Abies balsamea (Balsam Fir)
|Also known as:|
|Life cycle:||perennial woody|
|Habitat:||sun; moist to wet; peat swamps, moist upland forest|
|Bloom season:||May - June|
|Plant height:||50 to 85 feet|
|Wetland Indicator Status:||GP: FAC MW: FACW NCNE: FAC|
|MN county distribution (click map to enlarge):|
|National distribution (click map to enlarge):|
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Male and female flowers are cone like structures called strobili, both borne on separate branches of the same tree. Male strobili are oval to oblong, ¼ to 1/3 inch long in the leaf (needle) axils of the previous season's branch twigs, typically in the mid-crown of the tree, the yellow pollen released from cone scales that are initially reddish, turning tan.
Leaves and trunk:
Leaves are needle-like, single, flattened, 3/8 to about 1 inch long, dark green on the upper surface, the lower surface whitish with a green midvein and appearing striped. Needles are arranged in a spiral around the twig but those on top and underneath the twig twist so that needles appear to be mostly lateral, giving the branch a flattened appearance. Needles persist up to 13 years. Twigs are mostly opposite, short-hairy, tan to greenish.
Fruit is an erect, cylindrical cone 2 to 3¼ inches long, ¾ to 1 inch wide, dark brownish purple, topped with copious amounts of thick resin when mature, smooth with scales tightly appressed. Scales do not open up like many conifers but start to shed from the base of the cone on up, releasing seed as the scales fall away.
Balsam fir is common throughout Minnesota's northern forests but also present on a few isolated, cold north facing slopes of bluffs in our southeastern counties. Young trees are highly shade tolerant and can form dense stands in the understory. While perhaps the quintessential Christmas tree, they are an important source of winter deer browse as well as pulp timber. Overall, Balsam Fir is very similar to spruce trees but has flat needles where spruce are 4-sided in cross-section, and cones are of course distinctive for each of these species.
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Where to buy native seed and plants ↓
- Balsam Fir tree
- Balsam Fir trees
- Balsam Fir in a park landscape
- Balsam Fir in a residential landscape
- Balsam Fir branch, not flattened
- white striped underside of needles
- male strobili after releasing pollen
- female strobili just past pollination
Photos courtesy Peter M. Dziuk taken in Carlton, Cook, Lake, Ramsey and St. Louis counties.
Have you seen this plant in Minnesota, or have any other comments about it?