Abies balsamea (Balsam Fir)

Plant Info
Also known as:
Family:Pinaceae (Pine)
Life cycle:perennial woody
Habitat:sun; moist to wet; peat swamps, moist upland forest
Bloom season:May - June
Plant height:50 to 85 feet
Wetland Indicator Status:GP: FAC MW: FACW NCNE: FAC
MN county distribution (click map to enlarge):Minnesota county distribution map
National distribution (click map to enlarge):National distribution map

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Detailed Information

Flower: Flower shape: indistinct

[photo of male strobili] Male and female flowers are cone like structures called strobili, both borne on separate branches of the same tree. Male strobili are oval to oblong, ¼ to 1/3 inch long in the leaf (needle) axils of the previous season's branch twigs, typically in the mid-crown of the tree, the yellow pollen released from cone scales that are initially reddish, turning tan.

[photo of female strobili] Female strobili are borne on the upper most branches on previous season's branch twigs, upright and cylindrical oblong, 1¼ to 3 inches long, very resinous with fan-shaped scales.

Leaves and trunk: Leaf attachment: alternate Leaf type: simple

[photo of flattened needles] Leaves are needle-like, single, flattened, 3/8 to about 1 inch long, dark green on the upper surface, the lower surface whitish with a green midvein and appearing striped. Needles are arranged in a spiral around the twig but those on top and underneath the twig twist so that needles appear to be mostly lateral, giving the branch a flattened appearance. Needles persist up to 13 years. Twigs are mostly opposite, short-hairy, tan to greenish.

[photo of blistered trunk] Balsam fir is a midsize to large, conical shaped evergreen tree. Trunks are up to 18½ inches in diameter, with thin, gray bark, smooth but with many resin-filled blisters.

Fruit: Fruit type: seed without plume

[photo of mature fruit] Fruit is an erect, cylindrical cone 2 to 3¼ inches long, ¾ to 1 inch wide, dark brownish purple, topped with copious amounts of thick resin when mature, smooth with scales tightly appressed. Scales do not open up like many conifers but start to shed from the base of the cone on up, releasing seed as the scales fall away.


Balsam fir is common throughout Minnesota's northern forests but also present on a few isolated, cold north facing slopes of bluffs in our southeastern counties. Young trees are highly shade tolerant and can form dense stands in the understory. While perhaps the quintessential Christmas tree, they are an important source of winter deer browse as well as pulp timber. Overall, Balsam Fir is very similar to spruce trees but has flat needles where spruce are 4-sided in cross-section, and cones are of course distinctive for each of these species.

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More photos

Photos courtesy Peter M. Dziuk taken in Carlton, Cook, Lake, Ramsey and St. Louis counties.


Have you seen this plant in Minnesota, or have any other comments about it?

Posted by: luciearl - Fairview Township
on: 2016-06-08 18:38:29

I had a beautiful tall Balsam Fir that blew down in the storm last year. Half the roots were still in the ground, so I kept watching it as other pines turned brown. It had enough roots still underground that it remains green, although on the ground. There are other tiny seedlings in the area, but I won't live long enough to see them reach the size of this tree. Such a beautiful scent.

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