Balsam Fir (Abies balsamea)
This is a conical tree with smooth gray bark interspersed with fragrant resin blisters. It makes a nice landscape tree at least when it is young, but can loose its nice shape as it matures, especially if it is planted in warm dry setting. This native plant has good cold tolerance but is not suitable for city conditions. As a Christmas tree, balsam Fir has several desirable properties. It has a dark-green appearance, long-lasting needles, and attractive form. It also retains its pleasing fragrance. Nine to ten years in the field are required to produce a 6-7 foot tree.
It exhibits a relatively dense, dark-green, pyramidal crown with a slender spire-like tip. The scientific name ”balsamea” [JEFF - THESE SHOULD BE CURLY QUOTES.-is an ancient word for the balsam tree, so named because of the many resinous blisters found in the bark.
Individual needles are somewhat flat and may be blunt or notched at the end. Needles have a broad circular base and are usually dark green on the upper surface, lighter on the lower surface. Two silvery bands of stomata (pores) are found on the lower surface.
Balsam Fir bark is thin, ash-gray, and smooth except for numerous blisters on young trees. These blisters contain a sticky, fragrant, liquid resin. Thus, the species has been sometimes referred to as "blister pine". Upon maturity, bark may become up to 1/2 inch thick, red-brown and broken into thin scales. Its annual growth rate is less than 12 inches.
Balsam Fir Choices
Many of the cultivars of Balsam Fir are small and work well in rock gardens and small space gardens. Nana is a dense, compact, spreading plant that will reach a height and spread of only 3 feet. Quintin Spreader is small with a spreading habit. Then there is Hudsonia that gains a height after 10 years of only 1 ft. This dwarf is a slow growing and has a compact shape that makes it ideal for the rock garden. The foliage is aromatic and can survive in chalky soil.