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Abies balsamea

Abies balsamea - Balsam fir, Canadian fir, Eastern fir, Canada balsam, Blister fir, Sapin balsamier
  • Abies balsamea - Balsam fir, Canadian fir, Eastern fir, Canada balsam, Blister fir, Sapin balsamier - Click to enlarge
  • Abies balsamea cones - Click to enlarge
  • Abies balsamea forest - Click to enlarge


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Product Information


Scientific name: Abies balsamea   (Linnaeus) Miller  1768

Synonyms: Abies balsamea var. balsamea, Abies balsamifera Michx., Abies hudsonia Bosc ex Jacques, Abies minor Duhamel ex Gordon, Peuce balsamea (L.) Rich., Picea aromatica Carrière, Picea balsamea (L.) Loudon, Pinus balsamea L., Pinus taxifolia Salisb.

Infraspecific taxa: Abies balsamea var. phanerolepis  Fernald  1909

Common names: Balsam fir, Canadian fir, Eastern fir, Canada balsam, Blister fir (English), Sapin balsamier (French)



Tree to 25(-30) m tall, with trunk to 1(-1.5) m in diameter. Bark gray, finally splitting up irregularly into shallow blocks with age. Branchlets with sparse, short gray hairs, not grooved. Buds 4.5-5.5 mm long, resinous. Needles arranged to the sides on lower branches, curved upward on the top side of the twigs in upper branches, 1.5-2.5 cm long, dark green above, the tips rounded to pointed. Individual needles plump in cross section and with a large resin canal on either side in the center, near the midvein, with up to three rows of stomates above, particularly near the tip, and with four to eight rows in each white stomatal band beneath. Pollen cones 4-6 mm long, of various colors from greenish through reddish tinges to bluish purple. Seed cones oblong, 4-7(-8) cm long, (1.5-)2-3 cm across, dull purple when young, maturing brown. Bracts shorter than the seed scales and hidden by them or the main blade just about as long as, and the point then sticking straight out beyond, the scales. Persistent cone axis narrowly cylindrical. Seed body 3-6 mm long, the wing up to twice as long. Cotyledons mostly four. The scientific and common names refer to the fragrant resin (Canada balsam) that has historically been an important mounting medium for microscope slides. It is obtained in essentially pure form directly from the resin pockets on the bark.

Northeastern North America from northern Labrador to northern Virginia and West Virginia west to central Alberta and northeastern Iowa, and central Minnesota. Forming pure stands or mixed in with other trees in boreal and mixed forests, and to the alpine tree line in montane forests of the central and northern Appalachians and related mountains; 0-1,500(-1,900) m. 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.


Conservation Status

Red List Category & Criteria: Least Concern

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 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 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.

Balsam fir is an economically important conifer. Its wood, although of modest size, is used in light-frame construction and for pulpwood. It is also popular as a Christmas tree and is one of the top three species grown for this purpose in E North America. The fragrant needles are partly responsible for this popularity, they are also used to stuff pillows sold as souvenirs in New England. Canada balsam, the aromatic and soft terpenoid resin collected from blisters in the bark, is especially important in Quebec. Its medicinal properties were known to Native Americans, who used it as an antiseptic wound dressing as well as internally for various ills. Lewis and Clark had it in their medicine box on their famous overland expedition to the Pacific Ocean in 1804-05. In modern Western society its medicinal use has been replaced by other salves; the resin is now used to seal microscopic glass slides with biological preparates. In horticulture, Balsam fir is less valued; this fir is apparently short lived when planted in gardens and only a few dwarf cultivars are known.

This species occurs in many protected areas.



Abies balsamea ’Albicans’
Abies balsamea ’Albida’
Abies balsamea ’Andover’
Abies balsamea ’Angustata’
Abies balsamea ’Argentea’
Abies balsamea ’Argenteovariegata’
Abies balsamea ’Armintrout’s Fastigiate’
Abies balsamea ’Ben Blackburn’
Abies balsamea ’Bear Swamp’
Abies balsamea ’Coerulea’
Abies balsamea ’Coerulescens’
Abies balsamea ’Columnaris’
Abies balsamea ’Compacta’
Abies balsamea ’Compacta Nana’
Abies balsamea ’Cree’s Blue’
Abies balsamea ’Denudata’
Abies balsamea ’Elegans’
Abies balsamea ’Eugene Gold’
Abies balsamea ’Fastigiata’
Abies balsamea ’Foliis variegatis’
Abies balsamea ’Glauca’
Abies balsamea ’Globosa’
Abies balsamea ’Hemisphaerica’
Abies balsamea ’Hudsonia’
Abies balsamea ’Jamie’
Abies balsamea ’Krause’
Abies balsamea ’Le Feber’
Abies balsamea ’Longifolia’
Abies balsamea ’Lutescens’
Abies balsamea ’Macrocarpa’
Abies balsamea ’Marginata’
Abies balsamea ’Nana’
Abies balsamea ’Nana Compacta’
Abies balsamea ’Nana Globosa’
Abies balsamea ’Nudicaulis’
Abies balsamea ’Paucifolia’
Abies balsamea ’Pedersen’s Globe’
Abies balsamea ’Piccolo’
Abies balsamea ’Prostrata’
Abies balsamea ’Quinton Spreader’
Abies balsamea ’Renswoude’
Abies balsamea ’Tyler Blue’
Abies balsamea ’Variegata’
Abies balsamea ’Verkade’s Prostrate
Abies balsamea ’Versicolor’
Abies balsamea ’Wolcott Pond’



  • Farjon, A. (2010). A Handbook of the World's Conifers. Koninklijke Brill, Leiden.
  • Eckenwalder, J.E. (2009) Conifers of the World: The Complete Reference. Timber Press, Portland.
  • IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources. Cambridge, UK /Gland, Switzerland

Copyright © Aljos Farjon, James E. Eckenwalder, IUCN, Conifers Garden. All rights reserved.

Product CodeABI61T6Q27
Weight1.5 kg
Height20 - 25 cm

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