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Balsam Fir vs Black Spruce

Although balsam fir looks very different from black spruce when growing in shade, black spruce is frequently confused with balsam firs growing in open, sunny conditions, which is most common close to the tree line. Both can have a narrow, conical shape, short, bluish needles, and hairy twigs, especially on the new growth. They are easily distinguished by cones or by a close look at their needles. They also are often distinguished by habitat and successional stage: balsam fir is absent from bogs and poorly-drained sites, where black spruce is common, and balsam fir occupies a later stage in forest succession on sites where both species co-occur.

Balsam Fir (Abies balsamea)

Black Spruce (Picea mariana)

An evergreen conifer native to North America, and a late-successional species found in areas that have not been disturbed recently. The only fir found in the northeast.
A conifer with a northerly distribution, native to North America; found on acidic soils, often on poorly-drained sites, often with stunted growth.
Large, upright cones. Cones disintegrate after one season.
Photo © Rob Foster, CC BY 4.0.
Small, dangling cones. Some cones from previous years are retained on trees.
Photo © Rob Foster, CC BY 4.0.
Needles are flat, blunt-tipped, and are attached to the twig with a green suction-cup base.
Photo © Judy Gallagher, CC BY 4.0.
Needles are diamond-shaped in cross-section, pointed, and attached to the twig by a short woody appendage.
Photo © Derek, CC BY 4.0.
Bark is smooth, except for horizontally-oriented lenticels and resin-filled blisters. Usually lighter in color.
Photo © Doug Goldman, CC BY 4.0.
Bark of mature trees scaly, showing more vertically-oriented features. Usually darker in color.
Photo © Derek, CC BY 4.0.