Balsam Fir (Balsamea)

The Balsam Fir (Balsamea) is generally described as a perennial tree. This is native to the U.S. (United States) has its most active growth period in the spring and summer . The greatest bloom is usually observed in the mid summer, with fruit and seed production starting in the fall and continuing until fall. Leaves are retained year to year. The Balsam Fir (Balsamea) has a short life span relative to most other plant species and a slow growth rate. At maturity, the typical Balsam Fir (Balsamea) will reach up to 60 feet high, with a maximum height at 20 years of 18 feet.

The Balsam Fir (Balsamea) is easily found in nurseries, garden stores and other plant dealers and distributors. It can be propagated by bare root, container, seed. It has a slow ability to spread through seed production and the seedlings have low vigor. Note that cold stratification is not required for seed germination and the plant cannot survive exposure to temperatures below -43°F. has low tolerance to drought and restricted water conditions.

Uses of : Landscaping, Medicinal, Culinary, etc.

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.

General Characteristics

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.

Required Growing Conditions

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.

Cultivation and Care

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.

General Upkeep and Control

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

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.

Plant Basics
Growth Rate Slow
General Type Tree
Growth Period Spring, Summer
Growth Duration Perennial
Lifespan Short
Plant Nativity Native to U.S.
Commercial Availability Routinely Available
Physical Characteristics
Bloom Period Mid Summer
Displays Fall Colors No
Shape/Growth Form Single Stem
Drought Tolerance Low
Shade Tolerance Tolerant
Height When Mature 60
Vegetative Spread None
Flower Color Yellow
Flower Conspicuousness No
Fruit/Seed Abundance Medium
Fruit/Seed Seasonality Fall Fall
Seed Spread Rate Slow
Gardening Characteristics
Propagations (Ways to Grow) Bare Root, Container, Seed
Moisture Requirements Medium
Cold Stratification Required Yes
Minimum Temperature -43
Soil Depth for Roots 20
Toxic to Nearby Plants No
Toxic to Livestock No
After-Harvest Resprout Ability No
Responds to Coppicing No
Growth Requirements
pH Range 4–6 pH
Precipitation Range 13–13 inches/yr
Planting Density 300–1200 indiv./acre
Soil Textures Coarse, Medium
Soil Depth for Roots 20
Minimum Frost-Free Days 80 day(s)
Salinity Tolerance None
CaCO3 Tolerance Low
Sustainability & Use
Leaf Retention Yes
Palatability Low
Fire Resistant No

Source: USDA, NRCS, PLANTS Database,
National Plant Data Center, Baton Rouge, LA 70874-4490 USA