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Common Tree Species of the Northwest Forest

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Abies balsamea
Balsam Fir
Pinaceae (Pine Family)

The balsam fir is one of the more important conifers of the Boreal Forest. It may also be referred to as balsam, Canadian balsam, eastern fir, and bracted balsam fir.

Description

General - small to medium-sized evergreen conifer, averaging 15 to 23 m (50 to 75 ft) in height; topped with a dense crown. Branches whorled; branchlets principally opposite in flat sprays with smooth, waxy bark. Bark on trunk of young trees is smooth with resin blisters but becoming scaly with aging.

Balsam Fir Leaves - flat, needle-like, 2-3 cm (1 in) long; tip blunt or minutely notched; unstalked and attached spirally to the stem; twisted at the base in two rows making the spray appear flattened.

Flowers - Balsam fir is monoecious. In spring, 1 year before pollination, male (staminate) and female (ovulate or pistillate) strobili differentiate from flower buds. The strobili are microscopically recognizable at this time. Male strobili usually are distinguishable before the female strobili because they initially develop more rapidly. Flower buds usually open in late May or early June before vegetative buds.

Male strobili, yellowish-red and tinged with purple, develop in the axils of leaves along the undersides of the 1-year-old twigs, usually in dense clusters. Their position in the crown is mostly within 5 m (15 ft) of the top and is almost always below the female strobili. Female strobili are purplish and are found singly or in small groups, confined to the top 1.5 m (5 ft) of the crown. They are located on the upper side of the twig and, like the male strobili, develop on the previous year's twig. Flower production is best on the outer end of branches. At maturity, male flowers are about 3 mm (0.1 in) long; female flowers are about 25 mm (1.0 in) long.

Fruit - Pollen grains are yellow; when developed. The mature fruit is an erect cone 5 to 10 cm (2 to 4 in) long with short, round, irregularly notched scales and pointed tips. There are thin, closely overlapping fan-shaped scales near the center of the cone. The cone matures and ripens during the first fall in late August and early September. The scales and shorter bracts drop away with the winged seeds, leaving the bract, which can persist for many years.

Habitat

Common throughout Northwestern Ontario, balsam fir grows on a wide range of inorganic and organic soils originating from glaciation and generally falling within the acid Spodosol, Inceptisol, and Histosol soil orders. Frequently found in mixed stands with other species. Common shrubs associated with balsam fir include beaked hazel, mountain maple, Labrador-tea, American yew and red raspberry.

Notes

Balsam fir are used primarily for pulp and light frame construction. Balsam oil and turpentine are by-products of its resin. It is one of the most popular Christmas trees, and wildlife rely extensively on this tree for food and shelter.

More Information - Commercial Profiles for Northwestern Ontario Tree Species.

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