Balsam Fir Abies balsamea
Family: Pinaceae (Pine)
Branching: Opposite (Evergreen)
This is a very common tree in Eastern Canada and can be quite prolific
in small groves where a past tree-fall has opened the canopy.
It's needles are usually in a flat, horizontal line, slightly
curved upward. But depending on where it's growing it can look
very different. The best ID feature is its bark, which is
distinctive at all ages (excluding other firs, which don't usually
occur in the east). The young bark is smooth with prominent,
raised "blisters" full of resin. Even when it ages, the resin
blisters are quite obvious; the bark remains relatively smooth.
Probably the most similar species is Eastern Hemlock, which can
be distinguished by its branching (look at the tip of a branch overhead
and see how many of the twigs on either side are not perfectly
opposite; Fir is always perfectly opposite) and its bark (Hemlock bark becomes scaly quite early, unlike Fir). Also, Fir needles tend
to be longer, thinner, and less whitened beneath. Often, it can
resemble the Spruces, but Fir needles are attached by a small "suction
cup" which leaves a circular scar when it falls; Spruce needles are
attached by a small "peg" or stalk. Bracted Balsam Fir (A. balsamea var. phanerolepis) differs in that its cones have a slender "bract" projecting from behind each scale.
Balsam Fir branch. Notice the flat needles and symmetrical branching
The needles usually grow along a horizontal plane.
Sometimes, the needles point almost straight up (especially when growing in open areas)
The circular leaf scars of Firs
Fir cones grow upright from the branch, unlike other conifers
This cone is from the variety "Bracted Balsam Fir" (A. balsamea var. phanerolepis) commonly found in the Maritimes
Young bark, showing the resin in the blisters
Another view of young bark
strange-looking Balsam Fir in Cape Chignecto, NS. There were
several of these trees around, and they looked more like spruces than
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© 2008 Josh Sayers
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