Abies balsamea (L.) P. Mill.

balsam fir

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New England Distribution

Adapted from BONAP data

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North America Distribution

Adapted from BONAP data

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Facts About

Balsam fir is most memorable for its tall, dark spires that grace the north woods of New England, and for its sweet, turpentine smell created by the abundant resin in its bark and needles. It is widely used as a Christmas tree and for wreaths. The pungent resin yields Canada balsam, used in the manufacture of varnish as well as an adhesive for mounting microscope slides. Snowshoe hares use the trees as cover.

Habitat

Forests, swamps, wetland margins (edges of wetlands)

Characteristics

Habitat
  • terrestrial
  • wetlands
New England state
  • Connecticut
  • Maine
  • Massachusetts
  • New Hampshire
  • Rhode Island
  • Vermont
Growth form
the plant is a tree
Leaf form
  • the leaves are needle-like
  • the leaves are scale-like
Leaf cross-section
the needle-like leaves are flattened (can't be rolled between the fingers)
Leaf arrangement
there is one needle-like leaf per node
Seed cone form
the seed cone is longer than wide, with woody scales attached at the base
Leaf clustering
the needle-like leaves are single, with one per node
Seed cone shape
the seed cone is cylindrical (cylinder-shaped)
Leaves overlapping
the needle-like leaves are separate and do not hide the twig surface
Show All Characteristics
  • Buds or leaf scars
    Winter bud shape
    the winter buds are globose (spherical, globe-shaped)
  • Fruits or seeds
    Seed cone base
    NA
    Seed cone bracts
    • the bracts are covered by the seed cone scales
    • the bracts protrude beyond the seed cone scales
    Seed cone form
    the seed cone is longer than wide, with woody scales attached at the base
    Seed cone scales
    NA
    Seed cone shape
    the seed cone is cylindrical (cylinder-shaped)
    Seed cone symmetry
    the seed cone is symmetrical
    Seed cone umbo position
    there is no raised portion on the seed cone scale
    Seed cone umbo spine
    NA
    Seed wings
    the seeds have wing-like projections
  • Growth form
    Growth form
    the plant is a tree
  • Leaves
    Leaf arrangement
    there is one needle-like leaf per node
    Leaf base
    the base of the needle-like leaf is expanded to a circular attachment point
    Leaf clustering
    the needle-like leaves are single, with one per node
    Leaf cross-section
    the needle-like leaves are flattened (can't be rolled between the fingers)
    Leaf duration
    the needle-like leaves remain green all winter
    Leaf form
    • the leaves are needle-like
    • the leaves are scale-like
    Leaf glands
    there are no glands on the underside of the needle-like leaves
    Leaf stalks
    the needle-like leaves do not have a leaf stalk
    Leaf types
    there is only one type of needle-like leaf on the twig
    Leaves overlapping
    the needle-like leaves are separate and do not hide the twig surface
  • Place
    Habitat
    • terrestrial
    • wetlands
    New England state
    • Connecticut
    • Maine
    • Massachusetts
    • New Hampshire
    • Rhode Island
    • Vermont
    Specific habitat
    • edges of wetlands
    • forests
    • swamps
  • Stem, shoot, branch
    Bark resin blisters
    the bark has small resin blisters on it
    Branchlet thickness
    1–4 mm
    Leaves on shoots
    the needle-like leaves do not grow in tight clusters on a short, knob-like shoot
    Twig bloom
    there is no bloom on the twig
    Twig hair type
    the twigs have hairs, but the hairs do not have glands
    Twig hairs
    the twig is hairy

Wetland Status

Occurs in wetlands or non-wetlands. (Wetland indicator code: FAC)

New England Distribution and Conservation Status

Distribution

Connecticut
present
Maine
present
Massachusetts
present
New Hampshire
present
Rhode Island
present
Vermont
present

Conservation Status

Exact status definitions can vary from state to state. For details, please check with your state.

Connecticut
extremely rare (S-rank: S1), endangered (code: E)
Maine
widespread (S-rank: S5)
Massachusetts
unranked (S-rank: SNR)

Native to North America?

Yes and no (some introduced)

Sometimes Confused With

Abies concolor:
leaves mostly 40-60 mm long, prominently glaucous, and seed cones 7-12 cm long (vs. A. balsamea, with leaves 12-25 mm long and green, not or hardly glaucous, and seed cones 4-7 cm long).
Tsuga canadensis:
winter buds not resinous, the individual scales visible, bark without resin blisters, and seed cones drooping (vs. A. balsamea, with winter buds resinous, the invidiual scales concealed by resin, bark with resin blisters, and seed cones erect).

Synonyms

  • Abies balsamea var. phanerolepis Fern.
  • Pinus balsamea L.

Family

Pinaceae

Genus

Abies

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Information from Dichotomous Key of Flora Novae Angliae

1.  Abies balsamea (L.) P. Mill. N

balsam fir. Abies balsamea (L.) P. Mill. var. phanerolepis Fern.; Pinus balsamea L. 
• CT, MA, ME, NH, RI, VT. Forests and swamps.