Oh Balsam Fir, Oh Balsam Fir

So, I was wondering what possible species to do for species of the week, when one just sauntered right into my living room and plopped itself down on the floor. She plans to stay for the next few weeks I understand. Not that I mind. She’s more than welcome.

Today’s Species of the Week is: Balsam Fir (Abies balsamea)

Here is a branch up close:


And here is a full tree:


Ok, so that’s not what it looks like in nature. I meant to get a picture before she was all dressed up for the holidays, but I got too excited about the cat-friendly reusable tinsel I bought this year and forgot. Yes, we tend to go overboard on the decorations. Many of them are homemade by tiny hands.


Balsam Firs are native and common in Ontario (though not in the southernmost part). The needles are flat (you can’t roll them between your fingers), and run on opposite sides of the stalk in a sort of fuzzy plane. They are attached with a tiny disk to the twig. Needles have a whitish striped appearance underneath. Balsam firs are sometimes confused with hemlocks (who have shorter needles) and yews (which are green underneath).

Trees are densely conical and may grow to 70 feet in the wild. Cones stand vertically.


They grow tall in old, undisturbed forests and are an important food source for moose. They provide winter shelter for a number of species as they effectively hold the snow off the ground.

As well as serving as popular Christmas trees, you may be surprised to hear about the many other uses of Balsam trees. The soft wood is used in paper production and as construction lumber.

They also have some interesting uses in wilderness survival.

Balsam pitch (which smells like Christmas) can be found in blisters on the trunk. It can apparently be applied to cuts to form a protective seal and has antiseptic properties. This one person actually snacks on the pitch. http://survivaltopics.com/balsam-fir-pitch/ Um…ok. Not going to try that one. It may also be used for waterproofing, fire starting and as an adhesive.

This is also another species you can make into tea (there seem to be a lot). Here are some instructions.


Let me know if you ever try it!

Just for fun:

Apparently if you stick a needle in the wet sap and put it in water, the sap will push the needle away like a little motor boat. We will probably try that. There’s a little video at the bottom of this page: http://ontariotrees.com/main/species.php?id=2039

I like firs as Christmas trees because the needles are softer, and in my experience, stay on longer, when compared to spruces.

Happy Decorating!







Posted on December 14, 2013, in Species of the week, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

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