Balsam Fir - Abies balsamea

The conical shape and wonderful aromatic needles of this conifer make it a very popular Christmas tree choice.  Balsam Fir can be difficult to identify because the needles closely resemble those of Eastern Hemlock, another native Ontario species. Just remember that Balsam Fir needles are longer and are attached to the twig with a small disc (think Ball-sam).  The resin from Balsam Fir is called “Canada Balsam” and is used to make glue and as a fragrance in candles and soaps.

Balsam Fir new growth
Balsam Fir new growth. Photo by Sean Fox.

Balsam Fir bark
Balsam Fir bark. Photo by Sean Fox.

Balsam fir needles
Balsam fir needles are flat with 2 white bands on the bottom. They are attached spirally but are twisted to form two rows on one plane. You can see the disks or "balls" where the needles join the twig. Photo by Chris Earley

 Balsam fir
Note the conical shape of the tree. Balsam fir are shallow-rooted, so heavy winds can often uproot them. Photo by Chris Earley

Balsam Fir cones
The cones are upright and erect, unlike the cones of the Eastern Hemlock. These unique purple-green cones shed their seeds in the fall, but the cones and their central stalks can remain on the branches for several years.

Ontario Tree Atlas map of non-planted Balsam Firs. 1995-1999.
Ontario Tree Atlas map of non-planted Balsam Firs. 1995-1999.

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References

Farrar, J.L.. 1995. Trees in Canada. Fitzhenry & Whiteside Ltd. Toronto. ON. 504 pp.  

Kershaw, L. 2001. Trees in Ontario: Including tall shrubs. Lone Pine Publishing. Edmonton. AB. 240 pp

Muma, W. 2011. Ontario Trees and Shrubs. [Online] Available: www.ontariotrees.com

OMNR, 2011. Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources: Ontario Tree Atlas. [Online] Available: http://www.mnr.gov.on.ca/en/Business/ClimateChange/2ColumnSubPage/267027.html

OMNR, 2008. Ontario’s Biodiversity: Species at Risk.