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Balsam Fir Abies balsamea


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Balsam Fir, cones & needles
credit: magnolia1000/CCSA

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Family: Pinaceae, Pine view all from this family

Description Small to medium-size evergreen tree with a narrow conic crown. Bark smooth, grey, and with resin blisters which spray when ruptured, becomes rough, fissured and scaly on old trees. Leaves flat needle-like, 15 to 30 mm. (O–1 in.) long, dark green above often with a small patch of stomata near the tip, and two white stomatal bands below, and a slightly notched tip. Arranged spirally on the shoot, but with the leaf bases twisted to appear in two more-or-less horizontal rows. Cones erect, 40 to 80 mm. (1O–3 in.) long, dark purple, ripening brown and disintegrating to release the winged seeds in September.
Two varieties:
Abies balsamea var. balsamea (balsam fir) - bracts subtending seed scales short, not visible on the closed cones. Most of the species' range.
Abies balsamea var. phanerolepis (bracted balsam fir or Canaan fir) - bracts subtending seed scales longer, visible on the closed cone. The southeast of the species' range, from southernmost Quebec to West Virginia. The name 'Canaan Fir' derives from one of its native localities, the Canaan Valley in West Virginia. Some botanists regard this variety as a natural hybrid between balsam fir and Fraser fir (Abies fraseri), which occurs further south in the Appalachian mountains.

Dimensions Height: 12-18 m. (40-60 ft.)
Diameter: 0.3-0.5 m (1-1/2 ft.).

Habitat Canyons & valleys, Mountains.

Range Mid-Atlantic, Plains, New England, Great Lakes.

Discussion Very popular as Christmas trees. Resin used to produce Canada balsam, used as cold remedy and as glue for glasses, optical instrument components, and for preparing permanent mounts of microscope specimens. Wood used for paper manufacture. Balsam fir oil is an EPA approved nontoxic rodent repellent. Provides food for moose, American red squirrels, crossbills and chickadees, as well as shelter for moose, snowshoe hares, white-tailed deer, ruffed grouse and other small mammals and songbirds. The needles are eaten by some lepidopteran caterpillars, for example the Io moth.