Content Detail

Balsam fir is native to the far northern parts of the United States and into Canada. This evergreen tree has flat, dark green needles with a strong balsam scent. Balsam fir makes a striking figure in the landscape with its narrowly-pyramidal shape, but it does best in cooler northern climates.

  • Family (English) Pine
  • Family (botanic) Pinaceae
  • Tree or plant type Tree
  • Foliage Evergreen (foliage year-round)
  • Native locale North America
  • Size range Low-growing shrub (under 3 feet), Small tree (15-25 feet), Large tree (more than 40 feet)
  • Light exposure Full sun (6 hrs direct light daily), Partial sun / shade (4-6 hrs light daily), Full shade (4 hrs or less of light daily)
  • Hardiness zones Zone 3, Zone 4, Zone 5 (Northern Illinois)
  • Soil preference Acid soil, Moist, well-drained soil
  • Tolerances Wet sites
  • Season of interest early winter, midwinter, late winter, early spring, mid spring, late spring, early summer, midsummer, late summer, early fall, mid fall, late fall
  • Flower color and fragrance Inconspicuous
  • Shape or form Mounded, Pyramidal
  • Growth rate Slow

Size and Form:

This tree reaches 50 to 75 feet high and 20 to 35 feet wide with a relatively narrow pyramidal form.

Native geographic location and habitat: 

Balsam fir is native to the far northern parts of the United States and into Canada.

Bark color and texture: 

The bark is smooth when young, becoming slightly furrowed with age. It is green, maturing to red-brown.

Leaf or needle arrangement, size, shape, and texture: 

The evergreen needles are flat, dark green, and attached singly to the stem. They are about one inch long, with a strong balsam fragrance.

Flower arrangement, shape, and size:

The flowers are inconspicuous, with the  males being yellow and the females reddish-purple.

Fruit, cone, nut, and seed descriptions: 

The mature cones are upright and dark purple, maturing to purplish-brown. They are 2 to 4 inches tall. When ripe, the individual scales of the cone fall away leaving the center stalk.

Plant care: 

Balsam firm is very cold hardy, but does not do well in hot, humid summers. It prefers an acidic, well-drained soil, but can tolerate sites that are more consistently moist. It does poorly on dry, exposed sites. It grows in full sun to full shade.

List of pests, diseases, and tolerances:

Insect and diseases problems are not common, but canker diseases and woolly aphids can occur. This tree is very shallow rooted and is prone to wind throw.

Jamy balsam fir (Abies balsamea ‘Jamy’):

A very dwarf cultivar, being only 1 foot high by 1 foot wide.

Piccolo balsam fir (Abies balsamea ‘Piccolo’):

A fine textured, dwarf cultivar, maturing to about 2 feet tall by 2 feet wide.

Tyler Blue balsam fir (Abies balsamea ‘Tyler Blue’):

A cultivar with blue needles which reaches 25 feet high and 15 feet wide.

Weeping Larry balsam fir (Abies balsamea ‘Weeping Larry’):

A very narrow form tree with pendulous branches.


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