculture Handbook 654 (Supersedes Agriculture Handbook 271,Silvics of Forest Trees of the United States, 1965).   U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Washington, DC. vol.2, 877 pp.   http://www.na.fs.fed.us/spfo/pubs/silvics_manual/table_of_contents.htm External link.
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Molecular Biology

Statistics of barcoding coverage: Abies balsamea

Barcode of Life Data Systems (BOLDS) Stats
Public Records: 0
Specimens with Barcodes: 4
Species With Barcodes: 1
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Conservation

Conservation Status

IUCN Red List Assessment


Red List Category
LC
Least Concern

Red List Criteria

Version
3.1

Year Assessed
2013

Assessor/s
Farjon, A.

Reviewer/s
Thomas, P. & Stritch, L.

Contributor/s

Justification
This is the most wide-spread species of Abies in North America. It is a component of the great boreal forest of Canada, a dynamic ecosystem that is destroyed locally by natural causes but regenerates continuously. The species, and its typical variety, are assessed as Least Concern.

Abies balsamea (L.) Mill. var. phanerolepis Fernald is assessed as Data Deficient. The subpopulations of this variety are undoubtedly relatively small and scattered (fragmented) but there is insufficient information about their number, extent of occurrence (EOO) and area of occupancy (AOO) for a credible assessment to be made. Another problem is identity and several reports and specimen databases of herbaria list occurrences in Canada (e.g. Nova Scotia at the Harvard Herbaria) which are likely to be just forms of A. balsamea var. balsamea with (slightly) exserted bracts.
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National NatureServe Conservation Status

Canada

Rounded National Status Rank: N5 - Secure

United States

Rounded National Status Rank: N5 - Secure

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NatureServe Conservation Status

Rounded Global Status Rank: G5 - Secure

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Status

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).

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Population

Population
Very common.

Population Trend
Stable
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Threats

Major Threats
No specific threats have been identified for this species.
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Management

Conservation Actions

Conservation Actions
This species occurs in many protected areas.
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Management considerations

More info for the term: basal area

Silviculture: Balsam fir is managed under both even- and uneven-aged
silvicultural systems [22,23,30]. Balsam fir types are usually
converted to other forest types because of their susceptibility to
spruce budworm outbreaks and because of the relatively low value of the
timber [30].

Wildlife damage: White-tailed deer, snowshoe hares, and especially
moose browse balsam fir reproduction on cutovers. This often retards
growth but is seldom fatal [30]. In Newfoundland, 4-foot-tall (1.2 m)
balsam fir survived up to 12 years of heavy moose browsing [8].

Release: Several herbicides are used to release balsam fir from
competing hardwoods. Balsam fir is resistant to 2,4-D, 2,4,5-T,
glyphosate, and hexazinone [30,40].

Insects: The spruce budworm is the most serious damaging agent of
balsam fir. Historically, cyclical spruce budworm epidemics have killed
trees over vast areas [55]. The most susceptible stands are those
with the following characteristics [30]:

(1) High basal area or percentage of stand in balsam fir and/or white
spruce;
(2) Mature stands (50 years or older), especially if
extensive;
(3) Open stands with tops of balsam fir and/or white spruce
protruding above the canopy;
(4) Stands on poorly drained soils that are extremely wet or dry; and
(5) Stands downwind of a budworm outbreak area.

Once an outbreak begins, trees usually die after 3 to 5 years of
continuous defoliation. Johnston [30] has outlined management
principles for spruce-budworm-infested balsam fir.

Other serious insect pests include the hemlock looper and blackheaded
budworm, defoliators primarily associated with mature and overmature
stands [30]. The introduced balsam wooly adelgid, which occurs in
southeastern Canada and the northeastern United States, attacks stems,
twigs, and buds and can kill trees within 3 years [21].

Rots: Several heart, butt, and root rots cause much decay in living
trees. Heart rots often infect more than 50 percent of 70-year-old
trees [6].
  • 21. Frank, Robert M. 1990. Abies balsamea (L.) Mill. balsam fir. In: Burns, Russell M.; Honkala, Barbara H., technical coordinators. Silvics of North America. Volume 1. Conifers. Agric. Handb. 654. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service: 26-35. [13365]
  • 22. Frank, Robert M.; Bjorkbom, John C. 1973. A silvicultural guide for spruce-fir in the northeast. NE-6. Upper Darby, PA: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Northeastern Forest Experiment Station. 29 p. [8686]
  • 23. Frank, Robert M.; Blum, Barton M. 1978. The selection system of silviculture in spruce-fir stands--procedures, early results, and comparisons with unmanaged stands. Res. Pap. NE-425. Upper Darby, PA: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Northeastern Forest Experiment Station. 15 p. [8772]
  • 30. Johnston, William F. 1986. Manager's handbook for balsam fir in the North Central States. Gen. Tech. Rep. NC-111. St. Paul, MN: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, North Central Forest Experiment Station. 27 p. [9219]
  • 40. Parker, Robert, compiler. 1982. Reaction of various plants to 2,4-D, MCPA, 2,4,5-T, silvex and 2,4-DB. Pullman, WA: Washington State University, College of Agriculture, Cooperative Extension. 61 p. In cooperation with: U.S. Department of Agriculture. [1817]
  • 55. Weetman, G. F. 1983. Management of balsam fir in eastern North America. In: Oliver, Chadwick Dearing; Kenady, Reid M., eds. Proceedings of the biology and management of true fir in the Pacific Northwest symposium; 1981 February 24-26; Seattle-Tacoma, WA. Contribution No. 45. Seattle, WA: University of Washington, College of Forest Resources: 221-225. [14523]
  • 6. Frank, Robert M. 1990. Abies balsamea (L.) Mill. balsam fir. In: Burns, Russell M.; Honkala, Barbara H., technical coordinators. Silvics of North America. Volume 1. Conifers. Agric. Handb. 654. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service: 26-35. [13365]
  • 8. Bergerud, Arthur T.; Manuel, Frank. 1968. Moose damage to balsam fir-white birch forests in central Newfoundland. Journal of Wildlife Management. 32(4): 729-746. [14203]

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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 selections.

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This section is under development. Please consult the Related Web Sites links on the PLANTS Plant Profile.

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Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems

Benefits

Economic Uses

Uses: Spice/herb/condiment, Beverage (non-alcoholic), Other food, Folk medicine

Comments: Used for colds and pulmonary troubles. Tea of inner bark used for chest pains. Seasoner for other medicines. Fresh inner bark poultice. Young leaves make a good tea. Gum from needles, branches, and cones chewed in B.C.

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Other uses and values

More info for the term: tree

Balsam fir is a popular Christmas tree in the East and grown on
plantations for this purpose. The branches are used to make Christmas
wreaths. The fragrant needles are used as a stuffing in souvenir
pillows sold in New England [21].

Balsam fir is occasionally used in landscaping. It can be used in
screenings, mass plantings, and windbreaks but requires abundant soil
moisture for these purposes [21].

Bark blisters contain oleoresin, which is used in the optics industry as
a medium for mounting microscope specimens and as a cement for various
parts of optical systems [21].
  • 21. Frank, Robert M. 1990. Abies balsamea (L.) Mill. balsam fir. In: Burns, Russell M.; Honkala, Barbara H., technical coordinators. Silvics of North America. Volume 1. Conifers. Agric. Handb. 654. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service: 26-35. [13365]

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Cover Value

More info for the terms: cover, hardwood

Balsam fir provides important winter cover for white-tailed deer and
moose. Balsam fir stands attract ungulates because snow is not as deep
as in adjacent hardwood stands [30]. Lowland balsam fir stands are used
extensively by white-tailed deer as winter yarding areas [21], and by
moose with calves during severe winters [30]. During summer, deer,
bear, and moose often rest under the shade of balsam fir trees [30].
Young balsam firs provide cover for small mammals and birds. Martens,
hares, songbirds, and even deer hide from predators in balsam fir
thickets [30]. Grouse and songbirds seek shelter during winter within
the evergreen foliage [5]. In Maine, fishers often nest in witches
brooms in balsam fir trees [4].
  • 21. Frank, Robert M. 1990. Abies balsamea (L.) Mill. balsam fir. In: Burns, Russell M.; Honkala, Barbara H., technical coordinators. Silvics of North America. Volume 1. Conifers. Agric. Handb. 654. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service: 26-35. [13365]
  • 30. Johnston, William F. 1986. Manager's handbook for balsam fir in the North Central States. Gen. Tech. Rep. NC-111. St. Paul, MN: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, North Central Forest Experiment Station. 27 p. [9219]
  • 4. Arthur, Stephen M.; Krohn, William B.; Gilbert, James R. 1989. Habitat use and diet of fishers. Journal of Wildlife Management. 53(3): 680-688. [8671]
  • 5. Bakuzis, E. V.; Hansen, H. L.; with contrib. by Kaufert, F. H.; Lawrence, D. B.; Duncan, D. P.; [and others]

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Wood Products Value

More info for the term: resistance

Balsam fir wood is used primarily for pulpwood and lumber for light
frame construction. It is also used extensively for cabin logs. The
wood is lightweight, relatively soft, low in shock resistance, and has
good splitting resistance. Balsam fir is not well suited for use as
posts and poles because it decays rapidly. Minor wood products include
paneling, crates, and other products not requiring high structural
strength [5,21].
  • 21. Frank, Robert M. 1990. Abies balsamea (L.) Mill. balsam fir. In: Burns, Russell M.; Honkala, Barbara H., technical coordinators. Silvics of North America. Volume 1. Conifers. Agric. Handb. 654. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service: 26-35. [13365]
  • 5. Bakuzis, E. V.; Hansen, H. L.; with contrib. by Kaufert, F. H.; Lawrence, D. B.; Duncan, D. P.; [and others]

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Value for rehabilitation of disturbed sites

The use of balsam fir for rehabilitation purposes is largely unexplored.
It is probably best suited for long-term revegetation. Nursery-grown
stock is available for outplanting. Methods for collecting, processing,
testing, storing, and sowing balsam fir seed, as well as nursery
practices for seedling production, have been outlined in the literature
[5,16,24].
  • 16. Edwards, D. G. W. 1982. Collection, processing, testing, and storage of true fir seeds--a review. In: Oliver, Chadwick Dearing; Kenady, Reid M., eds. Proceedings of the biology and management of true fir in the Pacific Northwest symposium; 1981 February 24-26; Seattle-Tacoma, WA. Contribution No. 45. Seattle, WA: University of Washington, College of Forest Resources; Portland, OR: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Forest and Range Experiment Station: 113-137. [11894]
  • 24. Franklin, Jerry F. 1974. Abies Mill. fir. In: Schopmeyer, C. S., technical coordinator. Seeds of woody plants in the United States. Agric. Handb. 450. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service: 168-183. [7566]
  • 5. Bakuzis, E. V.; Hansen, H. L.; with contrib. by Kaufert, F. H.; Lawrence, D. B.; Duncan, D. P.; [and others]

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Importance to Livestock and Wildlife

Balsam fir is a major food of moose during winter. It tends to be
utilized more when snow is deep and moose populations are high [41].
Moose may browse balsam fir in winter to save energy because the twigs
weigh 8 to 13 times more than deciduous twigs of similar length and
therefore it requires less time and effort to consume equivalent amounts
[41]. Balsam fir is unimportant in the diets of caribou and
white-tailed deer. Spruce and ruffed grouse feed on balsam fir needles,
tips, and buds, which often make up 5 to 10 percent of the fall and
winter diet. Red squirrels feed on balsam fir male flower buds, and
less frequently on leader and lateral buds in late winter and spring
when other foods are scarce [5]. Stands attacked by the spruce budworm
attract numerous insect-eating birds, especially warblers and
woodpeckers [30].
  • 30. Johnston, William F. 1986. Manager's handbook for balsam fir in the North Central States. Gen. Tech. Rep. NC-111. St. Paul, MN: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, North Central Forest Experiment Station. 27 p. [9219]
  • 41. Peek, J. M. 1974. A review of moose food habits studies in North America. Le Naturaliste Canadien. 101: 195-215. [7420]
  • 5. Bakuzis, E. V.; Hansen, H. L.; with contrib. by Kaufert, F. H.; Lawrence, D. B.; Duncan, D. P.; [and others]

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Nutritional Value

In Newfoundland, healthy balsam fir plants with dark blue-green foliage
are more nutritious than plants with yellow or light green foliage.
Chemical analysis of balsam fir browse during the growing season varied
according to color as follows [8]:

(percent composition on dry matter basis)

foliage color protein fat fiber ash N-free Mg K
Extract

very yellow 4.65 7.54 25.2 2.1 60.60 0.12 0.32
yellow 5.49 8.29 22.01 2.49 61.72 0.18 0.15
light green 6.33 7.71 22.83 2.44 60.69 0.13 0.27
green 6.89 8.08 21.36 3.24 60.43 0.13 0.42
dark green 8.59 7.88 20.67 3.54 59.41 0.09 0.44
dark blue-green 13.54 5.55 26.24 3.68 50.99 0.13 1.01

On logged-over land in Newfoundland, twigs from balsam fir saplings in
thinned stands contained 33 percent more protein and 17 percent more
crude fat than those from unthinned stands [53].
  • 53. Thompson, Ian D.; Curran, William J. 1989. Moose damage to pre-commercially thinned balsam fir stands: review of research and management implications. Inf. Rep. N-X-272. St. John's, NF: Forestry Canada, Newfoundland and Labrador Region. 17 p. [13648]
  • 8. Bergerud, Arthur T.; Manuel, Frank. 1968. Moose damage to balsam fir-white birch forests in central Newfoundland. Journal of Wildlife Management. 32(4): 729-746. [14203]

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Palatability

Balsam fir is moderately to highly palatable to moose in winter.
Palatability varies between individual plants. Green-foliaged
individuals are often browsed heavily, while chlorotic plants are
avoided [5]. This is attributed to the higher nutrient content of
healthy plants with dark green foliage.

The palatability of balsam fir to white-tailed deer and caribou is low
[5]. White-tailed deer may eat small amounts of balsam fir due to its
abundance, but it is not a preferred food [51].

In laboratory experiments, mice and voles preferred the seeds of pines
(Pinus spp.), spruces (Picea spp.), and eastern hemlock over balsam fir
seeds [5].
  • 5. Bakuzis, E. V.; Hansen, H. L.; with contrib. by Kaufert, F. H.; Lawrence, D. B.; Duncan, D. P.; [and others]
  • 51. Telfer, Edmund S. 1972. Browse selection by deer and hares. Journal of Wildlife Management. 36(4): 1344-1349. [12455]

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Special Uses

The most important products made from balsam fir wood are pulpwood and  lumber (43). The wood of balsam fir, as well as that of other true firs,  is creamy white to pale brown. The sapwood has little odor or taste. Wood  structure in the true firs is so similar that identification of species is  impossible by examining only the wood (1,43).

    Balsam fir is pulped by all of the pulping processes. Sulfate and  semichemical processes are used most extensively. A fiber length of 3 to 4  mm A 12 to 0.16 in) is good, as is fiber quality. Because balsam fir is  less dense than other major pulpwood species, its yield is lower (37).

    The wood of balsam fir is light in weight, relatively soft, low in shock  resistance, and has good splitting resistance. Recent testing of several  mechanical properties of balsam fir and of red, white, and black spruce  indicates strength values for balsam fir generally exceeding those of  white spruce. In some tests, strength values were equivalent to or only  slightly below the values of red and black spruce (5,34). Nail-holding  capacity is low. Balsam fir is very low in resistance to decay (43). The  major use of balsam fir lumber is for light-frame construction. Minor uses  include paneling, crates, and other products not requiring high structural  strength.

    Balsam fir provides food or cover for some animals and both food and  cover for others. Moose rely on balsam fir in winter when it is a major  source of food. The use of balsam fir by deer for cover and shelter is  well documented. During severe winter weather, especially in northern  areas of the white-tailed deer range, lowland balsam fir stands and  spruce-balsam fir swamps are used extensively as winter yarding areas. The  fact that these sites usually contain, at best, only small amounts of  preferred food suggests their attractiveness as shelter.

    Other mammals use balsam fir to varying degrees. The snowshoe hare uses  it for cover, and there is some seed and phloem feeding by various species  of mice and voles. Red squirrels occasionally feed on balsam fir seed,  bark, and wood. They prefer flower buds to vegetative buds. There is some  use of wood by beaver for dam building, but little is used as food. Black  bear strip bark and lick the exposed surfaces between bark and wood (1).

    Balsam fir provides a minor part of the diet for both the spruce grouse  and the ruffed grouse. Buds, tips, and needles are consumed, and more  feeding occurs in winter than in summer. Thickets of balsam fir provide  shelter for both birds (1). The response of bird populations to several  forestry practices in stands containing balsam fir has been recorded  (8,40). Species composition, the vertical and horizontal structure of the  stand, and the extent of spruce budworm infestation influence the  composition and density of bird populations.

    Balsam fir is not widely planted as an ornamental nor does it offer much  potential in areas other than northern New England, Canada, and perhaps  the Lake States. Plantings as screens or as windbreaks are successful only  when the moisture requirement of the species is met (1). On certain lands  and especially on public lands, the unique presence of spruce-fir stands  suggests management for esthetic values. In the southern Appalachian  mountains, coniferous forests containing balsam fir are managed for  watershed protection (44).

    Oleoresin, a substance confined to the bark blisters of balsam fir, is  used as a medium for mounting microscopic specimens and as a cement for  various parts of optical systems. It is also used in the manufacture of  medicinal compounds and spirit varnishes (4).

    Balsam fir wood is not prized for fuelwood, but industries that use  balsam fir for pulp and lumber products are using increasingly larger  quantities of wood waste for the production of energy. The heating value  of ovendry fir bark is 21 166 600 joules/kg (9,100 Btu/lb) (26).

    The fir tree has been a favorite Christmas tree for more than 400 years.  It remains among the top three species. In 1980, balsam fir ranked second  behind Scotch pine (Pinus sylvestris), commanding 13.9  percent of the market (38). Sheared plantation-grown trees are usually  preferred over wildings by retailers and consumers. Wreath-making is  another holiday business that rivals that of Christmas tree sales in some  areas. Prolonged needle retention after harvest, color, and pleasant  fragrance are characteristics of balsam fir that make it attractive for  these uses. Fragrance alone accounts for use of the needles as stuffing  for souvenir pillows commonly sold in New England gift shops.

  • Burns, Russell M., and Barbara H. Honkala, technical coordinators. 1990. Silvics of North America: 1. Conifers; 2. Hardwoods.   Agriculture Handbook 654 (Supersedes Agriculture Handbook 271,Silvics of Forest Trees of the United States, 1965).   U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Washington, DC. vol.2, 877 pp.   http://www.na.fs.fed.us/spfo/pubs/silvics_manual/table_of_contents.htm External link.
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Robert M. Frank

Source: Silvics of North America

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Uses

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.

Public Domain

USDA NRCS Plant Materials Program

Source: USDA NRCS PLANTS Database

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Wikipedia

Abies balsamea

Abies balsamea or balsam fir is a North American fir, native to most of eastern and central Canada (Newfoundland west to central British Columbia) and the northeastern United States (Minnesota east to Maine, and south in the Appalachian Mountains to West Virginia).[2]

Growth[edit]

Foliage

Balsam fir 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.

Variety[edit]

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.


Ecology[edit]

On mountain tops, stands of Balsam fir occasionally develop fir waves. Often found in association with Black Spruce, White Spruce and trembling aspen.

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).

Uses[edit]

Balsam fir (Abies balsamea) essential oil in clear glass vial

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 (part of SPF 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.[3]

Prior to the availability of foam rubber and air mattresses; balsam fir boughs were a preferred mattress in places where trees greatly outnumbered campers. Many fir limbs are vertically bowed from alternating periods of downward deformation from snow loading and new growth reaching upward for sunlight. Layers of inverted freshly cut limbs from small trees created a pleasantly fragrant mattress lifting bedding off the wet ground; and the bowed green limbs were springs beneath the soft needles. Upper layers of limbs were placed with the cut ends of the limbs touching the earth to avoid uncomfortably sharp spots and sap.[4]

The cultivar A. balsamia 'Hudsonia group' (Hudson fir), has gained the Royal Horticultural Society's Award of Garden Merit.[5]

The Native Americans used it for a variety of medicinal purposes.[6]

Tree emblem[edit]

Balsam Fir is the Provincial tree of New Brunswick.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Farjon, A. (2013). "Abies balsamea". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2013.2. International Union for Conservation of Nature. Retrieved May 2, 2014. 
  2. ^ "PLANTS Profile for Abies balsamea (balsam fir)". USDA PLANTS. Retrieved 2007-07-17. 
  3. ^ [1][dead link]
  4. ^ Thoreau, Henry David The Maine Woods Apollo edition (1966) Thomas Y. Crowell Company
  5. ^ "RHS Plant Selector Abies balsamea Hudsonia Group AGM / RHS Gardening". Apps.rhs.org.uk. Retrieved 2012-08-30. 
  6. ^ http://herb.umd.umich.edu/herb/search.pl?searchstring=Abies+balsamea
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Notes

Comments

Balsam fir is frequently segregated into two varieties (e.g., H.J. Scoggan 1978--1979) based on whether the bracts are included (var. balsamea ) or exserted (var. phanerolepis Fernald), the latter considered by Liu T. S. (1971) to be a hybrid between Abies balsamea and A . fraseri . D.T. Lester (1968) demonstrated, however, that bract length may vary within a cone, annually, and from tree to tree. Nevertheless, a tendency exists for the exserted variety to be found most commonly from Newfoundland south through New England (R.C. Hosie 1969; B.F. Jacobs et al. 1984); it is not found west of Ontario. Western populations lack 3-carene and have other minor chemical differences separating them from eastern balsam fir (E.Zavarin and K.Snajberk 1972; R.S. Hunt and E.von Rudloff 1974). Morphologic variation in balsam fir has been studied mainly east of Ontario; the populations to the west have been ignored for the most part, although they may yield stronger evidence for species subdivision. 

 In Alberta, populations intermediate between western Abies balsamea and A . bifolia (E.H. Moss 1953; R.S. Hunt and E.von Rudloff 1974, 1979) may be classified as A . balsamea ´ bifolia . In West Virginia and Virginia, populations of balsam fir tend to be more similar to A . fraseri than are more northern populations (B.F. Jacobs et al. 1984).

Balsam fir ( Abies balsamea ) is the provincial tree of New Brunswick.

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© Missouri Botanical Garden, 4344 Shaw Boulevard, St. Louis, MO, 63110 USA

Source: Missouri Botanical Garden

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Names and Taxonomy

Taxonomy

Comments: Abies balsamea is a widespread species of Canada and the northeastern U.S., occurring southward in the Appalachians to West Virginia and adjacent northwestern Virginia. The similar Abies fraseri, of the high mountains of southern Virginia, North Carolina, and Tennessee, differs primarily in its longer, projecting cone-bracts. Plants intermediate between these two species have been called Abies balsamea var. phanerolepis or Abies x phanerolepis; opinions differ on whether they are relicts of the original divergence or recent interspecific hybrids; such plants occur in West Virginia and are reported irregularly northward as far as eastern Canada. LEM 10Aug00.

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© NatureServe

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More info for the term: fern

The currently accepted scientific name of balsam fir is Abies balsamea
(L.) Mill [32]. The genus Abies consists of about 40 species of
evergreen trees found in the Northern Hemisphere. Nine Abies species,
including balsam fir, are native to the United States.

Balsam fir is widely distributed and exhibits geographic variation. Two
varieties based on morphological differences are recognized [47]:

var. balsamea
var. phanerolepis Fern.

Balsam fir is closely related to Fraser fir (A. fraseri). These species
are probably relicts of an ancestral taxon which exhibited north-south
clinal variation [24]. Trees in Virginia and West Virginia are possibly
hybrids between these two species [32]. Some authorities recognize
Fraser fir as a variety of balsam fir: A. b. var. fraseri [21].

Balsam fir hybridizes with subalpine fir (A. lasiocarpa) where their
ranges overlap in the Canadian Rockies [24].
  • 21. Frank, Robert M. 1990. Abies balsamea (L.) Mill. balsam fir. In: Burns, Russell M.; Honkala, Barbara H., technical coordinators. Silvics of North America. Volume 1. Conifers. Agric. Handb. 654. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service: 26-35. [13365]
  • 24. Franklin, Jerry F. 1974. Abies Mill. fir. In: Schopmeyer, C. S., technical coordinator. Seeds of woody plants in the United States. Agric. Handb. 450. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service: 168-183. [7566]
  • 32. Little, Elbert L., Jr. 1979. Checklist of United States trees (native and naturalized). Agric. Handb. 541. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service. 375 p. [2952]
  • 47. Seymour, Frank Conkling. 1982. The flora of New England. 2d ed. Phytologia Memoirs 5. Plainfield, NJ: Harold N. Moldenke and Alma L. Moldenke. 611 p. [7604]

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Common Names

balsam fir
balsam
Canadian balsam
Canada balsam
eastern fir
bracted balsam fir
blister fir

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