Trees of Wisconsin

Abies balsamea ( L.) Mill.
balsam fir
Family: Pinaceae
tree tree branch leaves cone cone bark
tree tree branch needles cone cone (scales shed at maturity) bark with pitch"blisters"

Abies balsamea is a native species in our area, abundant in northern forests and not popular as a yard or street tree, although it is a favorite for Christmas trees. The needles are flat and tend to be arranged such that they are entirely or nearly in one plane, i.e. they mostly point out from either side of the branch, but not to the bottom and top (they are attached all around the twigs, but they twist so that most project laterally--see photo of "branch" above). The broad, roundish leaf bases shown above will distinguish this species from the similar Tsuga canadensis. Unlike most of our Gymnosperms, the cones point upward from the branches and the cone scales fall off at maturity, therefore mature cones are rarely seen intact. The bark tends to develop "blisters" of sticky and highly aromatic resin, often referred to as "pitch".

Abies balsamea is decidedly northern, ranging across the eastern 2/3 of Canada north to James Bay and south through northern Minnesota and Wisconsin to New York and New England (and extending farther south to a few outliers in the Appalachian Mountains and NE Iowa). It is widely distributed throughout northern Wisconsin and in some areas it is an important component of the forest. It is found in a variety of communities, including swamps where it is often found with Thuja occidentalis, and in several characteristically northern upland forests.


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